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8. Wine container, zun, in rhinoceros shape
Found in Maoling, Xingping county, Shaanxi Province, in 1963
Western Han dynasty, 206 BCE - 23 CE
Bronze inlaid with gold and silver
height 34.1 cm, length 58 cm

Wine container, <i>zun</i>, in rhinoceros shape

Archaeological evidence shows that rhinoceros have been found in China since earliest times. A text on oracle bones from the late Shang dynasty (ca.1300 - ca. 1050 BCE) records the king hunting rhinoceros, whose tough, thick hide was used as body armor by high-ranking soldiers. In the war-torn centuries preceding the Han period, the rhinoceros was hunted nearly to distinction, becoming so rare that it attained almost mythical status.

A chance discovery by a farmer plowing his field, this large rhinoceros-shaped wine vessel, found in a large pottery jar, was probably hidden by its owner during a period of unrest, but never retrieved. It is a masterful creation by an artist who doubtless observed the animal, with its solidity, belligerent stance, and malevolent eye inlaid in black glass.

The body was inlaid with a swirling pattern in gold and silver wire, of which some remains.

National Museum of Chinese History, Beijing

Detail: patterns

Detail: head

all text & images © The Israel Museum

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