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October 06, 2005

Holy cow

A rhyton is a drinking vessel typically taking an horned animal shape in a metonymous gesture to its function as an elaborate drinking horn. Gohar Tepe excavation team leader, Ali Mahforouzi has announced the discovery of some rather appealing cow rhytons left in an Iron Age rubbish bin in what is now northern Iran. He believes these cups demonstrate people living in ancient Iran "worshiped oxen and humped cows".

Mahforouzi believes that rhytons reflect the beliefs of the ancient people of the region. These statues are evidence that the people of the region worshiped oxen and humped cows 3000 years ago. "Even today we can see some kind of respect towards the animals in the region," added Mahforouzi, referring to kinds of cows being regarded as symbols of hard work and fertility.

Leaving aside any grammatical trickiness of Mahforouzi's statement, several caveats should also be raised. It is one thing to hold cows in considerable reverence and quite another to worship them. Furthermore, large predators, raptors and aggressive herbivores are always a safe choice as totemic figures for noble lineages or indeed contemporary nation states. This is not to say that Americans worship the bald eagle. Finally, there is the perennial archealogical habit of reading religious import, ceremony and ritual into objects showing a hint of artistic merit. Perhaps these decorative cups were part of a collection on an iron age cow fancier. Now that NHL hockey has returned, Canadians are going to be treated to all sorts of totemic displays but this is not to suggest Canadians worship hockey (ok, bad example).

Posted by Ghost of a flea at October 6, 2005 10:14 AM

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It is one thing to hold cows in considerable reverence and quite another to worship them.

And still quite another to hu-- er, I mean, uh, use them as artistic inspiration. That's what I meant. Ahem.

Posted by: Varenius [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 6, 2005 02:15 PM