By now, everyone who even casually observes ancient art notices that the same patterns, symbols, and motifs appear across the globe. Is it merely a coincidence? Or were ancient cultures much more connected than we currently understand? It doesn’t take an academic or a professional archaeologist to look at ancient art and ask questions.
One such example, out of many, is the recurring motif of what some call the “Master of the Animals.” There are also references to “Lord of the Animals,” and “Mistress of the Animals,” or Potnia Theron. These depictions from as far back as 4000 BC. Whatever you want to call them, these are depictions of a human, god, or goddess, holding two animals or objects on each side.
According to Researcher and author Richard Cassaro, these are the “God Self” Icon and represent universal knowledge. He analyzed hundreds of such examples across the planet, along with similar ancient pyramid structures.
Since these motifs are seen again and again all over the world, it is interesting to wonder how it’s possible. Was it just a matter of arriving at the same decorative symbolism by chance? Or, are we seeing evidence of communication across thousands of miles when this was thought impossible at the time?
Aside from this mystery, what does this symbolism really mean? We can speculate that these depictions might show mastery over the animal kingdom by ancient heroes and heroines. Does this idea seem to ring true? Or could we be looking at depictions representing ancient beings with higher intelligence passing along knowledge about agriculture or technology, as suggested by some ancient astronaut theorists?
We can make no determination here, but leave it up to you to wonder and to enjoy these beautiful ancient works of art. The more we study them, the more questions are raised, and the more our true understanding of history is called into question.
One of the oldest examples is the Seated Woman of Çatalhöyük from Turkey. Made from baked Neolithic clay, the ceramic artifact was created in 6000 BCE. She is widely known as the “Mother Goddess” and was found in 1961.
“In one of the temples a grain container yielded a 12 cm statue of a large woman sitting on a throne with two leopards on either side of her. The statue depicts the woman giving birth, with the head of the baby visible. Apart from leopards and vultures, bulls also are found at the side of the Mother Goddess. On wall paintings only the heads of bulls are depicted.”
We see some of the first depictions of the motif on the cylinder seals of the Ancient Near East and Mesopotamia. Below we see an “Achaemenid seal impression with the Persian king subduing two Mesopotamian lamassu, which were protective deities.
The example below is from circa 2600 BCE in the ancient city-state of Ur in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq. This may represent the naked Enkidu with the god of cattle, Shakkan as seen in another seal below. Enkidu was central to the ancient Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh.
At the site of modern-day Iran, we see this strangely-shaped object from 2500 BC. The shape seems similar to the object so often spotted in the hands of ancient beings on carvings from around the world. It’s sometimes referred to as the ancient handbag, but what was it really? This object seems to combine the Lord of the Animals and the ancient handbag shape.
Now moving to the Indus Valley Civilisation of South Asia, we see a “Pashupati,” or Lord of Animals, which is the Sanskrit paśupati. The seated figure with three faces is surrounded by animals.
Now we take a look at a famous ivory and flint knife called the Gebel el-Arak Knife from Abydos, Egypt. The object dates to circa 3300-3200 BCE according to conventional wisdom. The question of why an apparently Sumerian king was found on an ancient Egyptian artifact has puzzled researchers. The figure could represent “Master of Animals”, the god El, Meskiagkasher (the Biblical Cush), the Sumerian king of Uruk, or simply “a warrior.”
As evidenced by his shepherd hat, one researcher wrote:
“It seems the Uruk king is always surrounded by animals. As explained in The Kings of Uruk, ‘The continuous presence of animals in the iconography of the Uruk king is meant to establish his identity as a shepherd, as the guardian and protector of his flock, the people.’
The Uruk king had to use pictures rather than the written word to show that he is the
shepherd king. “That’s because Sumerian writing was still in the process of being invented.”
Another example that draws references from both Egypt and ancient Mesopotamia is this gold pendant showing the Lord of the Animals. Although it appears Egyptian, it’s Minoan, dating to 1700–1500 BC. It now resides in the British Museum. Notice that the serpents look eerily similar to the one on the Gundestrup Cauldron from Denmark below.
Moving to ancient Greece, we see a female goddess represented as “The Mistress of the Animals” or Potnia Theron on an archaic ivory votive offering.
Almost 2,000 miles away we find another animal lord in Denmark on the Gundestrup Cauldron, the largest known piece of European Iron Age silver work. The cauldron was found in a peat bog in 1891 and could date back to the 2nd or 1st century BC. This time the ‘animals’ in the hands of the figure seem to represent some kind of misunderstood technology rather than actual snakes.
The example below, the Luristan bronze is from between 1000 and 650 BC and comes from the mountainous area in western Iran. The intricate object was a “horse bit cheekpiece.”
Featured image: Images via Wikimedia Commons