Unit Book J4
J4 Synthetic View / Typology / Objects

Figurines from Unit J4

Yasmine Mahmoud – September 2023

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Anthropomorphic figurines

     Only two anthropomorphic figurines have been found during the excavations of J4. Both figurines consist of fragments only, which makes it very difficult to determine the gender. One of the figurines is hollowed on the inside.

     Both figurines have a very minimalistic abstract appearance with no decorations or elaborate details, and both belong to the Mittani period where they were recovered from accumulation layer with no indication to any type of specific use of the area (domestic or otherwise).

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Zoomorphic figurines

Twenty-one zoomorphic figurines have been recovered in J4. None of these figurines are complete. Most of them consist of either a fragment of the torso, with or without the legs, or the neck area and head. The collection of the zoomorphic figurines of J4 seems to conform with the rest of the corpus in terms of style and execution. It is difficult to determine the genus of the animal represented in most of the cases since we only have fragments, but it is safe to say, in my opinion, that most of the representations are of cattle. In most of the representations, the shapes are slightly robust with simple silhouette and no decoration or incisions, except for the ones representing equids.





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     Figurine 28.1 might be a representation of a lion due to the robustness and length of the shape. And while the head is missing, there are traces of added clay on the neck area that might be a rendering of the lion’s mane.


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Figurine 43.2 is the head of an equid. The neck portion shows horizontal strokes on both sides representing the mane of the horse and the front of the head shows a representation of bangs. There is a perforation where the nostril is located. It is however unclear if it is meant to represent the nostrils or if it runs all the way through to the other side to serve the function of tying the harness of the horse to a chariot. Figurine 153.1, the head and neck of a horse. The upper part of the neck shows a vertical elevated line representing the mane. On the head there is a representation of a harness that is wrapped around the head and decorated with incised circles. Figurine 236.1 is a fragment of an equid figurine where only parts of the neck and head are preserved. The main is represented by arbitrary incised strokes giving an abstract representation of hair. The main is then perforated on the top part, probably to attach it to a harness or chariot.





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Vessle figurines

Figurines 146.1 and 146.7 represents an unidentifiable animal with what appears to be a broken vessel on the head. Figurine 192.1 is a figurine that most probably represents a pig. The shape of the body and silhouette are the factors from which I deterred the genus. The front of the body has a circular motif that is perforated in the middle. Another perforation is located above the circle. The figurine is hollowed, allowing us to assume that it was used as a liquid container that would be poured from these perforations.





Overall, the sample from J4 consists of figurines that can be divided into 3 categories. 1) figurines that were used for counting live stock (As Hauser argues that it was one of the zoomorphic figurine’s function), or as toys, 2) as vessels (for ceremonies and other occasions), 3) as parts of chariot assemblies (hard to determine exact function of chariots).

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It is very peculiar to find such high number of figurines in an area like J4. One has to wonder about the reason because J4 is not an area of any sort of activities. These types of objects are usually associated with domestic or cultic spheres, or store houses like the case of the large number of animal figurines that were found in the royal store house of Urkesh. And to assume that these objects might have been dumped there is not very valid because J4 only contained one pit that might have been for storage or dumping, but the figurines are not associated with it (and neither were other objects). The archaeological context of these finds is natural accumulation layers, mixed layers and in one case a floor and in another a brick melt. All of them pertaining to Mittani or modern layers, when the temple terrace was no longer functioning at that area and the monumental access shifted to J5. The same cannot be said about the anthropomorphic figurines. Their low number actually conforms with my theory that the anthropomorphic representations were related more to a domestic sphere rather than the religious one in Urkesh where I assume it was frowned upon to have them present in worship places. The only plausible interpretation for the presence of such items in this area, based on their archaeological context, is that they were washed there after the area was not used anymore. Therefore, it is safe to assume that they were not used and had no function there, but they are in a secondary context. When studying the zoomorphic figurines of J5, R. Hauser asks a question about “the possible relationship of the figurines and other artifacts to the pathway that led to the temple and their function with respect to their owners who were making this pilgrimage”. The number of zoomorphic figurines retrieved from J5 is similar to that of J4 (27 in J5). The number is very high in other units in the temple terrace area; unit J2 (67 figurines), J1 (60 figurines), J3 (37 figurines) and in J7 (7 figurines). What is peculiar is that the number of animal figurines is high in all the unites in the temple area, but the anthropomorphic figurines are almost absent from all these unites (2 in J4, 2 in J5 and very few fragments from J1). This leads me to believe that there must have been a function related to these objects to have them there, even if their secondary context suggests that they were dumped there of washed there, but they had to have a close primary context to end up there, and this context should reveal a clue about their use in an area that is considered sacred, or close to the sacred sphere.

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