Ariadne Galleries

Plaque in the form of Two Birds
Period: Sixth to fourth century BC
Culture: Southwest Inner Mongolia
Material: Tinned Bronze
Dimensions: 8.2 x 6.9 cm
image 1
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This rounded plaque takes the form of two birds depicted back to back with their beaks raised upwards, as if gazing heavenwards. Underneath, stylized feathers hang down. The centre of the plaque protrudes to represent the bodies of both birds. Either side, two wings in the form of large swirls extend outwards, while more feathers representing their tail plumage fan out below. On the reverse, a simple vertical bar over the central protrusion would have been used for fastening. Such items of personal adornment would have served as a conspicuous and significant symbol of status, with tinned bronze objects, in particular, being reserved for individuals of high rank.

Bird heads were popular motifs throughout the artistic repertoire of the Steppes peoples, and the stylized bird with large curving beak, also known as a raptor, belongs to a symbolic system employed by certain nomads living between Bulgaria in the west and the Great Wall of China from the seventh century BC to the first century AD. Its significance can perhaps be linked to the eagle, a magnificent bird of prey with which the nomadic peoples had a special relationship. Whilst this predator threatened the herds, it was also used in falconry and was believed to have magical powers; some male members of the Scytho-Siberian tribes even had tattoos depicting these creatures.


Private Collection, New York, 1980s.
Published: T. Pang, Treasures of the Eurasian Steppes: Animal Art from 800 BC to 200 AD (New York, 1998), no. 81.