Biblical Archaeology Review 33:2, March/April 2007



Muscular and menacing, though only 4 inches tall, this statuette of a “scar-faced devil” from the Oxus civilization that lived in Bactria in eastern Iran in the third to second millennia B.C. consists of three separate pieces: the torso, the skirt and the legs. It is made of chlorite (black) and calcite (white).

The bearded creature is covered in scales, indicating a serpent-like character, and has a deeply incised scar running the length of his face. A hole in his forehead may have held horns; small holes in his upper and lower lip suggest that his lips may have been bound, making him mute; and a hole at his back suggests he once boasted wings.

The lower lip and one eye have evidence of being encrusted with sea shells, and he holds a vessel under one arm, both of which indicate a connection to water. In fact, it has been suggested that in the pantheon of his civilization, this “devil” is actually a god in control of the subterranean waters that hide in the winter, which he represents, and are released in the spring, which is represented by a countering fertility goddess. His face was more than likely deliberately scarred in antiquity in a destruction ritual aimed at releasing his maleficent power. But he’s not all bad: In the cycle of life he’s only evil for part of the year when winter descends and vegetation dies. Come spring, he must cooperate with the goddess and let the waters once again flow to the fields.

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