Incorrect Username, Email, or Password
This object does not yet have a description.

Gallery Text

Of Fragments and Forgeries

These figurines—with their curious faces (sometimes deemed “bird-like”), elaborate headdresses, and emphatic hips—are puzzling. Examples like numbers 1–4 [1998.15.16; 1992.256.12.1–3; 2022.242.1–3; 1969.177.86.1–2] have been found across today’s northern Syria and southeastern Türkiye (Turkey) in sanctuaries and graves dating from the second millennium BCE. Their applied breasts and incised pubic triangles mark them as female, encouraging modern interpretations about fertility and sexuality. Number 5 [1953.118], likely made on the island of Cyprus, shows similar features, attesting to ideas about female bodies shared between distant but connected communities of the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia during the Bronze Age.

Who exactly do they depict? Goddesses or worshippers? Both or neither? Any answers are complicated by wrinkles in their modern stories that raise a more urgent question: are these objects even ancient?

All six figurines moved through the art market without documented findspots, making it difficult to interpret them or even assess their authenticity. Number 6 [1999.252] may be a modern forgery. And while numbers 2–4 [1992.256.12.1–3; 2022.242.1–3; 1969.177.86.1–2] arrived at Harvard as single objects, each, in fact, comprises several pieces that are not original to each other. It is not clear whether the fragments are all ancient, all modern, or a combination of both. Displayed here disassembled, the objects offer a cautionary tale about the uncertainty that accompanies poorly documented paths on the art market.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
Anthropomorphic female figurine fragment: body
Work Type
sculpture, statuette
1900-1700 BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Syria, Northern Syria
Bronze Age, Middle
Persistent Link


Level 3, Room 3440, Ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Art, Ancient Middle Eastern Art in the Service of Kings
View this object's location on our interactive map

Physical Descriptions

H. 7.1 × W. 5.2 × D. 1.2 cm (2 13/16 × 2 1/16 × 1/2 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
[Asfar Bros., St. George Hotel, Beirut, Lebanon (by 1964)], purchase; by Nanette B Kelekian, New York (1964-2021), bequest; to the Harvard Art Museums.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Nanette B. Kelekian
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

The Harvard Art Museums encourage the use of images found on this website for personal, noncommercial use, including educational and scholarly purposes. To request a higher resolution file of this image, please submit an online request.


This fragment of a handmade terracotta figurine preserves the body of a nude, anthropomorphic female figure. There is a clean break (or cut?) at the neck. Short stub arms project to either side of the body. The body is “violin-shaped,” with rounded hips widening slightly. The figure’s navel is indicated by an applied pellet with a central indentation. Below this, three horizontal lines composed of incised, short vertical hatch marks, perhaps made by rouletting or by combing, indicate the figure’s pubic area. A vertical groove delineates the legs. The figurine terminates around the level of knees with a break (clean, perhaps cut). The back of the figurine is flat and undecorated, except for the groove that delineates the legs.

Clay fabric: Munsell 10YR 7/4 very pale brown (at the neck break) to 7.5YR 7/3 pink (at the leg break). Small, angular brown grits and frequent small to medium voids. N.B. it is difficult to tell if the coloration at the breaks is due to the fabric color or to alterations due to previous fills or adhesives.
This figurine fragment arrived at the museum attached to two other fragments. However, the fragments are not original to each other. The terracotta (clay) fabric of the body (2022.242.2) differs from that of the head (2022.242.1) and legs (2022.242.3): this is clear from X-radiography, which indicated that the materials were different (e.g., different density and inclusions). X-radiography did not clarify the relationship between the clay of the head and legs; visual inspection of the terracotta suggests that they, too, are different from each other.
Several scenarios are possible: (1) the fragments are from two or three different ancient figurines (a “pastiche” of ancient fragments); (2) one or two fragments (such as the legs) were made in the 20th century to complete the other fragment(s), which, in this scenario, would likely be authentically ancient, creating a mixed modern and ancient “pastiche”; (3) all fragments are modern.
When the pastiche figurine was disassembled and old fills were removed, it became clear that the breaks do not align tightly. However, the edges of the breaks at the neck and legs all seem to be clean, modern cuts; it is possible that broken edges were cleaned up in order to facilitate easier mending when it was assembled.
These figurine fragments are fairly typical examples of a category of figurines depicting a nude female figure with a “bird-like” face. These were made in the 2nd millennium BCE at sites across northern Syria (today’s eastern Turkey and northern Syria). Specifically, this figurine is in a form that comes from the region of the Orontes River. Such figurines are often interpreted as goddesses or divinities; the frequent depiction of breasts (not present here) and pubic triangles (present here) have encouraged interpretations of deities or domains of life pertaining to female sexuality and/or fertility. It is common for figurines of this type to be broken across the legs. It is not currently clear if this frequent breakage pattern is the result of intentional, perhaps ritual, breakage or merely indicates a common susceptibility of the figurines to breakage during use or deposition.
Further information on this type of figurine may be found in the following standard reference work (where falls into the category of Orontes Type MAI 2): Leila Badre. 1980. Les figurines anthropomorphes en terre cuite a l'age du bronze en Syrie, Bibliothèque archéologique et historique 103. Paris: Librairie orientaliste Paul Geuthner.

Exhibition History

  • 32Q: 3440 Middle East, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 06/15/2023 - 01/01/2050

Related Works

Verification Level

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at