Ariadne

Weight in the form of a duck
Period: circa second millennium BC
Culture: Mesopotamian
Material: Calcite
Dimensions: 26 cm L
 
Weight in the form of a duck
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An especially fine and large stylized duck, with a plump body and a flaring tail, its neck reversed and head and beak resting along its back in a sleeping position. This object has been highly polished to produce a smooth surface and is stabilized on a flat base. Weights in this form first appeared in Mesopotamia region in the Old Babylonian period and fell out of use thereafter (circa 2000-1600 BC) and for this reason can be assigned a relatively accurate date. The duck form was predominantly used for weights in this period, though the barrel-shape is also known.



The shekel was the basic unit of weight at 8.31 grams; the duck weight is 5100 grams. Taking into account some minor wear it represents the substantial measure of 615 shekels. The weight would have been placed in the pan of a balance mechanism to weigh the most important commodities as part of local or regional trade. Items would have included base metals, such as copper and lead; precious metals, notably gold and silver; liquids, including olive oil, beer and wine; and food produce, such as barley and emmer wheat.


Parallels are displayed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1980.324.2); the Penn Museum, Pennsylvania (31-43-111, 37-15-10, 53-11-16, B16365); and the British Museum (ME 104724). However, the weight under scrutiny is of a superior aesthetic quality and size compared with these items.

Provenance

Private collection, UK, 1988.

Private Collection, UK, 1990s.