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22 april '20

Bronze animal figurines from the Early Iron Age

The collections of the National History Museum accommodate several interesting and rare examples of the geometric art of the eight – sixth centuries BC. These are schematically represented images of animals cast in bronze as free-standing figurines or as elements of the decoration of various objects (axes, vessels, etc.). Similar objects were spread across the territory of the pre-Achaemenid East as early as in the second millennium BC. The zoomorphic motifs that appearеd in the Balkan lands in the second phase of the Early Iron Age show some similarities to the Eastern prototypes, but also their own local specifics. The so far known examples from Thrace represent figurines of deer, horses, bulls, he-goats, rams and birds that, according to the ancient written tradition and the pictorial monuments, have been the sacrificial animals in the Thracian royal rite.

However, the context of the discovery of the objects and their purpose have been so far insufficiently clarified. One of the bronze axes was discovered in an 8th – 7th century BC tumulus grave near the village of Kameno pole, Vratsa Region. The archaeological excavations of some famous Greek sanctuaries of that time (Dodona, Aegina, Ephesus, Delphi, Olympia, etc.) have revealed a number of similar finds which have been most probably votive offerings. Based on the available data, it can be assumed that some of the objects (miniature axes and figurines with openings or suspension rings) may have adorned the garment or were worn as amulets, while others were probably parts of scepters or vessels’ decoration. They have been placed either in graves of noble Thracian aristocrats as a symbol of their priestly functions performed in their lifetime or dedicated as votives in different sacred places.

1.Statuette of a deer, bronze, the region of Petrich, 8th – 7th century BC, National Museum of History, inv. N 33475
Schematically represented image of a wide-horned fallow-deer. The figure is in irregular proportions, with elongated, cylindrical body and neck.

2.Statuette of a goat, bronze, unknown provenance, 8th – 7th century BC, National Museum of History, inv. N 59253
The body is elongated, prismatic, the ears and tail are conical, and the muzzle is pyramid shaped. There is an attempt at rendering some details in a realistic way - the muscles in the back are rounded, plastically shaped, and the horns are long, massive and curved back. There is a suspension ring cast on the back.  

3.Miniature axes, bronze, unknown provenance, 8th – 7th century BC, National Museum of History, inv. N 59252, 59254
The first has a trapezoidal blade, with a wide rounded edge and arched lateral contours. The blade of the second is quadrilateral, narrowed with a rounded edge. The bodies of both axes are cast together with the neck. The latter is bifurcated and ends with symmetrically arranged schematic bovine (?) heads and, respectively, rams' (?) protomes that are facing in opposite directions. One round and one drop-like rings are cast at the top of each blade.  
Further reading:
Венедиков, И., Герасимов, Т. Тракийското изкуство. София, 1973.
Китов, Г. Тракийски символични секири и амулети с изображения на животни. – Археология 2 (1979), 13 – 19
Конова, Л. Бронзова фигура на еленче от НИМ. Опит за интерпретация. В: Георги Китов, Диана Димитрова (ред.) Земите на България - люлка на Тракийската култура /т. I, резюмета, статии. Гео Прес, 2003
Конова, Л. Царското жертвоприношение. – Бюлетин на Фондация „Арете“, 1, 2-3 (2003), 17 – 28
Karadzhinov, I. Miniature Axes with Zoomorphic Protomes from Greek Sanctuaries in the Light of Thraco-Greek Contacts in the 8th-6th Century BC. - Archaeologia Bulgarica XV, 1 (2011), 1-12  
Vassileva, M. Bronze Animal Figurines from Gordion. In: A. Çilingiroglu, A. Sagona (Eds.) Anatolian Iron Ages 7.  The Proceedings of the Seventh Anatolian Iron Ages Colloquium held at Edirne, (19–24 April 2010), Peeters Leuven – Paris – Walpole, Ma 2012, 317 - 332. 
Author: L. Konova
Photos: R. Kolev  , I. Tavityan