In ancient hands (part I)

During my recent visits to museums in Berlin and Paris, I was struck by the variety of hand gestures displayed on ancient reliefs and sculptures – particularly from Mesopotamia. I thought of making a compilation of some of the reliefs that struck me the most. Here is the first part featuring some reliefs that I saw at the Vorderasiatisches Museum, Berlin.

Most of us would interpret this image as a thumbs up. However, this relief depicts a tribute bearer raising his arms in a gesture of submission. The relief originates from Nimrud from the 9th Century BCE
Another relief from the 9th Century BCE. This is a detail of the hands of Ashurnasirpal II as he readies to release an arrow on a lion hunt. The king boasted in his inscriptions that he had killed many hundreds of lions. Lion hunting was a royal privilege and also had symbolic connotations where a king killing a lion could also mean that he was quelling chaos.
The complete relief showing Ashurnasirpal II hunting the lion
Details from the same relief of Ashurnasirpal II’s other hand holding the bow and the arms of the charioteer holding the reins of the horses
From the 7th Century BCE, a relief from the palace of Sennacherib in Nineveh showing musicians and shield bearers. Here holding cymbals in their hands.
This relief (from Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh) was described as featuring the earliest depiction of a rectangular frame drum. Such a drum is apparently still in use in some parts of Africa and Iraq
The larger relief featuring shield bearers and musicians. The incline of the relief probably meant that it was placed on a ramp connecting the palace to an outside building (temple of Ishtar)

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Nirmala says:

    Interesting study!

    1. Sukanya Ramanujan says:

      Thank you, hopefully will get around to doing a Part II some day

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