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Sculpture from Burma (Myanmar)
Sculpture from Cambodia
Sculpture from Indonesia
Sculpture from Thailand
Ceramics from Thailand
Ceramics from Vietnam
Ceremonial Ax
Indonesia, Dongson culture; 100 B.C.E.-100 C.E.
Cast bronze
Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection of Asian Art
Ax heads such as this one are identified with the Dongson culture, an early, widespread metalworking culture that extended through southern China and parts of Southeast Asia to Indonesia, although Dongson axes are most commonly found in the southern part of Sumatra and in Java. This bronze ax head is cast in the shape of a long-tailed bird and shows no signs of heavy wear that would suggest any use other than ceremonial. The ax was most likely mounted on a pole that was made of a more perishable material such as wood. The ax's bird theme is emphasized on one face of the object by an eye and beak defined in raised line at the weighted end of the ax. In the belly of the bird are linear forms, among which a crested bird can be seen, as well as a shape resembling the ax head itself. On the opposite face, raised lines suggest a feathered creature, but not one conforming to the full shape of the ax head. In this form, an eye and a beak are found along the attenuating edge of the blade and seem to orient the body of the implied bird upward rather than down. Images of birds are pervasive throughout the Dongson cultural area. Suggestions of symbolism related to solar cults, clan identifications, and to notions of transition and change have been offered, but no consensus has been reached and the imagery on this ax remains to be deciphered.
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