On this intriguing stone vessel thought to be from northern Syria and now on display in the Louvre, a rather awkward and not-so-fierce-looking lion with eyes of shell and red carnelian wraps its jaws and front paws around a shallow basin. Such vessels were common to the royal courts and temples of Syria and Palestine during the Iron Age (1200–586 B.C.). Their basins are often adorned with potent symbols of life and power, including lions, human hands and various floral patterns.
The basin, which measures only 2 inches in diameter, was the business end of this cultic vessel, which originally would have had a much longer wooden or metal tube affixed to the hollowed-out protrusion behind the lion’s head. Some have suggested the cup held incense that burned when air was blown through the tube, but it is more likely that the entire vessel was meant for the pouring of ritual libations. The liquid was held in the cylindrical container and then gradually dispensed into the cup as needed, perhaps to be used for ceremonial anointing or sprinkling.