Shang dynasty (about 1600-1050 B.C.E.)-Western Zhou dynasty (about 1050-771 B.C.E.)
Ritual Wine Vessel (zun)
13th-11th c. B.C.E.
25.4 cm (h.), 19.3 cm (diam.)
Purchase, gift of F. Cleveland Morgan, inv. 1954.Dm.2
Archeology and World Cultures
Bronze vessels were cast in several shapes for both wine and food. The Shang king and the aristocracy used ritual wine vessels (zun) in offerings to the highest deity, Shang Di, to protect their celestial mandate. The sheer number of these drinking vessels during the Shang period suggests that millet wine played a key role in these offerings and might have contributed to the decline of the dynasty. This zun has a raised central band featuring the motif of a taotie, a mythical animal and one of the Shang’s most distinctive symbols. With its prominent eyes and nose crest and large involute horns, ears and fangs, the taotie is set in high relief against a spiral background known as “thunder pattern” (leiwen). The creature’s name comes from a third-century B.C.E. text, The Spring and Autumn Annals of Lu Buwei (Lushi Chunqiu), but what the Shang people called this creature and what it represented to them remains unknown.