Bronze Age ox cart from Anatolia

Object number
Object: Bronze Age ox cart from Anatolia

Material: Copper. Sheet and solid cast.

Period: Circa 2700 BC to 1800 BC.
Early Bronze Age II and III to Middle Bronze Age I in Southeastern Anatolia.

Description:    Model of a wagon drawn by oxen, from Southeastern Anatolia. The chariot consists of a frame made of bronze wire, with two high side walls made of bronze sheet. The construction rests on two axles with four wheels made of sheet bronze. The drawbar attaches to the front axle and ends in two yokes for cattle.
Two plastically modeled oxen cast of solid bronze are harnessed to the wagon. Both animals have an elongated body and spreading horns. Eyes and snout are designed in cold work and with holes. The tail is inserted, the horns are soldered on the head.

Background: Four-wheeled vehicles were Bronze Age high tech. The first indications of them come from the late 4th millennium BC. Soon after, the vehicles were already widespread in Mesopotamia and the technology transfer to Anatolia followed next. Not surprisingly, considering how well-connected the Near East was at the time. The wagons were pulled by oxen or donkeys and initially transported goods and probably people. Eventually, the new mode of transportation also revolutionized agriculture. Just think of the increase in efficiency brought about by tractors with internal combustion engine in the 20th century. Likewise, the drawn carts must have catalyzed a belief in progress at the time.
Unfortunately, the actual chariots from that era have not survived. But this is where the bronze models come into play. In contrast to the more common clay models, the metal models are particularly valuable for research because they presumably reveal something about the construction of the full-size archetypes. The exact origin of the existing bronze models and their dating was a mystery for a long time. Scientific excavations were not carried out, the passed-on find spots of the specimens from the art trade were vague and unvalidated. Only in the late 1990s did new finds improve our knowledge (see the article by Kulakoglu in our literature recommendation). They point to the Turkish province of Sanliurfa in south-eastern Anatolia. This coincides with earlier information from those dealers who brought finds to private collections and museums in the 1960s and 1970s. That makes the suspected origin from Southeast Anatolia for the specimen described here extremely plausible. The dating given by us is based on these latest findings.
But what were the models used for? It is most likely that they were buried with the deceased so that they would have the latest technology in the afterlife. A stroke of luck for today's researchers and collectors. The few surviving models are the only remnants of the earliest four-wheeled vehicles in human history. That is what makes them so fascinating. It is with a mixture of pride and reverence that we offer you such a rarity in our gallery.

Dimensions: Only the wagon without oxen is 33cm long and 14.5cm high with the walls. One ox is 14.5cm long and 8.9cm high, the other is 14cm long and 9.1cm high. The complete model is about 38cm long. The weight is over 1kg.

Condition: The solid bronze oxen with attached wire tail are in excellent condition and covered with a strong patina. Only tiny flaw on one of the horns.
The axles, some rods and the drawbar have been added to the wagon and are from modern material. The bronze sheets and some of the thin wires are original, with various defects, bends and a strong patina.
The model owes its beautiful condition to a great, professional restoration in 1971 by the well-known restorer Ian McIntyre at the British Museum. It is possible that parts of other bronze chariots were used to restore the ensemble to its original condition. They could be pieces from the same group of finds as described in the provenance section. The 1973 publication also shows a small group of other parts from unrelated bronze chariots that were not used in the restoration. The assessment that these are possibly parts of different bronze wagons from the same group of finds is based on the state of knowledge in the 1970s. At that time it was assumed that the wrong proportions of wheels, frame and side walls, as well as the yoke that does not fit the oxen indicate a pasticcio. Recent research paints a slightly different picture. Kulakoglu describes a group of finds from Anatolia in which very different proportions can be seen, including those that correspond well to the bronze wagon model presented here. The question of whether it is an original ensemble that belongs together or a pasticcio is therefore open again.
In any case, the wagon model is impressive due to its beautiful state of restoration and size.

Provenance: Acquired by us on the British art market in 2020. Previously in the possession of the renowned London gallery Rupert Wace Ancient Art. Previously in the London collection of P. Adam, collection number 358. The piece was acquired by Adam for the collection in 1971, at the Edward Safani gallery in New York, USA.
The origin prior to the sale by Safani is speculative. A story linked to the piece, however, is the discovery of twenty carts of this type in south-eastern Anatolia in the second half of the 1960s. It is quite possible that this wagon model came from that group of finds. Parts of different wagons of the same group of finds could have been combined. In any case, a find spot in Southeastern Anatolia is extremely plausible and can be regarded as certain.

The reputation of Edward Safani (1912-1998) is such that the British Museum wrote a text about the dealer and acquired numerous objects from him between 1934 and 1973. The Metropolitan Museum in New York was also one of his customers. It bought a bronze ox cart in 1966, very similar to the specimen shown here (see references below). Anatolia is assigned to that sister piece as the region of origin.

References: For similar pieces on the art market,
cf. Christie's London auction 1548, 2nd April 2014, lot 30 (sold for 50,000 GBP, which was 60,000 EUR at the time),
and cf. Bonhams London auction, 28th November 2018, lot 110 (sold for 50,000 GBP, which was 56,000 EUR at the time).
Cf. Metropolitan Museum of Art, acc. no. 66.15. This is the cart mentioned above, which the museum acquired from Safani, same like this cart, in 1966. It is also included in Oscar Muscarella's classic, Bronze and Iron: Ancient Near Eastern Artifacts in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 414, no. 568.

Literature: For an article from recent archaeological research, we recommend Fikri Kulakoglu, Recently discovered bronze wagon models from Sanliurfa, southeastern Anatolia, in Anadolu / Anatolia 24 (2003), p. 63-77.

Authenticity: We unconditionally guarantee the authenticity of every artefact, all items are subject to our lifetime return policy on authenticity. Specifically for this object, Littauer and Crouwel mention in their 1973 article that they consider the cart to be genuine. It was examined by them personally and in the laboratory of the British Museum.