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Beak-Spouted Vessels


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I thought I’d contribute a post dealing with a particularly odd-looking variety of ancient pottery vessel. It’s a type that was produced from the Late Bronze Age to Early Iron Age in Iran.


I own a number of ancient clay vessels from Western Asia, including western and northwestern Iran. Perhaps the most noteworthy are the pitchers sporting what is sometimes referred to as “bird beak spouts”. (Alternatively, the pitchers are sometimes just referred to as “beak-spouted” vessels.). Although these unusually shaped vessels are typically associated with ancient central, western, and northwestern Iran, I believe that variants were produced in Anatolia and Crete as well.


Roughly dating from the second to early first millennium BC, they evoke (to varying degrees) the waterfowl of the southern Caspian Sea region from which the pots originate. There are a number of varieties. Some beak-spouted vessels were more literal in their depiction of avian features. Others, mine included, are much less direct. Some, like finds from Tepe Sialk in central Iran, had elaborate, painted geometric decoration. Others had simple, unpainted, burnished surfaces. Some featured incised decorative patterns. In some, the back of the “bird’s head” is connected to the rim at the top of the vessel. In others it is not connected, being instead supported entirely by the “neck”.


All three of mine have large, roundish bodies (one is carinated, giving it a somewhat lenticular shape) and long, trough-like "bird beak” spouts with open channels projecting from one side of their rims. Additionally, each has a small loop handle (broken on one specimen). One features a crude adorno, perhaps of a ram’s head or bird in flight, below its handle. The one with the carinated form is highly burnished and is decorated with incised patterns.


First, here are a number of examples from websites and texts:



And, here are mine:


Western or NW Iran
Early first millennium BC (Iron Age II)
23.5 cm (w) x 22.9 cm (h)
(9.25” x 9”)
Large, round body, "bird beak spout" with open channel projecting from one side of rim, some losses (to handle, rim, and spout), long but stable body crack.
Ex-Arthur M. Sackler collection. [Sackler (1913-1987) was one of America's preeminent collectors of Asian and ancient art.] This piece was among dozens of ancient Near Eastern ceramics works from the Arthur M. Sackler Collection released from long term storage by Sotheby's, c. 2009. They were sold at auction by Millea Bros. at the Morristown, New Jersey Armory, February 2011.



Amlash (NW Iran)
c. 1000 BC
18.4 cm (w) x 13.3 cm (h)
(7 ¼” x 5 ¼”)
Large, round body, “bird beak spout” (broken) with open channel projecting from one side of rim, small loop handle, adorno below handle (Bull or ram’s head? Bird in flight?).



Western or NW Iran
c. 1000 BC
25.4 cm (w) x 17 cm (h)
(10” x 6.7”)
Beak-spouted vessel with carinated body, opposing small ring handle, decorated with pinched bands and incised lines, small losses to rim and spout.
Ex-Carlisle, England collection formed 1960s – 1980s



Edited by Kamnaskires
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