Master of Animals Finials from Luristan

  Introduction
There must be several hundreds "Master of Animals" (MoA) from Luristan around. Just google it and you will see more than a hundred. Alternatively, look up the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), search for "Luristan" and you get another 100 or so. Here I will offer my thoughts (and a lot of pictures) to the development of these pieces of art and what they might have meant to the old Luristanis.
The first thing to notice is that the standard MoA had forbears that look similar but are something else. We can't do better than to look at the genealogy supplied by Bruno Overlaet1).
     
Luristan; Master animals
Time-line for the development of the MoA finials
Dating inserted by me
     
The starting point is the obvious need of the old Luris for "finials". A finial, according to Wikipedia, is "an element marking the top or end of some object, often formed to be a decorative feature". The "Kreuzblume" (German word) on top of the tall Gothic church towers is a finial, and so are the holy / patriotic/ decorative things on top of the pope's staff, flagpoles, war standards and bed posts. What kind of stick the Luris decorated with their finials, and why they put them into graves, we don't know. The MoA finials are too small for war standards; at best they could have adorned a kind of scepter, a walking stick, or a house altar. Or something else.
So we start with something simple: the "tube man". Here are a few:
     
Luristan; Master animals
Tube men
Here are more
   
To say it once: These bronze objects might be fakes, and they might be from 800 BC, or 900 BC , or ... and not from 1100 BC or earlier as assumed above. There is no way of telling their precise age or if they are genuine. So I'm speculating up to a point. I might be partially or completely wrong - but there is also no way of telling either. The message is that the line of arguments I'm making here does not critically depend on these details.
Next the early Luris make some "animals only" finials. They come, broadly speaking, in two varieties. Animals you must be afraid of or more docile kinds. The dangerous animals are often not real animals but some demons or whatever, modelled after some of the more dangerous real beasts. Like these ones, for example:
   
Luristan; Master animals
Luristan; Master animals
Dangerous animals, sometimes called "lions" or "dragons"
The upper one is one of mine
     
Here are a few more of the same kind:
     
Luristan; Master animals
Luristan; Master animals
     
Then we have the "nice" animals, typically ibexes. An ibex is a kind of wild mountain goat with impressive horns that lives in high mountains. Here is one:
   
Ibex
Ibex
   
Below you see how the old Luris perceived their Ibexes:
   
Luristan; Master animal
Luristan; Master animals
   
Luristan; Master animals
Ibex pairs and, maybe, horses on the lower right
     
  Plenty more "animals only" and "victims of animals" finials can be found in this link.
You needed to stick these animals on some tube as shown for some examples. So take a (slimmed down) tube-man for that and you get your Master of Animals!
Well - No!!! What you got, at least in some cases, is the exact opposite: The "Victim of Animals". Just look at this object from my collection:
     
 
Luristan; Master animals
Victim of Animals
     
  The animals - clearly the vicious beasts from above - are biting off his ears. They are eating him. And he is suffering, just look at that face. The arms you see belong to the animals. They are holding him captive. Definitely no master here.
There are plenty more examples, here are just a few:
     
 
Luristan; Master animals
Luristan; Master animals
Enter humans. First just the head, then parts of the upper body.
   
Luristan; Master animals
Full-bodied victim
     
None of the guys looks very masterful. No wonder - they are being devoured by brutal beasts. Typically the beasts are after his (or her) ears. That's a bit strange but they had little choice - all heads must be roughly on the same level, after all. But note that in one of the finials the beasts (Possibly ibexes) bite the guy in his neck. Note also that the guy has a full body including arms in the last picture. That might be seen as the last stage before he starts to defend himself by gripping the beasts at their necks.
  However
To my own surprise, there is also a completely different way to interpret the meaning of these "victims", see below.
All that's needed now is the central figure using his arms for holding the beasts at bay. That's what we get. Here are examples:
   
Luristan; Master animals
Tube man strangling the beasts
     
Luristan; Master animals
Luristan; Master animals
Emerging Masters
     
We have early masters of Animals here. And this includes at least one female Master or better Mistress, see below.
   
Luristan; Master animals
Emerging Masters
     
The faces do no longer express suffering; they look rather masterly now. In contrast, the beasts are suffering. Their snouts are open, perhaps because they still want to snap for the ears but more likely because they are suffocating.
The figures are still rather tube like. And there are no chickens yet. However, we have on occasion a second face on the body of the figure. Right were his (or her) stomach would be. Maybe this indicates "You are no longer going to eat me. I'm going to eat you (or your products like eggs, milk, wool, piglets, meat)".
We have one more step to go for the fully developed Master of Animals as shown here (and in this link)
   
   
Luristan; Master animals
Full Masters of Animals
Source: Left: One of mine; Right: British Museum
     
What is the meaning of the chicken heads always there? We wouldn't ask this question if it would be a noble eagle or falcon head. But chicken?
I believe that this signifies complete mastery over the beasts: its domestication. First I feared you, then I stood up to you, killed and ate you, and now you are my pet and I am your god. You live with me and yield to me in all respects.
"(Domesticated) chickens arrived in the Middle East starting with Iran at 3900 BCE, followed by Turkey and Syria (2400–2000 BCE) and into Jordan by 1200 BCE" says an Internet source, so the Luris might have had chickens running around. They also must have had dogs, pigs, cows, sheep and goats, so why use the lowly chicken on your finial? Well, bronze dogs couldn't be told from wolves, and cows, pigs, sheep and goats have broad heads that do not go well with the flat figures. So we take chicken.
Well, not always. There seem to be a few MoA finials around that feature other domestic animals in addition to the chicken. One with goats is shown above on the right, and a wildly overblown one with chicken, lots of heads and cows is shown below. Note that the cows also subdue the once fearful beasts.
     
Luristan; Master animals
Cows strangling the beast
Source: Wiki commons; used to be part of the collection of the Harvard museum
     
Here is another one with goats:
     
   
Maser of Animals
MoA with goats
Source: Barakat Galery
     
If these MoA finials are not fakes, they certainly strengthen my argument.
That's it. Let's summarize:
  • The "Masters of Animals" are predated by "Victims of Animals".
  • Masters appear in two stages: Partial mastery (hunting, killing, eating); no chickens attached
  • Full mastery by domestication. Chickens (always) plus other domesticated animals (rare) are attached to the beasts.
Once more: This might all be BS; I agree. However, I have not found anything "better" in the literature so far. In fact, I have not found anything that explains the role of the chicken or recognizes the victim of animal finials. I can't claim that I have read everything published to Luristan bronzes but I believe that not much will turn up by further reading.
   

Famous last words up there? Well, recently (spring 2022) I have run across two quite unusual "Masters of Animals" that suggested a completely different interpretation.
Here they are:
   
   
Luristan: Master, unusual Luristan, Master, unusual
Unusual "Master of Animals"
left male, right female
Source: Auctioned off by Hermann Historica,spring 2022
     
These two bronze figures are about twice as big as the "normal" MoA's, more primitive and somewhat archaic. We might thus assume that they belong to the older varieties, i.e. dating to 1100 BC or even earlier.
I have not seen anything like these figures in museums or in the literature. They are, as I could convince myself, no fakes.
Looking at these figures I had an epiphany best expressed in the words of the Bible, Genesis 1,2;7:
 
   


And the LORD God formed man of the dust
of the ground, and breathed into his
nostrils the breath of life; and
man became a living soul. 2)


     
The "vicious beasts" don't eat the persons here. Their snouts merge with the head and form a kind of crown on the head of the humans.
Could it be that the "vicious beasts" actually symbolize some godheads that pull humans out of the primordial swamp (or form them from earth) and then breath life into them?
Or, more general,
     
   


Do (early) MoA figures symbolize the
creation of men (and women)?


     
  I certainly don't know. But I consider it possible. The Genesis part of the bible is believed to go back to about 600 - 700 BC (captivity of Jews in Babylon), according to Wikipedia. The figures are most likely considerably older, they thus cannot illustrate Bible texts. The Bible, however, is to some extent based on older texts and traditions and a quick search in the Internet reveals that the forming of men from earth / dust / clay followed by "breathing" life into him in one way or other, is quite common in old mythology.
If you look for details, however, the topic gets murky rather quickly and I therefore leave further speculations to specialists.
The fact that the later MoA figures show men as the master of the (supposed) creator godheads does not clash with this interpretation. In (as far as I can tell) all old myths, the humans (or gods, semigods, ...) created by the first generation of mythical power figures always rebel against their creators and subdue or kill them. That's just what we see if we follow the suggested timeline of the figures.
A lot more could be sand but I rest my case at this point. Maybe in time, real experts have something to add.
     

1) Bruno Overlaet: LURISTAN BRONZES - THE FIELD RESEARCH Encyclopædia Iranica , online edition, 2016. This link opens a copy of the paper
2) No, I'm not releigious at all and I don't know the Bible by heart. Aber man hat halt eine gute Schule besucht....

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