Could this Sumerian statue depict an ancient extinct giraffe?

Illustration for article titled Could this Sumerian statue depict an ancient extinct giraffe?

For decades, paleontologists have agonized over a strange Sumerian statue found in central Iraq. The figurine depicts a mammal that some researchers suspect could be a suriving specimen of the ancient giraffe, Sivatherium.

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At Tetrapod Zoology, Darren Naish gives an overview of this seven-decade-plus controversy:

Sivatherium was a large, short-necked giraffid, originally described for S. giganteus from the Siwalik Hills of India [...] but later discovered at numerous sites across Africa. The African forms are now generally regarded as representing different species from S. giganteus [...]

This figurine [...] is a small (18 cm tall) bronze rein-ring, constructed as a decoration for a four-wheeled chariot. Collected in 1928 on a joint Field Museum of Natural History/Oxford University expedition, it dates [...] to the late Early Dynastic I period and hence to c. 2800-2750 BC (and not 3500 BC as given by some authors). It very obviously depicts a 'horned'* artiodactyl with a ring through its nose and a rope connecting the ring to the animal's right foreleg (the figurine has sometimes been said to be equipped with a halter, but I can't see any obvious indication that anything other than a large ring is present) [...]

We'll never really know what the person who created the figurine was trying to depict, and the possibility that artistic licence took precedence over anatomical accuracy ranks as likely, especially when the figurine isn't really a match for a sivathere or a fallow deer.

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You can read Naish's full discussion of the Sumerian statue at Tetrapod Zoology. And check out his discussion of the "Egyptian pygmy mammoth."

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DISCUSSION

captain_tripps
Captain Tripps

Clearly it's an early depiction of one of Santa's reindeer, once part of a complete set I imagine.

Except the fat man in the sleigh has 3 heads 7 arms 4 mouths and eats the hearts out of children who stay up past their bedtime.