41. A Bag of Tricks

Updated: Feb 6

Those bags that are seen on ancient stone carvings, all over the world - are they really bags? They do look like a smart handbag, the sort the queen favours, fairly small, with a semi-circular handle. They could, however, be weights. Many solid stone artefacts that look like these handbags have been found, and the handle does suggest they are meant to be lifted up, or held, for some reason. As they are not hollow, could they be designed simply to be held rather than to hold?

Stone 'handbag' from ancient Iran, photo taken by Gregory Campbell Irwin at an exhibition on Ancient Iran in the MARQ Museum in Alicante, Spain, summer 2019

If it were a weight, though, you might expect there to be a series of similar objects, all slightly bigger or smaller than the next, corresponding to various other weights. However, this one here, in the photo above, is so beautifully decorated, it's probably not an object designed for practicality. Perhaps whatever weight it is was supposed to be indicative of a particular unit of measure, deemed central to a system of measure. I don't know how much it weighs unfortunately.

It's certainly possible that artfeacts like the one above are what the sculptures with the bird and fish men carrying a bag shaped object represent. Whatever these objects are, they must have some symbolic significance. They can be seen in artwork from Mexico to Turkey, from New Zealand to Egypt.

Relief panel, Neo-Assyrian ca. 883–859 B.C., from Mesopotamia, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), Relief panel | Assyrian | Neo-Assyrian | The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org)

This one is from Mesapotamia is probably the most famous of them, having been written about by Graham Hancock, among others. These bags at Gobekli Tepe - see below - are also very well known.

Pillar 43, Enclosure D: the "Vulture Stone", Photo by Sue Fleckney, Wikimedia Commons

While these carvings of strange figures holding bag-shaped objects are found all around the world, I'd never come across one in Ireland till now. I was quite surprised to find this image while looking at Irish stone carvings on the wonderful Megalithic Ireland website, as I'd never heard of such bags in Ireland before.

It's hard to be sure what the figure is supposed to be holding, but it does look like one of those stone bags. The figure is quite different from any of those seen in other carvings with those strange handbags, but perhaps what they do have in common is that they are all really bizarre, often with animal characteristics. Is this man or woman sort of hedgehog shaped? The back is curved and broad. In fact, he is a bit like Noface, in Spirited Away, seen from the front. If the character with the funny shaped body is indeed carrying a weight and some sort of yard stick, it could be that he is the a deity in charge of measure. This would be an interesting potential link to artwork in places far away.

As to what such a bag actually represents... well, the cat's not been let out just yet.

Many thanks to Megalithic Ireland for the use of the photo and the information on the stone.

Killadeas (megalithicireland.com)

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