Early Bronze Age Evidence for Possible Aegean-Indus Trade
Marie Nicole Pareja
University of Pennsylvania
The Offering to the Seated Goddess fresco from Xeste 3 at Akrotiri on Thera is among the best preserved wall paintings from the Aegean Bronze Age. Located in a ceremonial structure, the painting shows a young girl depositing crocus stamens into a basket behind a blue monkey, who stands on hind legs and offers stamens to a large, seated female figure. The scene is considered completely Minoan in nature. Many parallels between the roles and appearances of Minoan and Egyptian monkeys are well attested in scholarship, but the possible relationships between Minoan and Near Eastern monkeys, particularly in light of this wall painting, are not yet thoroughly explored. Contemporary Near Eastern figurines, plaques, hairpins, and glyptic arts preserve depictions of monkeys that fulfill a myriad of roles, including but not limited to those of their Minoan counterparts. Near Eastern texts survive with additional reference to monkeys as exotic pets, elite gifts, agents of healing, and sometimes harbingers of the supernatural. These primates appear in glyptic art as participants in Presentation Scenes, often located between the approaching supplicant(s) and a seated figure. These highly portable pieces were likely the basis for at least the composition of the Minoan Offering to the Seated Goddess fresco. Monkeys are not indigenous to the Near East and Mesopotamia, and they must have been imported from elsewhere; many scholars assume Egypt, but increasing evidence indicates the Indus River Valley. When coupled with the newest collaborative work, a new species is identified in Minoan art: the Hanuman langur, from the Indus River Valley. Through an examination of iconography, text, trade, and morphological characteristics, the relationships between monkeys in Aegean, Mesopotamian, and Indus River Valley cultural material is closely examined.