Comparative Guts

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Mask of Huwawa

Clay tablet depicting the face of the demon Huwawa (Humbaba), also rendering the intestines of a sheep inspected for divination. British Museum, London (Museum Number: BM 116624), obverse and reverse.
Photos: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The coils of intestines reproduced on tīrānū-models could take various different shapes, most often rendering single or multiple spirals, but occasionally also the figures of dogs, scorpions, or sometimes even more complex forms. The clay tablet BM 116624, found in Sippar (near Baghdad, Iraq), and possibly dated to the Old-Babylonian period, represents perhaps the most famous and fantastic example of these tīrānū-models. On the obverse it features the face of Huwawa, a demon known from the epic of Gilgamesh, as guardian of the mythological cedar forest. The shape of the demon’s face is obtained by wrapping a long coil of sheep intestines in such a way as to create the features of a mask. The inscription on the reverse explains that this pattern was found on the sacrificed body of a sheep by Sargon of Akkad, and predicted to him the growth of his dominion. It reads:
“If the coils of the colon resemble the head of Huwawa, (this is) an omen of Sargon who ruled the land. If …., the house of a man will expand. (Written by) the hand of Warad-Marduk, diviner, son of Kubburum, diviner.”