Archive for the 'Stone' Category

Object: Statue of Vishnu Riding Garuda

Figure 1    Basalt statue of Vishnu riding Garuda from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Basalt statue of Vishnu riding Garuda from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Statue of Vishnu Riding Garuda
Unknown Date
Materials: Basalt, stone

Carved basalt statues of Vishnu riding Garuda are a prominent artistic and religious feature of southeastern Asia. These particular types of carved statues are often found in temples and shrines dedicated to Vishnu and his bird mount Garuda. The image of Vishnu and Garuda spread throughout Southeast Asia with the spread of Hinduism, and has even been adopted as the national emblem of Indonesia and Thailand. This statue from the Ethnology Collection is carved from basalt—a volcanic rock found naturally in plateau deposits and volcanic terrains—and is commonly used for carving statues, tools, and weapons. Carved basalt statues like this are incredibly heavy, which indicates that they aren’t intended to be moved around, but instead stationed at a temple or shrine for long periods of time. Statues of Vishnu and Garuda are often carved from basalt, granite, wood, and bronze, and are also featured in pillars and architecture. This particular statue was acquired in Indonesia, and measures about 5 feet in height.

Vishnu is one of the three iconic deities of the Hindu faith and is often depicted with his mount, Garuda. Garuda is often portrayed as half man, half bird, with his wings spreading out as he supports Vishnu. Stories and myths of Garuda date back more than 3,000 years, and his image can be found throughout Buddhism as well as Hinduism. The Hindu myth of Garuda tells that he became the mount of Vishnu when he attempted to steal the elixir of immortality from the gods to free his mother from the serpents who imprisoned her. Garuda resisted drinking the elixir himself and prevented the serpents from taking it. Vishnu was impressed by his strength and determination and made him king of all birds. After that point, Garuda became the mount of Vishnu and the enemy of all serpents. The image of Garuda is often used today for protection against snakes and snakebites, and he continues to be an important religious icon across Southeast Asia.

Take a look at this video of a sculptor carving a wooden statue of Vishnu riding Garuda:

[Adisson Bolles]

References Cited:

Behera, Prajna Paramita. “The Pillars of Homage to Lord Jagannatha”

“Carved and painted figure of Vishnu riding Garuda” Accessed February 13, 2015.

Dietrich, R. V., “Basalt” Gemrocks: Ornamental and Curio Stones. Accessed February 12, 2015.

“Garuda Wisnu Kencana Statue” GWK Cultural Park. Accessed February 14, 2015.

“Hindu deity Vishnu, 1100-1200” Asian Art Museum. Accessed February 13, 2015.

“Prambanan Temple Compounds” Accessed February 15, 2015.

“Opposites Attack” American Museum of Natural History. Accessed February 13, 2015.

“Prambanan Temple Compounds” Accessed February 15, 2015.

Object: Roman Tombstone

Figure 1    Roman Tombstone with Latin Epitaph from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Roman Tombstone with Latin Epitaph from the Classics Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Unknown Date
Materials: Stone

This ancient Roman stone is from the Classics Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. It has an interesting epitaph, or inscription, in Latin, which roughly translates as “To the shades of the departed ( or ‘for/to the god Mercury’), Plutianici (Latin-ized Greek name) lived 23 years, 4 months and 3 days. L. Plutius (Latin-ized Greek name) Stephanus made this (stone) for his most sweet (dear) wife.” The inscription identifies it as a Roman tombstone or funerary monument erected by L. Plutius Stephanus for his wife Plutianici, who lived only 23 years, 4 months and 3 days.

Funerary monuments in Roman cemeteries were important symbols to the people of Rome because they served as a way to commemorate the deceased as well as a way to remember them for the years to come. According to Valerie Hope, “monuments were frequently designed to catch the eye of the passer-by: scale, decoration, words, and images all combined to provide a final snapshot of the deceased” (Hope 2007:141).

The tombstones were also a way to show social identity in Ancient Rome. In Hope’s research, she declares that erecting a tombstone inscribed in Latin is a “Roman act” because it symbolizes “the attainment of citizenship or at least a claim that such citizenship was deserved” (Hope 1997:119). These tombstones served as a form of identity for Roman citizens to show that they were a part of the empire and belonged to Roman society when they were alive.

On the epitaph found on the tombstones, the Manes, believed to be the spirits of the dead, were commemorated with the phrase Dis Manibus, which was shortened to DM. This commemoration was exclusive to tombstone inscriptions. The Manes were celebrated in February during Parentalia, a nine-day festival commemorating the ancestors. During this time, the ancestors were honored and appeased with food, offerings, and prayers to show piety towards them by their living descendants and family members (Yasin 2005:439).

After the commemoration of Dis Manibus on Roman tombstones, the first name of the deceased was displayed, then the exact age of the person in years, months, and days. The inscriptions on the stone also usually included the occupation of the deceased and concluded with the name of the person who erected the stone in their honor. All of the information presented in an epitaph showed the identity and social status of the person so that he or she could be remembered for the years to follow. Ultimately, just like tombstones today, the tombstones of Ancient Rome served as a physical monument that gave the living a glimpse into the life of the deceased.

[Sarah Noel Rodriguez]

Further Links:

Latin Inscriptions:

Latin Funerary Inscriptions:

Roman Inscriptions:


Hope, Valerie M. 2007. Death in Ancient Rome: A Sourcebook. New York: Routledge.

Hope, Valerie M. 1997. Constructing Roman Identity: Funerary Monuments and Social Structure in the Roman World. Morality 2(2):103-121.

Meyer, Elizabeth A. 1990. Exploring the Epigraphic Habit in the Roman Empire: the Evidence of Epitaphs. The Journal of Roman Studies 80:74-96.

Yasin, Ann Marie. 2005. Funerary Monuments and Collective Identity: From Roman Family to Christian Community. The Art Bulletin 87(3):433-457.

Object: Marble bust of Alexander the Great

Modern Cast of 3rd. Century Original
Materials: Marble, Metal, Wood

This marble bust Alexander III of Macedonia, otherwise known as Alexander the Great, is a modern copy of the original bust that was created in the town of Pella, the capital of ancient Macedon. Alexander the Great was a famous conqueror of the ancient world. By the end of his life, his empire spread from Greece all the way east to India. At age 16, Alexander was already leading troops for an army led by his father, Philip II. After his father was assassinated, he was proclaimed king by the army and led them to victory after victory. Among the many features that set Alexander apart from other military leaders of the time was his preference to actually ride out in front of his men when they charged into battle.

Little is now known about Alexander’s physical appearance, but most agree that he was of average height, for a Greek of that time, and had brownish hair (not blonde) as figure 2 illustrates. One thing that cannot be questioned was his intelligence. As a boy he was educated by one of the most brilliant minds of the time, the Greek scholar Aristotle, who instructed him in a variety of subjects ranging from philosophy to the arts. Alexander won almost every battle he fought, not so much with brute force, but with cunning and brilliant military strategies. He would use the geography of the land to pin his enemies against a cliff or river. After years of campaigning he was planning to continue, but fearing mutiny from his army he decided to turn back for home. On this journey he received a fatal wound and then became very sick. He died in Babylon in 323 BC.

The legacy of Alexander continues even today. People everywhere know of him and his accomplishments. Some say that he was a great man while others claim him to be a devil. Since his death, military leaders have tried to imitate his actions. There have been many movies and books written about him. Below you will find a documentary on Alexander.


Work Cited

2013  Aristotle Biography – Facts, Birthday, Life Story.

History of Macedonia
2013  Alexander the Great of Macedon Biography: King of Macedonia and Conqueror of the Persian Empire.

[Rob Million]

Object: Carnelian Seal Stone

Carnelian Seal
Sassanian (Neo-Persian)
Middle East
224 CE – 651 CE
Materials: Stone

This small object is a carnelian seal from the Sassanian Empire. The hard orange or red-colored stone is only 0.75 inches tall, 0.56 inches long, and 0.19 inches wide. The four corners of the stone are cut to create an elongated octagon, with each of the eight sides cut slanted to the back. The back and sides have no carved inscriptions or detail. The front top half contains the design of a small bird (seen in profile) perched on a branch. A smaller branch with leaves is held in the beak of the bird. A small seal is carved (using intaglio) onto the bottom half with two characters surrounded by an oval ring representing either a rope or snake design. The carvings are highly detailed and have a faint black color in the carved portions. The rest of the surface of the seal is polished.

The Sassanian Empire was the last pre-Islamic empire in Iran, succeeding the Parthian Empire. It was ruled by the Sasanian Dynasty and was considered one of the main powers in the Middle East and Western Asia for more than four centuries (between 224 CE and 651 CE) during what was known as “Late Antiquity.” At its height, the Sassanian Empire encompassed modern-day Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Israel, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Dagestan, and parts of Egypt, Turkey, Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan.

The Sassanian Empire was considered to have been one of the region’s most important and influential cultures. It witnessed what was considered the peak of ancient Iranian civilization, with an economic and cultural revival that resulted in huge advancements in art and science. The Sassanian Empire greatly influenced the Roman civilization as well as Western Europe, Africa, China, and India, and it played a significant role in the development of both European and Asian medieval art.

A seal stone such as this one from the Classics Collection would have functioned like a signature. It was a way to verify the authenticity of all written documents. Wet lumps of clay or wax were positioned on a document, and then the seal would have been pressed into it. The seal impression would then be left to dry; afterwards, it could be sent to its destination. When someone opened the document, the clay or wax seal would have been broken and removed. There were thousands of such seal stones made, as they needed to be unique for each individual or manufacturer.

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]


Object: Drum & drum tool

Peyote water drum and antler drum tool
Unknown tribe
North America: Plains
Early 20th century
Materials: cast iron, hide, horn, stone, and cord

This object is a kettle drum in the style of the Native American (Peyote) Church. Depending on the tribal affiliation(s) of the drum owner, drums like this one in the Ethnology Collection are typically made from a one gallon (#6) cast iron kettle with three small peg legs on the bottom, sometimes referred to as a dutch oven. The kettle is filled with a small quantity of water and is then covered with a piece of hide, held on by a long piece of rope or cord that is intricately wrapped around seven round stones (or walnuts). A small antler or wooden tool is used to help tie the drum securely. Below you can see a short video that illustrates how drums like this are tied.

Drums play an important role in the songs that are a staple of Native American Church ceremonies. During these ceremonies, which can last all night, each member sings while accompanied by a drum and rattle. The singing begins with the Roadman, or spiritual leader of the group, who sings four songs. After the Roadman, the other members of the group each sing. This rotation is usually completed four times during the night. A sample of a Native American Church song, featuring a similar drum can be found here. [Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Funerary plaque

Funerary plaque
Southern Arabian Peninsula
1st century BCE
Material: Alabaster

In ancient times the area of southern Arabia, in the modern countries of Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Oman, was home to a number of kingdoms that prospered through caravan trade routes with the cultures of the Mediterranean. Some of these kingdoms include: Saba (referred to as Sheba in the Bible), Hadramawt, Himyar, Qataban and Ma’in. There was often warfare between them over control of frankincense and myrrh: highly prized aromatics burnt on altars all over the ancient Near Eastern and Mediterranean world. The most important deity of these kingdoms was the Moon-god. This god was known by many names but was always shown in art as a bull. The Qatabanians called this deity Amm, and thought of him as their patron deity. Bull head plaques like this one were especially popular on funerary stele at Heid ibn Aqil, the cemetery at Tamna. A similar plaque can be found in the British Museum.

The stone used to carve this plaque and many other pre-Islamic Southern Arabian sculptures is alabaster. This type of stone is sedimentary, which means it was formed when sediments were compressed together over time by water and/or other layers of sediment and cemented together by the combination of minerals and chemicals. Sedimentary rock tends to be softer and easier to carve than igneous or metamorphic types of rock. Alabaster was a popular stone for carving in ancient times and examples of it can be found in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian arts as well as those of Southern Arabia. These ancient artists would shape the stone using stone or metal drills, chisels, saws, and hammers. While the materials used to make these tools have changed over the centuries many of the tool forms used for sculpting stone remain the same today. Below you will find a video showing modern versions of these types of tools and how they are used.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Figurine

Yemen: Carved Face Votive
Middle East,  Marib, Wadi Beihan, Aden (Yemen)
1st Century B.C.
Materials:  Alabaster

This object is a carved face votive of alabaster.  The wedge-shaped stone has one rough surface and the opposite is smooth with a carved stylized face.  The face consists of a 1.5” band representing hair across the top of the face (forehead).  The nose is long, wedge-shaped and extends down the face.  The surface of the nose is flat and smooth.  The eyes are elliptical with raised eye lids and a center pupil.  A mouth is represented by a raised ellipse which is incised in the center.  The three remaining sides of the square frame the face.   This represents a beard and is stained with a red-orange ink (possibly henna).

Ancient Yemen was centered around the Port of Aden on the Gulf of Arabia.  The country engaged in the lucrative trade of frankincense and myrrh.  It was invaded by the Romans in the 1st century A.D., and converted to Islam in A.D. 628.  According to Judeo-Christian legend, the Biblical Queen of Sheba was from Yemen.

Alabaster has been mined and worked in Yemen since Pre-Islamic times.  The ancient Yemenis carved it into stelai and monuments, as well as thinly sliced the mineral for use as windows.  Alabaster is the name applied to two distinct minerals:  gypsum and calcite.  Gypsum is the alabaster of today, while calcite is the alabaster of the ancients.  The two kinds are distinguished from one another easily, because of differences in their relative hardness. The gypsum kind is soft enough to be scratched with a fingernail.  The calcite kind is too hard to be scratched in this manner; however, it is easily carved with a knife.

[Debra Taylor]

Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,695 other followers

%d bloggers like this: