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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Lock in the Shape of an Ibex
Other Titles
Former Title: Lock Segment in the Form of a Standing Ibex with Round Spiral Horns
Tools and Equipment
Work Type
12th century CE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Byzantine period, Middle
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Mixed copper alloy
Cast, lost-wax process
4.8 x 4.4 cm, 0.5 cm (1 7/8 x 1 3/4 in., 3/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Mixed Copper Alloy:
Cu, 73.99; Sn, 5.88; Pb, 10.39; Zn, 9.04; Fe, 0.2; Ni, 0.04; Ag, 0.11; Sb, 0.16; As, 0.15; Bi, 0.032; Co, less than 0.01; Au, less than 0.02; Cd, less than 0.002
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is dark green with light gray accretions. Metal shows through where the patina is worn away. This is the right half of the lock and is intact; the left half and the locking mechanism are lost. There are many dents and areas worn from use. Some scrape marks on the surface appear more recent and are probably the result of a crude cleaning procedure.

This half was probably lost-wax cast, but sand casting is also possible. The two halves of the lock would have been separately cast, joined together, and then finished as a unit. Lead residue covers the join surface. Relief features, such as the notches in the horns, were cut in the metal with an abrasive tool.

Henry Lie (submitted 2005)


Recorded Ownership History
Nelson Goodman, Weston, MA, gift; to the Harvard University Art Museums, 1995.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Nelson Goodman
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 ibex-shaped figurine functioned as a lock. The animal has a distinctive rounded horn, articulated with a striated pattern to represent a spiral. It wears a harness at its shoulders. The lock was originally composed of two concave pieces joined together with pins, but the second, matching plaque is now lost. A locking mechanism was positioned in the interior. The separately cast bolt, also lost, slid horizontally into the lock; one prong entered the tail of the animal, the other entered a small groove between the horn and the head. To close the lock, the bolt was inserted through one end of the animal’s body and secured at the other. It is unclear whether the lock was released by a slide key inserted into the tail or chest of the animal or a turnkey inserted into the center of the lost plaque (1).

Locks of this design and style continued to be made in modern times (2). While the Harvard piece may be of medieval origin, it is equally possible that it was produced more recently.


1. For diagrams of possible locking mechanisms used in this device, see P. Tanavoli and J. T. Wertime, Locks from Iran: Pre-Islamic to Twentieth Century (Washington, DC, 1976) 33, figs. 6A-B; and G. Vikan and J. Nesbitt, Security in Byzantium: Locking, Sealing and Weighing (Washington, DC, 1980) 6, fig. 10.

2. See Tanavoli and Wertime 1976 (supra 1) 84-85, no. 119, pl. 5, for a seventeenth- to eighteenth-century example of comparable form and dimensions.

Alicia Walker

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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