Smithsonian Freer Gallery Sackler Gallery National Museum of Asian Art Gallery Guide to the Royal Riches
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The beginnings of metallurgy brought about a dramatic change in ceramic production, a craft that also drew on the application of heat in manipulating the properties of materials. The uneven availability of ore sources and the complex steps involved in smelting and producing metal artifacts established metallurgy as an elite technology. As a result, metal became the principal prestige material for many objects, including vessels, whose shapes and decorative approaches clearly served as models for many of the finest class of ceramic vessels. Particularly striking examples of interaction between these media come from the Iron Age I to the Iron Age III period in northern and western Iran (circa 1400–600 B.C.E.). The practice of burnishing produced a lustrous, almost metallic sheen after firing. Another link to metal prototypes are the colors of ceramic vessels, reflecting the manipulation of firing conditions to produce red, brown, gray, and black wares. These wares most likely represent attempts to reproduce the appearance and gleaming surfaces of bronze, silver, and gold. Little wonder, then, that the ancient Near East impressed its neighbors as a vast royal treasury filled with incalculable amounts of precious metal, whose kings possessed wealth beyond imagination.

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Spouted jar
Spouted jar
Iran, Iron Age I–II, ca. 1400–800 B.C.E.
Burnished earthenware
40.1 x 25.7 cm (15 3/4 x 10 in.)
Gift of Joan and Frank Mount   S1994.15

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