01. Global Prehistory, Art & Humanities

#6. Anthropomorphic stele. Arabian Peninsula. Fourth millennium BCE. Sandstone.

#6. Anthropomorphic stele. Arabian Peninsula. Fourth millennium BCE. Sandstone.

Art Historical Background

This stele is not a unique art piece discovered alone, it is part of a mass cache of anthropomorphic stela (plural of stele). This tells us that this area was densely settled and served as a focal point of a major Ancient Near Eastern trade route.

The various stela are not identical to each other but share certain reductive anthropomorphic traits, similarities in style. The particular stele in the AP Art History image set appears as a standing man with two straps going diagonally across his chest with a split dagger in his belt (?). Gender is assessed based on his weapons, considering war is typically a male sphere in the ancient world. However, there are no representation of genitals to support this theory.

Read more: The Human Figure in Prehistoric Art

Many of the stela found across the Arabian Peninsula from this time period are believed to have served as ritualistic or funerary markers.

Interesting side note, archaeologists believe that during the Neolithic era, the Arabian Peninsula was more of a savanna than the dry landscape it is today. The change in ecosystem helps explain what all these stele are doing out in the middle of the desert.

Note: This environmental change is similar to what we see with the Running Horned Woman.

Most of the resources I found (which aren’t many), focus on context and heavily discuss other stela found as part of the excavation and exhibition “Routes of Arabia” at the Louvre. Although certainly important to understanding this Neolithic society, it is less focused on the art history of this stele.

Read more: A closer look at the Anthropomorphic Stele



Next Time: #7. Jade cong. Liangzhu, China. 3300-2200 BCE. Carved jade.


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