Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Zebu (Humped Bull)
Work Type
statuette, sculpture
early 10th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Iran
Iron Age II
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Cast, lost-wax process
2.4 x 1.5 x 3.5 cm (15/16 x 9/16 x 1 3/8 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Bronze:
Cu, 88.24; Sn, 11.22; Pb, 0.32; Zn, 0.004; Fe, 0.04; Ni, less than 0.005; Ag, 0.04; Sb, less than 0.02; As, 0.13; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, less than 0.005; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina consists of raised green corrosion products with deep layers of underlying red. The surface is slightly obscured by layers of corrosion. The zebu is a solid cast, probably from a model made directly in the wax. The condition of the surface makes it difficult to know whether the vertical hole behind the hump was drilled into the metal or made in the wax model.

Henry Lie (submitted 2012)

Harry J. Denberg, New York, NY (by 1969), gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1969.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Harry J. Denberg
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: Ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern Bronzes at the Harvard Art Museums
This zebu has round horns, which are rendered as a single element flat across the crown and curving around toward each other at the points. On the neck between the horns, the shoulder hump is visible. No facial features are indicated, and the head terminates in a blunt muzzle. Square in profile, a dewlap extends down the throat as a slightly raised ridge. The body, pierced just behind the hump, is relatively long and slim with a short tail.

This horned and humped quadruped figure, along with 1969.177.24, represents a mature zebu, a domesticated species of Asiatic cattle (Bovis indicus) that can reach up to 10 feet in height. Zebus, used primarily as draft animals, are known for their resistance to heat, pestilence, and insects. Commonly used in Africa and the Asian monsoon belt, they are ideally suited to the Caspian region of Iran, which, situated between the Elburz Mountains and the sea, is a fertile lowland whose warm, sultry climate supports yearlong cultivation.

Copper alloy zebu figurines and pendants have been excavated from graves dated to the late second to early first millennia BCE at the site of Marlik in northwest Iran, which is just south of the Caspian Sea (1). Of all the types of animal figurines found at this site, zebus are most numerously represented. Some were found in pairs in association with model plows, alluding to their use as draft animals. A number of large hollow ceramic “vessels” in the form of zebus were also found in the graves. If these vessels are interpreted as ritual objects, they suggest zebus may have had some sacred association.

The motivations for depositing these figurines in graves and their possible symbolic meaning can only be inferred. The exaggeration of potent features such as the horns, hump, and genitalia may refer to power and strength. Some ceramic figurines of rams and stags are also given a hump, revealing the fascination with, if not the culturally significant value, of this feature. Zebus’ heartiness in harsh environmental conditions and their clear association with agriculture may suggest that they are linked to notions of earthly fecundity.

In addition to finds at the site of Marlik, comparable collections of zebu figurines and pendants have reportedly been retrieved throughout the western Caspian region of Iran, Russia, and Azerbaijan (2). An apparently shared tradition of iconography may point to a more or less cohesive cultural zone based on a shared environment in which zebus played a prominent role.


1. See E. O. Negahban, Marlik: The Complete Excavation Report, University Museum Monograph 87 (Philadelphia, 1996) 126-29, pls. 42-44.

2. See E. B. Terrance, “Some Recent Finds from Northwest Persia,” Syria 39 (1962): 212-224, esp. 212-13.

Amy Gansell

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

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