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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Shaft-Hole Axe Head
Other Titles
Former Title: Shaft-hole Pick-axe
Weapons and Ammunition
Work Type
second half 3rd millennium BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Iran
Bronze Age, Early
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Arsenical bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
7.6 x 4.2 x 2.1 cm (3 x 1 5/8 x 13/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Arsenical Bronze:
Cu, 92.7; Sn, 3.09; Pb, 0.24; Zn, less than 0.001; Fe, 0.48; Ni, 0.53; Ag, 0.05; Sb, 0.15; As, 2.75; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.01; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Chemical Composition: XRF data from Tracer
Alloy: Bronze
Alloying Elements: copper, tin
Other Elements: lead, iron, nickel, silver, antimony, arsenic
K. Eremin, January 2014

Technical Observations: The patina is green, brown, black, and red. One side of the blade bears black pseudomorphs of a fibrous material in the corrosion. The axe head is intact. The gouges in the surface of the shaft appear to have been created prior to burial. Brown deposits inside the shaft may be traces of a handle that was once inserted.

The axe head was cast. The lines in the top border appear to have been created in the model prior to casting, as there are dendrites from casting visible in the grooves.

Carol Snow (submitted 2002)


Recorded Ownership History
Louise M. and George E. Bates, Camden, ME (by 1971-1992), gift; to the Harvard University Art Museums, 1992.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Louise M. and George E. Bates
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 axe-head has a cylindrical shaft hole. Three partial ribs strengthen the upper edge of the blade, which slants slightly downward from the shaft. The blade is narrow near the socket but has a broad, convex edge. Shaft-hole axe-heads of similar form are characteristic of mid- to late-third millennium BCE Mesopotamian and western Iranian archaeological contexts, and a range of examples have been excavated from burials in Luristan (1).


1. See J. Deshayes, Les outils de bronze, de l’Indus au Danube (Paris, 1960) 158, pl. 18 ; A. Godard, Les Bronzes du Luristan, Ars Asiatica 17 (Paris, 1931) nos. 43-46, pls. 34-35; E. Haerinck and B. Overlaet, Bani Surmah: An Early Bronze Age Graveyard in Pusht-i Kuh, Luristan, Luristan Excavation Documents 6, Acta Iranica 43 (Leuven, 2006) 35-37, fig. 16, pls. 13-14 and 30; iid., “The Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age in Pusht-i Kuh, Luristan (West-Iran): Chronology and Mesopotamian Contacts,” Akkadica 123 (2002): 163-81, esp. 177-79, figs. 8.1 and 9.5; E. Mackay, A Sumerian Palace and the “A” Cemetery at Kish, Mesopotamia, Anthropology Memoirs 1.2 (Chicago, 1929) 158-59, pl. 62.4; R. Maxwell-Hyslop, “Western Asiatic Shaft-Hole Axes,” Iraq 11 (1949): 90-129, esp. 126 and 128, nos. 13 and 15, pls. 34 and 36; P. R. S. Moorey, Catalogue of the Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford, 1971) 39-41, nos. 4-5, fig. 3; F. Tallon, Métallurgie susienne 1: De la fondation de Suse au XVIIIe siècle avant J.-C. (Paris, 1987) 73-75, nos. 21-35, pls. 139-42; L. Vanden Berghe, “Prospections archéologiques dans la region de Badr,” Archéologia 36 (1970): 10-21, esp. 16, fig. 12; id., “Recherches archéologiques dans le Luristan: Cinquième campagne 1969. Prospections dans le Pusht-i Kuh Central,” Iranica Antiqua 9 (1972): 1-48, esp. 28-29, fig. 6.1, pl. 11.1; and C. L. Woolley, Ur Excavations 2: The Royal Cemetery (Philadelphia, 1934) 305-306, pl. 223.

Amy Gansell

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Verification Level

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