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Core Record

Title anthropomorphic ’axe’
Collection Artworld: Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
Date 2300-1000 BCE
Description The base of this anthropomorphic axe is raised in the centre and curves inwards at the sides, resulting in a tapering, slightly turned up point to the left and right (interpreted as legs). The top of the axe is an arch and this is the point at which the metal is thickest. Below this on either side is a long protrusion which curves in towards the body of the axe (arms).
The flat surface of the axe is decorated with short indented lines, which tessellate across the body. On the 'arms' the lines radiate out from the inner edge of the curve. The patina varies from solid green (particularly at the top and on the 'arms') to mottled dark brown and green.
Description Source Lorna Hards
Cultural Context Indian
Id Number Current Accession 880
Location Creation Site Bharat, Ganges Valley
Location Current Repository Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts
Subject implements and utensils, warfare, hunting and fishing equipment, axe
Measurements 369 x 235 x 12 mm
Context This 'axe' belongs to a series of distinctive copper and copper alloy objects that have been found largely in unstratified contexts in the Gangetic valley - mainly in, and to the east of, the Daob (see Yule, 1985, for a full discussion of this material). The objects found include several types of axe, of which the most spectacular is anthropomorphic in form. This type is likely to have been made for ritual purposes and deliberately of anthropomorphic outline, though the possibility has been considered that they could be throwing weapons whose resemblance to the human form is fortuitous (Gordon, 1958: 137-8).
Yule (1985) proposes two types of anthropomorph. The present example corresponds to type I, which is greater in width than height and lacks a pronounced flange on the thick curved head. The arms and feet taper to thin ends, and the surface is decorated with short lines produced by careful hammering. Metallurgical analysis carried out by Dr Peter Northover in 1995 shows the figure to be copper with some impurities, and to have been made by a combination of cold-working and annealing. Its properties and structure closely match other Copper Hoard Culture objects which have been analysed (see also Yule, 1992).
The other types of objects found in the copper hoards are harpoons (see no. 163), antennae swords (with hilt bifurcated like the antenna of an insect), spearheads with a single hafting barb, rings and bar celts. The functional utility of the hoard objects in general has been doubted, with some writers assuming that their use was ceremonial rather than practical. A related series (but lacking harpoons, antennae swords, etc.) has been found in the hills of Chota Nagpur and Orissa to the southeast.
Several Copper Hoard sites have yielded fragments of a coarse ochre-coloured pottery which also occurs in the earliest levels of city sites such as Hastinapura. Until 1970-71 this pottery had not been found in direct association with the copper hoards, but the relationship suggested by Lal's excavations (Lal, 1951) has been generally accepted. The evidence is now strengthened by Wahal and Lal's excavation of a hoard at Saipai in the Daob, where the connection with ochrous red-slipped and incised pottery is more certain (Lal, 1972: 282-7, pls. xli-xliii).
A stray fragment of an anthropomorphic copper axe found at Lothal (late third millennium) suggests a chronological overlap with the Indus civilisation, and thermoluminescence results have placed the pottery from related sites between 2280 and 1180BC. These indications, together with the virtual absence of settlement remains, perhaps support the view that this metal-work was produced by itinerant specialists for pre-Aryan tribal peoples in the Gangetic plain.
Context Source Robert Skelton. In: Steven Hooper (ed.). 1997. Catalogue to the Robert and Lisa Sainsbury Collection. University of East Anglia.
Rights Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, Norwich, 2002. All Rights reserved
Work Type axe




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