Boeotian Greek  Terracotta Female Mourner, Late Orientalizing or Early Archaic Period, C. 600 BC

Women played a major role in ancient Greek funeral rites. They were in charge of preparing the body, which was washed, anointed and adorned with a wreath. After the body was prepared, it was laid out for viewing on the second day. Kinswomen, wrapped in dark robes, stood round the bier, the chief mourner, either mother or wife, was at the head, and others behind. This part of the funeral rites was called the prothesis. Women led the mourning by chanting dirges, tearing at their clothing and hair (like this statue), and striking their torso, particularly their breasts.

Small terracotta female mourner figurines such as the one above were usually made to be incorporated into a larger terracotta vessels to be left as grave goods for the deceased.

More about ancient Greek mourning practices


Syrian Terracotta ‘Conestoga’ Covered Wagons, c. 2000-1600 BC

These simple ceramic vehicles reflect the distinctive moment when men first used domesticated animals to draw wheeled vehicles, thus beginning powered transport on land.  Probably drawn by a pair of bovids, these wagon models may have been intended for cult use, or as grave gifts, to be left in shrines, sacred caches, or tombs. Although drawings of wheeled vehicles occur all over Eurasia, this seminal development in human culture probably originated in Mesopotamia or the Russian Steppes in the late 3rd millennium BC.


Greek Plastic Terracotta  Foot Vase with Lion Mask, c. 4th-3rd Century BC

This vessel, which certainly served for the storage of precious oils or perfumes, would have been filled through the holes that are visible on the upper part: the concave shape would have allowed the collecting of the liquid flowing off. The spout is at the Achilles tendon level and represents the head of a lion, the pierced mouth of which enabled the pouring of the liquid. This element, attested on many small plastic vases or on contemporary askoi, probably refers to the gargoyles of the temples or fountains that represented feline heads in the Greek world.


Ancient Cypriot Bronze Age Terracotta Idol

2700 BC

Bronze Age, 2700 – 1900 BC.

Standing on tiptoes, the curvaceous figure with wide hips, tapering thighs, a large navel and incised triangle of pubic hair. The limbs are short and stocky, whilst the head features large deeply set eyes, protruding nose and an incised cut across the top of the head. There is widespread preservation of the original ochre pigment.

A century ago such figures were dismissed as “crude”, yet now we appreciate that this was an intentional attempt at experimenting with the human form, seeking to accentuate the features that were important in the context of the figure - in this case fertility. Early Bronze Age figures of this form are considerably rarer than the so-called “plank idols”.

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