Description: Russia, Perm region, Perm Animal Style (Permian Animal Style), ca. 5th to 11th centuries CE. A white bronze (copper alloy with large percentage of tin) attachment, possibly the hilt of a dagger or sword, in the form of some kind of animal - probably a bear, based on analogy to similar pieces from the Surgat Museum, Russia, and the presence of its prominent, five-clawed feet - that is hunched over, eating its prey. The object is hollow, open at the bottom, and has the head and tail turned downward to touch its base. The head and incised claws are emphasized, and the body is given additional texture by low-relief designs. Size: 2.75" W x 1.2" H (7 cm x 3 cm)
The Perm Animal Style is associated with a loosely culturally connected group of people known as the Finno-Ugric peoples who lived in west central Siberia, from modern day Perm north to the Arctic Sea. They freely took artistic influence from those who came before them, like the Scytho-Siberians, and from colonists from the west, like the Vikings, but developed their own clear style that archaeologists know from graves scattered throughout the taiga. Birds of prey, ungulates like reindeer, canines, and bears abound in their iconography; human representations are also common. These zoomorphic designs seem to share some common culture with the fantastical animals of pagan Viking art, but with some major stylistic differences. Notably, like the Scythians who occupied much of this landscape before them, they tend to focus on individual elements of animals - beaks, feet, claws, mouths, and eyes. Imagining the lifestyle of people in the vast regions of the north - both in taiga and in forest - animals hardy enough to live through the dark winters would have been of great interest and probably played major roles in their folklore as well as being human companions and fellow hunters (birds of prey), food sources (reindeer), and threats (bears and wolves). This iconographic style had remarkable uniformity of design across a vast region and long time period. Although nearly all of our knowledge comes from grave goods, these items seem to have been extensively used in life based upon wear patterns (unlike some other cultures, where goods are produced solely to be placed in graves). They were probably worn on the belt of their owner in life, at a time (which continued into the medieval European period) when flashing, jingling decoration was in fashion. Today, as climate change causes the melting of the permafrost in Siberia, many of these archaeological sites are thawing (and threatened), presenting an opportunity to learn more about these elusive ancient people.
Provenance: Ex-Private LA County collection
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Condition Report: Some expected age wear to form; colorful blue green patina in places
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