Sumerian Statuette of a Smiling Worshiper, Early Dynastic III, c. 2800-2550 BC
The statuette is made of Alabaster, bitumen, lapis lazuli and possibly shell. The woman’s expression, almost “smiling”, is a distinctive feature of Mesopotamian figures; in reality, it was probably not a smile, but rather a demonstration of inner spirit and joy. The woman (who cannot be identified, lacking any inscription) is dressed in the so-called kaunakes, which was probably the archetypal ceremonial garment in the Mesopotamian Bronze Age.
Excavations in Mesopotamian temples have revealed a large number of male and female figurines that devotees commissioned and dedicated to various deities, as a testimony of their faith and to arrange for a constant presence near the deity. Typologically, while men and women are equally attested, seated figures are rarer than standing statuettes. Such ex-votos were deposited at the foot of the altar or on the offering table; they have been often discovered in favissae (votive deposits), where they were stored when the temples or the sanctuaries had to be cleared, to make room for new offerings. These statuettes were offered by prominent figures of the court or of the administration, by members of the religious staff, by wealthy people (merchants or dignitaries) or even by members of the royal families. The presence of an inscription, usually engraved in the back, could indicate the name and rank of the owner. Stylistically, this figurine is related to certain objects excavated at Mari and can therefore be dated to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC.