The Primates of Susa: Depictions of Monkeys in Stone Statuettes from Elam


  • Bernardo Urbani


4th-3rd millennia BCE, archaeoprimatology, baboon, macaque, mongoose, Iran


In the Near East and the Eastern Mediterranean region there is a lack of proper taxonomic identification when referring to material culture depicting primates. A group of five primatomorphic statuettes from Susa of the Proto-Elamite and Elamite periods deserves a closer examination. Two monkey species were identified: olive baboon (Papio anubis) and rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta). Olive baboons naturally range in western and central-eastern Africa, while rhesus macaques are distributed in western central Asia and the Indus River Valley. Considering this evidence, Susa might have served as a Near Eastern trading post for the circulation of primates or primate imageries since the 4th and 3rd millennia BCE. These statuettes are among the earliest depictions of primates made by a Near Eastern civilization and a civilization in the world.


Aruz, J. 1992. Figure of a Seated Monkey, in O.P. Harper, J. Aruz and F. Tallon (eds) The Royal City of Susa. Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre: 97-98. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ashley-Montagu, M.F. 1940. Knowledge of the Ape in Antiquity. Isis 32: 87-102.

Benoit, A. 1992. Seated Monkey, in O.P. Harper, J. Aruz and F. Tallon (eds) The Royal City of Susa. Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre: 64. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Coolidge, J. and Hanfmann, G.M.A. 1954. Ancient Art in American Private Collections: A Loan Exhibition at the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University. Cambridge: Harvard University.

Dominy N. J., Ikram S., Moritz G. L., Wheatley P. V., Christensen J. N., Chipman J. W. and Koch P. L. (2020). Mummified baboons reveal the far reach of early Egyptian mariners. eLife 9: e60860

Dunham, S. 1985. The Monkey in the Middle. Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie 75: 234-264.

Hamoto, A. 1995. Der Affe in der altorientalischen Kunst. Munster: Ugarit-Verlag.

Hansen, D. 1970. A proto-Elamite Silver Figurine in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Metropolitan Museum Journal 3: 5-14.

Harper, P.O., Aruz, J. and Tallon, F. 1992. The Royal City of Susa. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Langdon, S. 1990. Monkey to Man: The Evolution of a Geometric Sculptural Type. American Journal of Archaeology 94: 407-424.

McDermott, W.C. 1938. The Ape in Antiquity. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.

Mecquenem, de, R. 1911. Vestiges de constructions élamites. Recueil des Travaux relatifs à la philologie et à l’archéologie égyptiennes et assyriennes 33: 38-55.

Minniti, C. and Sajjadi, S.M.S. 2019. New Data on non-human primates from the ancient Near East: The recent discovery of a rhesus macaque burial at Shahr-i Sokhta, Iran. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 29: 538-548.

Mousavi, A. 2012. Ancient Near Eastern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Nancie, H. 2011. Monkey Statuette. Paris: Musée du Louvre (, accessed 16 June 2020).

Potts, D.T. 1999. The Archaeology of Elam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Price, L. 1988. Masterpieces from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Pruzsinszky, R. 2016. Musicians and Monkeys, Ancient Near Eastern Clay Plaques Displaying Musicians and their Socio-cultural Role, in A. Bellia and C. Marconi (eds) Musicians in Ancient Coroplastic Art. Iconography, Ritual Contexts, and Functions: 23-34. Pisa: Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali.

Schultz, A.H. 1939. Book review of W.C. McDermott, The Ape in Antiquity (1938, Baltimore). Journal of Mammalogy 20: 114.

Shaw, I. 2000. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press.

Smith H.S. 1969. Animal domestication and animal cult in dynastic Egypt, in P.J. Ucko and G.W. Dimbleby (eds), The Domestication and Exploitation of Plants and Animals: 307-314. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd.

Spycket, A. 1998. ‘ Le Carnaval des Animaux ': On Some Musician Monkeys from the Ancient Near East. Iran 60: 1-10.

Teissier, B. 1987. Glyptic evidence for a connection between Iran, Syro-Palestine and Egypt in the 4th and 3rd millennia. Iran 25: 27-53.

Tufnell O. and Ward, W.A. 1966. Relations between Byblos, Egypt and Mesopotamia at the end of the 3rd millenium B.C. A Study of a Montet Jar. Syria 43: 165-241.

Urbani, B. and Youlatos, D. 2012. Aegean monkeys: From a comprehensive view to a re-interpretation. Proceeding of the 12th International Congress of Zoogeography and Ecology of Greece and Adjacent Regions 160: 186.

Urbani, B. and Youlatos, D. 2020a. A new look at the Minoan ‘blue’ monkeys. Antiquity 94 (374): e9, 1-5.

Urbani, B. and D. Youlatos 2020b. Occam’s razor, archeoprimatology, and the ‘blue’ monkeys of Thera: A reply to Pareja et al. 2020. Primates 61: 757-765.

Urbani, B. and D. Youlatos 2020c. On the earliest representations of chimpanzees Pan troglodytes: Were African apes traded to Bronze Age Elam? International Journal of Primatology 41: 654-663.

van Buren, D. 1939. The Fauna of Ancient Mesopotamia as Represented in Art. Analecta Orientalia 18. Rome: Pontificum Institutum Biblicum.

Vandier d’Abbadie, J. 1964. Les singes familiers dans l’ancienne Égypte Peintures et Bas-reliefs. I. L’Ancien Empire. Revue d’égyptologie 16: 147-177.

Yeakel, J.D., Mathias, M.P., Rudolf, L., Dominy, N.J., Koch, P.L., Guimarães Jr., P.R. and Gross, T. 2014. Gross collapse of an ecological network in Ancient Egypt. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111: 14472-14477.

Zinner, D., Wertheimer, J., Liedigk, R., Groeneveld, L.F. and Roos, C. 2013. Baboon phylogeny as inferred from complete mitochondrial genomes. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 150: 133-140.



How to Cite

Urbani, B. (2021). The Primates of Susa: Depictions of Monkeys in Stone Statuettes from Elam. Ash-Sharq: Bulletin of the Ancient Near East – Archaeological, Historical and Societal Studies, 5(1), 1–10. Retrieved from




Similar Articles

1 2 3 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.