Bronzeworking Centers of Western Asia: c. 1000-539 B.C.

Author:Porada, Edith
 
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Edited by John Curtis. London: Kegan Paul International, 1988. Pp. 342 + 183 pls. $59.95, CDN $75.

The papers of a meeting organized by John Curtis on behalf of the Department of Western Asiatic Antiquities of the British Museum and held in July 1986 have resulted in one of the most valuable contributions to the art and history of Western Asia published in recent years. Most of the contributions contain new material, or material previously known but newly viewed and organized. The reviewer will provide a brief overview with frequent excerpts from the authors' texts.

The first article by P. R. S. Moorey, "Bronze-working Centers of Western Asia c. 1000-539 B.C.: Problems and Perspectives" (pp. 23-32), serves as an introduction to the aims of the conference and mentions the directions in which future work should proceed. He mentions the work of scientists who concentrate on bronze industries rather than on single objects and draws attention to studies of the most common objects and the lessons to be learned from them. Examples are bronze bowls of the "phiale" type, short swords and daggers, and sheet metal vessels of the Late Bronze Age, "that particularly well illustrate how the bronze industries of Luristan were influenced in Iron I from Babylonia and Elam, whilst those of Northwest Iran at this time were more directly affected by developments in Assyria."

Moorey includes remarks on iron, whose use for agricultural tools and weapons probably "greatly improved the organization of metal industries and boosted metal production in general." The use of iron, furthermore, changed the role of bronze from being the material of tools and weapons to that of decorative fittings. This brought bronze workers into closer contact with sculptors and artists in other media. Moorey also notes "decorated sheet metal, when engraved or incised," one of the main sources of the knowledge of draftsmanship in this period.

Some of Moorey's demands for increased study are partly met by the following articles. An example is his call for the integration of the "evidence of texts and sculptured reliefs with surviving artifacts . . . to reveal the infrastructure of the industries." The first part of this request is addressed by Curtis' article, which deals in large part with the Assyrian reliefs and actual finds of Assyrian bronzework (pp. 83ff.). Moorey also points out that "due attention needs increasingly to be paid to regions in the Gulf, not least those with copper deposits"; G. Weisgarber's article describes bronze-working sites iq Oman.

In the Levant, Moorey draws attention to the fact that "the metalwork of the Phoenicians is a matter of constant reference and discussion but it is still found everywhere but in Phoenicia itself . . ." The articles by I. J. Winter (pp. 193-225) and G. Falsone (pp. 227-50) address themselves to some of Moorey's stated and implied questions.

Moorey's call to scholars dealing with western Asiatic bronzework to avail themselves of the information provided by Egyptian metalwork, especially of results in the field of technology, has been made easy by the article and extensive bibliography of Anthony Leahy on Egyptian bronzework of the first millennium (pp. 297-309).

Finally, several of the writers have followed the request to set the bronzes into their historical context "in all its political, social and economic diversity."

O. W. Muscarella, "The Background of the Luristan Bronzes" (pp. 33-44), sketches the history of the Luristan bronzes, beginning with their recognition by Ernst Herzfeld in 1929 as having originated in Iran. Muscarella reaffirms the term "Luristan Bronzes" for that characteristic corpus of material "that is formally and stylistically distinct from other Iranian or Near Eastern objects and styles."

Two major controlled excavations are mentioned by Muscarella as having yielded bronzes, E. Schmidt's in Surkh-i Dum in the Pisht-i Kuh (eastern Luristan) and the fifteen campaigns by L. Vanden Berghe in the Pusht-i Kuh (western Luristan). The report of the first excavation, Erich F. Schmidt, Maurits N. van Loon and Hans H. Cuvers, The Holmes Expedition to Luristan, determines the time range of the material more securely than previously possible. The third excavation site in Luristan mentioned by Muscarella, Baba Jan, yielded a Janus-headed tube and a lion-headed pin, though the latter may have been introduced into the excavation by the workmen, as pointed out by Muscarella.

His characterization of the bronzes (p. 36) is a useful contribution as is his book, Bronze and Iron (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988), with its carefully assembled bibliography of the hundreds of unprovenanced bronzes in various collections (pp. 460-80). The questions he poses concerning the life-style of the people who produced the bronzes may be answered by future excavations.

One of the most important articles in this book is Maude de Shauensee's "Northwest Iran as a Bronzeworking Centre: The View from Hasanlu" (pp. 45-62), which provides a preview of the report on the most carefully excavated and documented site of northwest Iran. She describes the evidence for metalworking in which she includes the finds made by Sir Aurel Stein prior to the excavations by R. H. Dyson, Jr. There follows a discussion of the artifacts in which she...

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