One of the more mysterious symbols that has been found in ancient carvings is an image that looks uncannily like a handbag.
The shape appears in depictions made by the Sumerians of Iraq, in the ruins of ancient Turkish temples, in decorations of the Maori of New Zealand, and in crafts made by the Olmecs of Central America.
Handbags can be seen in the art of disparate cultures from around the world and throughout time, with the first known instance of a handbag appearing at the end of the Ice Age.
What is this mysterious symbol that can be found throughout the ancient world?
A Representation of the Cosmos?
The handbag image is so called because it looks very similar to the modern-day purse.
The objects “typically feature a rounded handle-like top and a rectangular bottom, and may include varying degrees of additional details of texture or pattern” (Scranton, 2016).
The images sometimes appear as stand-alone objects; sometimes they are depicted in the hand of a person, god, or mythical being in a manner similar to how one would hold a basket.
One possible theory for the proliferation of this image is its simple and straightforward representation of the cosmos. The semi-circle of the image (what would appear to be the bag’s strap) represents the hemisphere of the sky. Meanwhile, the solid square base represents the earth. “In ancient cultures from Africa to India to China, the figure of a circle was associated symbolically with concepts of spirituality or non-materiality, while that of a square was often associated with concepts of the Earth and of materiality” (Scranton, 2016). Thus, the image is used to symbolize the (re)unification of the earth and sky, of the material and the non-material elements of existence.
***** Relief depicting the eagle-headed Assyrian god Nisroch (the word for eagle in Arabic is Nisr) on the walls of the Northwest Palace of king Ashurnasirpal II in Nimrud (883-859 BCE). The god Nisroch is associated with the Assyrian king Sennacherib, who conquered and destroyed Babylon. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY.