This axe head is adorned with an intricate openwork depiction of two tigers attacking a rabbit. The animals are very stylized and recognizable only by the incised lines on the tigers’ bodies and the long ears of their prey. On the blade itself is a human or animal face with perforated eyes. The shaft is perforated through the top and the bottom for attachment to the handle. Inside the shaft, at the top of the blade, is a small hollowed ridge. The fine artistic adornment suggests that it may have been a weapon reserved for ceremonial occasions.
The Bronze Age in Mongolia corresponds to a time in Eurasian prehistory when pastoralism, mobility, and interaction between regional communities increased considerably, and horses became an integral part of ceremonies at impressive ritual and burial monuments throughout the region; these provide an understanding of complex social organizations. The Late Bronze Age to early Iron Age represents the peak of monumental construction in Mongolia. These indicate the important social and religious changes taking place in Inner Asia during this time, as well as an increasing social interaction over greater areas, shared by their architectural characteristics and ritual practices across vast regions. The prevalence of impressive grave goods in Inner Mongolia indicates the importance of wealth and status, and the use of repeated iconographical motifs – largely raptor imagery and carnivores attacking small animals – may point to a preoccupation with strong bonds of kinship.
The motif of a carnivore attacking a small animal was very popular with the peoples of the Eurasian Steppes, since it reflected the harsh realities of life as a herdsman. It was also thought that the image of the dominant animal could transmit the properties of power and strength to the wearer.
For more on the image of the attacking carnivore in the arts of Inner Mongolia, E.C. Bunker, Ancient Bronzes of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections (New York, 1997), pp. 202 and 206.
A fine general study of the Mongolian Bronze Age is presented by J.-L. Houle, Bronze Age Mongolia (Oxford, 2016).
Private Collection, Canada, 1970s.
Published: T. Pang, Treasures of the Eurasian Steppes: Animal Art from 800 BC to 200 AD (New York, 1998), no. 80.