A Baboon on an Ancient “Clock”?

The water clock, or clepsydra (Greek for “to steal water”, or “water thief”), was an ancient device that measured the passage of time – the precursor of the hourglass (sand clock) and modern time-pieces.  Usually a stone vessel with sloping sides, a small hole at the bottom allowed water to drip out at a rate that could be measured by small circles or grooves on the inside.  The earliest example found so far, dating to c. 1382 BCE, was discovered by French Egyptologist Georges Legrain in 1904, at the excavated Temple of Amun-Ra, at Karnak (ancient Thebes), Upper Egypt.  (The artifact is in the Cairo Egyptian Museum.)  Large fragments of a few other examples can be found in the British Museum and the Petrie Museum (UCL), London.  Two small, model, water clocks are found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.  Both objects have a figure of a baboon shown squatting (usual pose) at the front.  An animal manifestation of the Egyptian god Thoth – a deity linked to the sun and the moon, to the invention of writing, to science and astronomy – the sacred baboon shared the god’s attributes, and Thoth was often represented as a dog-faced baboon (Papio hamadryas).  The Met models were probably objects used in the worship of Thoth.  An especially intriguing example of a baboon as part of a clepsydra is in the Oriental Institute/University of Chicago collection.  A figure of a squatting baboon projects from one side of the artifact.  Finely crafted, the tiny primate is the focal point of the piece.  Made of limestone, the work has been dated to c. 284-246 BCE, and was found at Memphis, south of Cairo.


See:     https://oi-idb.uchicago.edu/id/da9f903b-b1c7-4294-a5e4-d53068a08617

Oriental Institute/University of Chicago: Clepsydra on display – Egyptian Gallery, Registration number E16875.


Metropolitan Museum of Art: Model Clepsydra on display – Gallery 134, Accession number 17.194.2341/dated c. 664=30 BCE.

Metropolitan Museum of Art: Model Clepsydra on display – Gallery 134, Accession number 86.1.93/dated c. 4th C. BCE.

Ancient Egyptian Science, A Source Book, vol. 2, M. Clagett, 1995.

Amulets, C. Andrews, London: British Museum Press, 1994.




Pre-Columbian Artifact II

Monkeys are prevalent images in Mesoamerican art.  Many examples are represented in a realistic style.  The lesser-known Mezcala/Balsas culture of south-west Mexico created primate figures in a very different – rather abstract – style.  Unfortunately, because few archaeological excavations have been undertaken in the area, little is known of this culture and its unique sculptures.  The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has a small, stone/serpentine monkey figure – approximately 3 inches high – from the Balsas River region of Guerrero State, which dates from between the 1st and the 8th c. CE ( Accession no. 1979.206.1208).  Seated, with long tail upraised and bent over, the primate seems a fine example of Mezcala sculpture.  The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) also has a small stone monkey attributed to Mezcala, dated to c. 500 BCE – 1000 CE.   The Mezcala style ( possibly developed c. 700 BCE) may have been strongly influenced by the enigmatic (well-documented) Olmec civilization that flourished in the (modern) states of Veracruz and Tabasco (c. 1200 – 400 BCE), and also known for their representations of animal gods.  A collection of Mezcala art is found in the Regional Museum of Guerrero Mexico, as well as in a number of museums world-wide.


See also:   https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search#!?q=Mezcala%20monkey

Mexico’s Indigenous Past, A. Lopez Austin and L. L. Lujan, University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.

Mexico, from the Olmecs to the Aztecs, M. D. Coe and R. Koontz, Thames & Hudson, 2002.