Updated: Jan 9
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 artefacts 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, and 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.
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.
David Warner Mathisen has a very plausible explanation for the stellar correspondence for this handbag. In one of his videos, he demonstrates that what the Apkallu holds in his hand, this mysterious bag shaped item, corresponds to what the Archangel holds in his hand - well, in terms of the stars. It is the constellation Libra, which corresponds to the scales the Archangel holds in his left hand, and to the handbag also.
Many important mythical and religious figures correspond to Ophiuchus, from the Buddha to St Michael, Apkallu to St Patrick, and many others. In fact the video linked above gives a good overview of David's work on this.
I think it offers an intriguing connection to these other mythical and religious figures, and the constellations Ophiuchus and Libra. Ophiuchus figures often hold an item in each hand, and this is also true of the funny looking guy on the side of the Bishop's stone, pictured above, which puts him forward also as a candidate for an Ophiuchus related figure.
Furthermore, the stellar connection between the handbag and the weighing scales gives further, ehm, weight, (sorry) to the theory that the bag is in fact a weight, perhaps a symbolic division of a particular important weight, or perhaps a weight with which the counter weigh the souls of the dead.
In the image below, a party of gods, including Anubis, who may also be an Ophiuchus related figure, is weighing the soul of a dead person, waiting to be admitted into the afterlife.
Sometimes Anubis is portrayed standing, and he often carries a spear in his right hand (an Ophiuchus trait) and an ankh in his left. The ankh is a symbol of life, and may well also share the correspondence to the constellation Libra, just as Michael's scales and the stone bag do, I believe.
Many thanks to Megalithic Ireland for the use of the photo and the information on the stone.