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The Mountain Goat; Symbol of Rain In Iranian Pottery 


By Stanley Kohen


Representation of a mountain goat on an earthenware

unearthed in Shahr-e Sukhteh (Burnt City), 3200 BCE



The designs drawn by the Iranians especially drawings of Iran's national animal, the mountain goat, have been infused with the spirit of simplicity and precision. These designs are unique in all of Asia.



Iran's Handicrafts

The prehistoric man lived in constant fear and anxiety. He feared the satanic force, and needed a stimulant to help him defend himself from this wicked force. That is the reason why he resorted to talismans, charms, and totems to the point of worshipping them. Studying prehistoric man's creations, helps us discover his interest in exhibiting what they considered as the manifestations of gods that they worshipped. For example, drawings of the sun, and the animals related to the sun, such as the eagle, lion, cow, deer, and the mountain goat, can be seen on pottery dating back to the 4th millennium BC People wore necklaces with pendants of mountain goats, especially among Cassy tribes in Lorestan.


These people needed a defender, because they believed that since time immemorial, hurricanes, floods, wild animals, etc. had threatened man, his home, livestock and crops. Because they wanted to be safe, they began worshipping the gods and goddesses, or objects and animals which they presumed the gods and goddesses liked.


Sometimes only one of the animals limbs of organs was drawn on pottery. For example, in the pottery made during the period between 3,000 to 4,000 BC , there are drawings of the horns of cows, deer and mountain goats, or the wings and claws of birds, together with geometrical designs.


Each ancient tribe considered the mountain goat to be the symbol of one of the natural, beneficial elements. For example, in Lorestan, it symbolized the sun. Sometimes it symbolized the rain because in ancient times the moon was related to the rain, and the sun was related to the heat and dryness. There was also a relationship between the mountain goat's twisted horns and the crescent - shaped moon. That is why it was believed that the mountain goat's twisted horns could bring about rainfall.


In ancient Susa and Elam, the mountain goat was the symbol of prosperity and the god of vegetation. In Mesopotamia, the mountain goat symbolized the "Great god's" bestial nature (The Great god appeared in the role of the god of plants, holding a tee branch in his hand, while the mountain goat ate its leaves).


Prehistoric men had an astonishing skill in making pottery. They made the best types of pottery by hand, and by using the potter's wheel. In these artifacts, they have demonstrated all aspects of their lives, such as their religion, mores and art. By studying these creations, we come to know the relationship between different civilizations.


These ancient people, had great skill in depicting horned animals. Maybe the transformation of gods into different drawings of animals, is one of the reasons why animals were considered sacred, and why they became an interesting topic for the works of ancient artists and potters. Most of the prehistoric pottery were first designed with geometrical and decorative designs. Drawings of animals became common after some time, and after that, geometric shapes became widespread once again. This transformation is seen in most of the prehistoric Persian civilizations.


The mountain goat motif emerges in different historical periods. In excavations of many hills, archeologists have discovered vessels bearing the same motif. Here, we shall refer to some of these instances:


The Sialk Hill Civilization, in Kashan, lasted from the fifth millennium to the first millennium BC The hill has six ancient layers, each layer containing distinct types of pottery and other artifacts. Flowers and trees such as the sunflower, and the 'Tree of Life' (The Sacred Tree), drawn in between the goat's horns, are very interesting. The sunflower symbolized the sun, and was considered to be sacred.



The Mooshlan Hill Civilization

The Mooshlan Hill Civilization, in Isma'eelabad, dates back to the fourth millennium BC, and is contemporary with the civilizations of Cheshmeh Ali in Ray, and Ghareh Tappeh in Shahryar. The ceramic vessels of this civilization are red with brown colored drawings. These drawings are diverse, and usually geometrical, depicting animals such as mountain goats and deer. In this period, in addition to the geometrical designs, the artists and potters also drew animals beside each other, and in between the geometrical designs. In this way, they managed to fill the empty spaces on the pots and dishes.


Isma'eelabad is located between Karaj and Hashtgerd, and opposite to the Nigi Emam village. It is located near the southern part of the Tehran-Qazvin Freeway. An ancient hill, Tappeh Mooshlan, whose civilization dates back to the fourth millennium BC, is located near Isma'eelabad.)



Cheshmeh Ali Civilization in the 5th Millennium BC

Archeologists have found two different civilizations in this hill's layers. The first layer contains black pottery, with geometrical designs, which are comparable to the pottery of the Tappeh Hessar civilization. The second layer has brick-red , or sometimes black, pottery decorated with brown geometrical designs. Sometimes drawings of mountain goats and deer fill in the spaces between these designs. This civilization is also comparable to that of Tappeh Hessar. Altogether, these designs have an artistic character, composed of drawings of small date palm trees, intersecting flowers and trees, curved lines and angles, as well as animals. These drawings are not realistic, and rather resemble geometric shapes. The animals are usually depicted in motion. A few ceramic pieces, and two pottery bowls, with mountain goat motif on them, have been found as remains of this civilization.



The Chemshmeh Ali Civilization: fifth millennium BC

One of the remains of this period is a red ceramic bowl, with black geometric designs and two encircling festooned lines. Hachures fill the space between these two lines. Underneath these designs we can only see drawings of mountain goats. The diameter of the bowl is 13 and its height is 11 centimeters.


One of the remains of this period is a red pottery bowl, with brown geometric designs, parallel festoons, and encircling lines, with hachures in between. There are mountain goats and other horned animals drawn in between these designs. In between the two dividing lines, two animals are seen gamboling. A total of 10 horned animals have been drawn on this bowl. The diameter of the bowl is 22.5 and its height is 16 centimeters.


Cheshmeh Ali is located near the city of Rey, in Tehran's periphery, and its historical remains belong to the 5th and 4th millennia BC.


A red colored earthenware bowl with geometrical designs and two zigzag strips in black is one of the artifacts of that era. The potter who made the bowl drew crossed lines between the two strips thus making squares. Under the checkered patterns, there is the picture of a mountain goat. The bowl is 11 centimeters high and 13 centimeters in diameter.



Tal-e Bakun Civilization of Takht-e Jamshid

Tal-e Bakun lies in Marvdasht plateau in the southern province of Fars. The pottery of that era is buff in color and bears various geometrical deigns, some of which were copied from nature. Among the designs, the sun and its revolving motion have been given more attention than others. The potter demonstrated the sun's motion in various shapes like a Swastika (the symbol of the sun). Among the most interesting works of art belonging to the Tal-e Bakun era are two earthenware bowls which are now kept at National Museum of Iran. The outer surface of the bowls is covered with the pictures of two mountain goats. In drawing the horns of the goats, the artist has exaggerated to such an extent that all blank areas on the surface of the bowls have been covered by the horns.


The funnel shaped earthenware bowl in buff color, bears the design of a mountain goat drawn around it skillfully. The horn of the goat, like two large circles, covers all around the bowl and above the horn there is a Swastika, the symbol of the sun. This demonstrates the relationship between the horn of the goat and the sun.


Another sample of an earthenware item, discovered in Tal-e Bakun in Takht-e Jamshid belonging to the 4th millennium BC, is a buff-colored large earthenware pitcher with a short neck. The pitcher had been decorated with three horizontal lines under the neck and two horizontal strips at the lower part of it. Between the lines, there is the picture of a mountain goat with exaggerated large horn which has covered the entire surface of the pitcher. The height of the pitcher is 27.5 centimeters and its brim is 13 centimeters in diameter.



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