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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Shaft-Hole Axe Head with Joined Butt Spikes
Weapons and Ammunition
Work Type
12th-10th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Luristan (Iran)
Iron Age
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Cast, lost-wax process
17.2 cm (6 3/4 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Artax 1
Alloy: Copper
Alloying Elements: copper
Other Elements: tin, lead, iron, arsenic
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The surface is dark brown and has a layer of slightly coarse dark green corrosion from which small islands of red cuprite emerge. The object has been waxed, and waxy build-up is still visible in some recesses. Some scratches in the recessed areas reveal a fresh metallic surface.

The axe-head was cast in one piece, although it is not clear how this was done. It could have been made with a two- or three-piece mold (in the latter case, a third mold piece would encompass the tips of the spikes), with a core inserted into the shaft hole. It may also have been modeled entirely in the wax.

Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2012)


Recorded Ownership History
Ex Schroeder Collection; bequest to the Harvard University Art Museums, 1999.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of the Estate of Margaret F. Schroeder
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
Four spikes project from the axe-head socket and continue around the surface of the socket as thick ribs in relief; the upper and lower ribs form the top and bottom collars of the shaft hole. A vertical strut joins the blunt spikes. The ribs strengthen the upper and lower edges of the blade, which angles down to a convex cutting-edge. This object is formally very similar to an unexcavated example in the Ashmolean Museum (1).

Spiked-butt axe-heads represent a large and varied corpus of cast copper alloy weapons long attributed to Luristan and more recently excavated from burials at the Luristan sites of Bard-i Bal and Kutal-i Gulgul; related examples are found across the Near East (2). Axe-heads of this type average c. 20 cm in length and typically have four spikes projecting from the socket. The blade is narrow near the socket but slopes and broadens toward a downward-facing, often convex, cutting edge. Whether these axes were used to cut or served as votive or ceremonial objects is debated.


1. Inv. no. 1937.739; see P. R. S. Moorey, Catalogue of the Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford, 1971) 48-49, no. 14, fig. 5.

2. See J. E. Curtis, “Some Axe-heads from Chagar Bazar and Nimrud,” Iraq 45 (1981): 73-81, esp. 79-80, figs. 1-2, pls. 7-8; J. Deshayes, Les outils de bronze, de l’Indus au Danube (Paris, 1960) 181-82, nos. 4-6 and 9, pl. 21; A. Godard, Les Bronzes du Luristan, Ars Asiatica 17 (Paris, 1931) pls. 17-19; R. Maxwell-Hyslop, “Western Asiatic Shaft-Hole Axes,” Iraq 11 (1949): 90-129, esp. 127-28, nos. 10-12, 15-17, and 19-21, pls. 35-36; Moorey 1971 (supra 1) 49-54; O. W. Muscarella, Bronze and Iron: Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 1988) 188-91; J. Rickenbach, Magier mit Feuer und Erz: Bronzekunst der frühen Bergvölker in Luristan, Iran (Zurich, 1992) 25-28 and 58, no. 20; L. Vanden Berghe, “Prospections archéologiques dans la region de Badr,” Archéologia 36 (1970): 10-21, esp. 10 and 13, figs. 4.6 and 7; id., “Recherches archéologiques dans le Luristan: Sixième campagne, 1970. Fouilles à Bard-i Bal et à Pa-yi Kal,” Iranica Antiqua 10 (1973): 1-79, esp. 16, 24, and 35, Tombs 2, 17, and 68, figs. 5.6, 11.48, and 20.11, pls. 17-18; id., “La nécropole de Kutal-i Gulgul,” Archéologia 65 (1973): 16-29, esp. 22 and 24-25; id., “Excavations in Pusht-i Kuh (Iran): Tombs Provide Evidence on Dating ‘Typical Luristan Bronzes,’” Archeology 24 (1971): 263-71, esp. 269-70; and G. Zahlhaas, Luristan: Antike Bronzen aus dem Iran, Ausstellungskataloge der Archäologischen Staatssammlung 33 (Munich, 2002) 38-41.

Amy Gansell

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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