Ancient Near East, Mesopotamia, Sumer, Late Uruk Period, ca. 3500 to 3000 BCE. An incredibly rare example of a schematic stele bearing intriguing iconography and incised decorations, hand-carved from mottled steatite of a dark green, nearly black hue with beige and light grey inclusions. The rectangular stele features flat top and bottom faces, smooth lateral walls, and identical illustrations on the front and back face. Depicted on each face is a central bullseye-motif of concentric circles with two open rings on the exterior that open upwards towards a zigzagging serpentine form enclosed within two trios of concentric bars. Flanking the central circles are two temple facades, each surmounted by a pair of stylized, diamond-shaped eyes like those found on eye idols at the Anatolian archaeological site of Tell Brak. The bottom of each face bears an incised register identical to the top adornments that creates a wondrous presentation evocative of ancient Mesopotamia! Size: 3.4" W x 4.75" H (8.6 cm x 12.1 cm)
The Uruk period (ca. 4000 to 3000 BCE) was a period in the ancient world that existed from the proto-historic Chalcolithic to the Early Bronze Age and is correspondingly named after Uruk, one of the largest and most highly populated cities in ancient Sumer. The Uruk period saw the emergence of urban life, steady trading, artistic expression, and agricultural sustainability in Mesopotamia and is considered to be the formative phase of ancient Sumerian civilization. Votive stelae like this example are some of the earliest known examples of Mesopotamian art. They are predominantly filled with typical Sumerian motifs like abstract zoomorphic creatures, highly stylized anthropomorphic figures, and minimalist architectural elements. The importance of this example stems from the scarcity of this general item typology as it means that comparable examples are few and far between. However, the temple stele that contain abstracted images of 'eye idols' - like this example as well as the Michaux Stele in the Bibliotheque Nationale de France - are exceedingly rare.
Another example of a steatite temple stele, from a later period and with an integral eye idol projecting from the top, hammered for $40,000 at Christie's, New York "Antiquities" auction (sale 2450, June 9, 2011).
This item is accompanied by a copy of a CIRAM Scientific Report (no. 0517-OA-30N-3) - analysis performed by Dr. Olivier Bobin, New York, September 12, 2017.
Provenance: ex-William Froelich collection, New York, USA, acquired in the 1970s
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Minor nicks and abrasions to top, base, peripheries, and some raised details on both faces, with light encrustations within some recessed areas, otherwise intact and near choice. Light earthen deposits and great traces of original iconography on both faces.