This copper figure of a bull in a reed marsh is a foundation peg. It was one of the duties of a Mesopotamian king to build or, more normally, refurbish the temples of the gods. This pious act would ensure that the deity would support his kingdom; ancient texts make it clear that if a god withdrew their patronage a city could be conquered by an enemy. As a record of this work, figurines were placed in the foundations of the temple building, intended both for the gods and posterity. Hidden in the foundations, they have escaped the attention of plunderers and are often found by archaeologists. The inscription on the peg records the rebuilding of the temple of the goddess Nanshe in her city of Sirara (now Zerghul in southern Iraq) by Gudea, the ruler of the city-state of Lagash in south-east Sumer (dates debated, but somewhere about 2130 BC). Nanshe belongs to the local pantheon of Lagash. She was regarded as a daughter of Enki, the god of wisdom and fresh water. She was especially associated with divination and the interpretation of dreams. Among her other responsibilities was checking the accuracy of weights and measures.

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  • Title: Copper foundation peg
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 19.40cm; Length: 12.00cm; Weight: 2054.00g
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: cast
  • Subject: mammal; plant
  • Registration number: 1974,0119.1
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Temple of Nanshe
  • Period/culture: Lagash II
  • Material: copper
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Authority: Ruler Gudea
  • Acquisition: Purchased from Symes, Robin. With contribution from Art Fund