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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Shaft-Hole Axe Head with Arrow Relief
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
23 x 6 x 2.5 cm (9 1/16 x 2 3/8 x 1 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Bronze:
Cu, 89.33; Sn, 9.26; Pb, 0.82; Zn, 0.003; Fe, 0.05; Ni, 0.13; Ag, 0.04; Sb, 0.1; As, 0.25; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.021; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001

J. Riederer

Technical Observations: Much of the surface of the axe-head is covered with a fine beige and green crust of burial accretions over corrosion. Where this has flaked off, the visible surface is oxidized to a dark brown, which is dotted with numerous reddish-purple areas that seem to correspond to blisters. Fresh metal is visible in the few small areas where the brown patina has worn through. There are few signs of deep-seated corrosion. A single, uneven gouge in the surface below the arrowhead on one side removed the corrosion and accretion crust and has oxidized to a brown similar to other areas of the surface. It appears to have occurred upon or after excavation.

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. However, it may also have been modeled entirely in the wax. The surface is smooth and seems quite worn, although the decorative lines on and around the arrowhead were clearly made in the metal.

Francesca G. Bewer (submitted 2012)


Recorded Ownership History
Arthur Upham Pope Collection. Private Collection, Boston, (by 1931), gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1931.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Anonymous Gift
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 conical spikes, joined by a vertical strut, project from the axe-head socket. Thick ribs reinforce the upper and lower edges of the socket, with the upper edge extending along the blade to the tip. The blade faces down with a nearly flat cutting-edge. On both sides of the blade, two additional relief ribs extending from the middle spikes merge into a single rib terminating in a barbed arrowhead with linear hatching. The arrowhead motif is not uncommon on axe-heads of this type (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. See E. de Waele, Bronzes du Luristan et d’Amlash, Publications d’historie de l’art et d’archeologie de l’Université Catholique de Louvain 34 (Louvain-La-Neuve, 1982) 25, no. 18 fig. 12; A. Godard, Les Bronzes du Luristan, Ars Asiatica 17 (Paris, 1931) no. 59, pl. 19; P. R. S. Moorey, Catalogue of the Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford, 1971) 51-52, no. 17, fig. 6; J. A. H. Potratz, Luristanbronzen: Die einstmalige Sammlung Professor Sarre Berlin (Istanbul, 1968) 5-6, nos. 18-22, pl. 4; J. Rickenbach, Magier mit Feuer und Erz: Bronzekunst der frühen Bergvölker in Luristan, Iran (Zurich, 1992) 58, no. 20; G. Zahlhaas, Luristan: Antike Bronzen aus dem Iran, Ausstellungskataloge der Archäologischen Staatssammlung 33 (Munich, 2002) 40, no. 62; and Bronzes du Luristan: Énigmes d l’Iran ancien, III-Ier millénaire av. J.-C., exh. cat. Musée Cernuschi (Paris, 2008) 97, no. 45.

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; Godard 1931 (supra 1) 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; Rickenbach 1992 (supra 1) 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 Zahlhaas 2002 (supra 1) 38-41.

Amy Gansell

Exhibition History

  • The Art of Luristan, Plymouth State College, Plymouth, 10/04/1970 - 10/29/1970; Chapel Arts Center, Manchester, 11/08/1970 - 12/22/1970

Subjects and Contexts

  • Ancient Bronzes

Related Works

Verification Level

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