Bird Chariot

Natural History Museum Vienna

Natural History Museum Vienna

Bronze Age/Iron Age. 800-600 BC. Glasinac near Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The bird chariot is an outstanding piece of art by prehistoric bronze casters and a rare cult object with high symbolic content from an illiterate culture.

In the Bronze Age the peoples north of the Alps were still illiterate. As a result, their myths and legends have not been preserved. However, symbolic items like the bird chariot of Glasinac show that people had a wealth of mythical ideas over 2,500 years ago.
The chariot was discovered in 1880 in a burial hill on the Glasinac plain, east of Sarajevo, and was sent as a gift to Vienna, as the NHM inventory shows: “… Sent by I. Lexa, Lieutenant in the First Genie Regiment from Goraida, for the imperial and royal Court Museum to Privy Councillor Ferdinand von Hochstetter in March 1880.” It is cast in bronze, with only the axles made of iron. The rectangular chassis is decorated with two small bird figures and carries a bird-shaped kettle, with another bird forming the lid.
Judging by their beaks, the birds are ducks. Water birds were a popular decorative motif in central Europe in the Bronze Age, and can be seen as an indication of dominant religious ideas which are no longer accessible to us. Was it the observation that the birds could move on water, on land and in the air which fascinated the people of the time? Were they seen as particularly holy or lucky as a result?
In contrast to the diverse bird presentations, bird chariots are rare cult objects whose exact function is unknown. Possibly they served to set mythical tales in motion, making them more accessible through an impressive staging.

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  • Title: Bird Chariot
  • Rights: (c) NHM (Lois Lammerhuber)


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