There is no literature referring to the ancient iconographic depiction of apes in the eastern circum-Mediterranean region and the Near East. Written reports such as the Old Testament mention apes, but this may be a reference to monkeys, while Hanno the Carthaginian Navigator referred to chimpanzees in the 5th–6th century BC. Here we describe two marble figures, belonging to a private gallery, allegedly from Middle Bronze Age Elam. They represent a “seated monkey” and a “crouched monkey.” Detailed observation and analysis of the morphological characters of both figures show that they almost certainly represent chimpanzees. If the dates and provenance of this material are correct, they are the earliest known representations of African apes. It would follow that chimpanzees were traded, as living animals, as artifacts or imageries, along an extended distance from the Central African forests to the east coast of Africa towards Elam, by the 2nd millennium BC. Alternatively, the figures may date from the Roman period, in which case the circulation of these apes or ape representations occurred centuries later, possibly from other parts of Africa. As these figures are relevant for the archaeoprimatological record, their archeological contexts require further detailed studies. Nevertheless, whether the figures are of Elamite or Roman origin, they are the earliest known representations of chimpanzees.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Akinboye, G. (2014). Africa and the West: An economic history of Roman Republican imperialism in Africa. Kent: Alpha Crownes Publishers.
Albright, W. F. (1921). Ivory and apes of Ophir. American Journal of Semitic Languages, 37, 144–145.
Aruz, J. (1992). Figure of a seated monkey. In P. O. Harper, J. Aruz, & F. Tallon (Eds.), The royal city of Susa: Ancient Near Eastern treasures in the Louvre (pp. 97–98). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ashley-Montagu, M. F. (1940). Knowledge of the ape in antiquity. Isis, 32, 87–102.
Beier-de Haan, R. (2010). You can always get what you want: History, the original, and the endless opportunities of the copy. In Proceedings of the ICMAH-ICOM International Committee for Museums and Collections of Archaeology and History of the 22nd ICOM General Conference in Shanghai, 1–5.
Benoit, A. (1992). Seated monkey. In P. O. Harper, J. Aruz, & F. Tallon (Eds.), The royal city of Susa: Ancient Near Eastern treasures in the Louvre (p. 64). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
de Bouveignes, O. (1950). Le periple d’Hannon et les gorilles. Zooleo, 8, 7–18.
Brandl, M., Martínez, M. M., Hauzenberger, C., Filzmoser, P., Nymoen, P., & Mehler, N. (2018). A multi-technique analytical approach to sourcing Scandinavian flint: Provenance of ballast flint from the shipwreck “Leirvigen 1”, Norway. PLoS One, 13, e0200647.
Caldecott, J., & Miles, L. (2005). World atlas of great apes and their conservation. Los Angeles: University of California Press, UNEP-WCMC.
Canington, S. L. (2018). Gorilla beringei (Primates: Hominidae). Mammalian Species, 50, 119–133.
Carter, E., & Stolper, M. W. (1984). Elam: Surveys of political history and archaeology. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Clermont-Ganneau, C. (1878). La coupe phénicienne de Palestrina. Journal Asiatique, 9(ser. 7), 243–270.
Desmarais, F. (Ed.) (2015). Countering illicit traffic in cultural goods: The global challenge of protecting the world’s heritage. Paris: International Council of Museums.
Dothan, T., & Regev, D. (2011). An inscribed baboon statuette from Tel Miqne-Ekron. Ägypten und Levante/Egypt and the Levant, 21, 211–230.
Dunham, S. (1985). The monkey in the middle. Zeitschriftfür Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische Archäologie, 75, 234–264.
Dziobek, E. (2014). The paradigm of innovation and their application to the Early New Kingdon of Egypt. In J. M. Galán, B. M. Bryan, & P. F. Dorman (Eds.), Creativity and innovation in the reign of Hatshepsut (pp. 7–20). Chicago: The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Eggert, M. K. H. (1992). The Central African rain forest: Historical speculation and archaeological facts. World Archaeology, 24, 1–24.
Fleagle, J. G. (2013). Primate adaptation and evolution. San Diego: Academic Press.
Franke, U., & Gierlichs, J. (2011). Roads of Arabia. The archaeological treasures of Saudi Arabia. Berlin: Museum of Islamic Art-Pergamon Museum.
Graham, J. L. (2014). Art Exchange? How the international art market lacks a clear regulatory framework. In V. Vadi & H. Schneider (Eds.), Art, cultural heritage and the market (pp. 319–340). Berlin: Springer.
Greenlaw, C. (2011). The representation of monkeys in the art and thought of Mediterranean cultures: A new perspective on ancient primates. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports.
Groves, C. P. (1971). Pongo pygmaeus. Mammalian Species, 4, 1–6.
Harrell, J. A., & Storemyr, P. (2009). Ancient Egyptian quarries: An illustrated overview. In N. Abu-Jaber, E. G. Bloxam, P. Degryse, & T. Heldal (Eds.), Quarry scapes: Ancient stone quarry landscapes in the eastern Mediterranean (pp. 7–50). Oslo: Geological Survey of Norway.
Herzfeld, C. (2012). Petite histoire des grands singes. Paris: Le Seuil.
Hughes, J. D. (2003). Europe as consumer of exotic biodiversity: Greek and Roman times. Landscape Research, 28, 21–31.
Jones, C., Jones, C. A., Jones, J. K., & Wilson, D. E. (1996). Pan troglodytes. Mammalian Species, 529, 1–9.
Karega, M. (2016). A contribution to the study of subsistence patterns of elmenteitan populations with reference to animal bones from Gogo falls in Sourh Nyanza District, Kenya. Master’s thesis. Nairobi: University of Nairobi.
Klein, J. (1979). The reading and pronunciation of the Sumerian word for “monkey.”. Journal of Cuneiform Studies, 31, 149–160.
Livingstone-Smith, A., Cornelissen, E., de Francquen, C., Nikis, N., Mees, F., et al (2016). Forests and rivers: The archaeology of the north eastern Congo. Quaternary International, 30, 1–22.
Long, L. (2017). Extracting economics from Roman marble quarries. The Economic History Review, 70, 52–78.
Mackinnon, M. (2006). Supplying exotic animals for the Roman amphitheatre games: New reconstructions combining archaeological, ancient textual, historical and ethnographic data. Mouseion: Journal of the Classical Association of Canada, 6, 137–161.
Magnavita, S. (2013). Initial encounters: Seeking traces of ancient trade connections between West Africa and the wider world. Afriques, 4, doi: https://doi.org/10.4000/afriques.1145
Manacorda, S. (2009). Organised crime in art and antiquities. New York: International Scientific and Porfessional Advisory Council of the United Nations Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Programme.
Maniatis, Y., Sotirakopoulou, P., Polikreti, K., Dotsika, E., & Tzavidopoulos, E. (2008). The “Keros Hoard”: Provenance of marbles and their possible sources. Bulletin de correspondance hellénique, 51, 413–437.
McDermott, W. C. (1938). The ape in antiquity. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press.
Minniti, C., & Sajjadi, S. M. S. (2019). New data on non-human primates from the ancient Near East: The recent discovery of a rhesus macaque burial at Shahr-i Sokhta (Iran). International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, 29, 538–548.
Miziur, M. (2012–2013). Exotic animals as a manifestation of royal luxuria. Rulers and their menageries: From the Pompe of Ptolemy II Philadelphus to Aurelian. Phasis, Greek and Roman Studies, 15–16, 451–465.
Mokhtar, G. (1990). Ancient civilizations of Africa. Oakland: University of California Press.
Moorey, P. R. S. (1999). Ancient Mesopotamian materials and industries: The Archaeological evidence. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.
Pareja, M. N. (2017). Monkey and ape iconography in Aegean art. Uppsala: Astrom Editions.
Pareja, M. N., McKinney, T., Mayhew, J., Setchell, J. M., Nash, S., & Heaton, R. (2020). A new identification of the monkeys depicted in Bronze Age wall paintings from Akrotiri, Thera. Primates, 61, 159–168.
Penin, X., & Baylac, M. (1999). Comparaison tridimensionnelle des crânes de Pan et Pongo par superpositions procrustéennes. Comptes Rendues de l’Académie des Sciences, Paris, Sciences de la vie, 322, 1099–1104.
Porter, B. A. (2015). Tracing the acquisition history of some old Syrian popular style cylinder seals. Iraq, 77, 143–157.
Reader, J. (1997). Africa: A biography of the continent. New York: Knopf.
Riese, A. (1881). Gorillas bei Hanno. Rheinisches Museum fur Philologie, 36, 209–211.
Ruiz, J. F., Hernanz, A., Armitage, R. A., Rowe, M. W., Vinas, R., et al (2012). Calcium oxalate AMS 14C dating and chronology of post Palaeolithic rock paintings in the Iberian Peninsula. Two dates from Abrigo de los Oculados (Henarejos,Cuenca, Spain). Journal of Archaeological Science, 39, 2655–2667.
Ruiz, J. F., & Rowe, M. W. (2014). Dating methods (absolute and relative) in archaeology of art. In C. Smith (Ed.), Encyclopedia of global archaeology (pp. 2036–2042). New York: Springer.
Schmid, G. (1913). Die angeblichen Gorillas in Hannos bericht. Zoologische Annalen, 5, 67–71.
Schwartz, H. (1996). The culture of the copy: Striking likenesses, unreasonable facsimilies. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Sease, C. (2007). Faking pre-Columbian artifacts. Objects Specialty Group Postprints, 14, 146–160.
Seland, E. H. (2005). Ancient South Arabia: Trade and strategies of state control as seen in the "Periplus Maris Erythraei" Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies, 35, 271–278.
Shipley III, W. E., & Graham, E. (1987). Petrographic analysis and preliminary source identification of selected stone artifacts from the Maya sites of Seibal and Uaxactun, Guatemala. Journal of Archaeological Science, 14, 367–383.
Sinclair, P., Ekblom, A., & Wood, M. (2012). Trade and society on the south-east African coast in the later first millennium AD: The case of Chibuene. Antiquity, 86, 723–737.
Sotiriou, K.-O. (2018). The F words: Frauds, forgeries, and fakes in antiquities smuggling and the role of organized crime. International Journal of Cultural Property, 25, 223–236.
Spycket, A. (1998). “Le Carnaval des Animaux”: On some musician monkeys from the ancient Near East. Iraq, 60, 1–10.
Stechow, E. (1948). Die Gorilla in Periplus Hannonis. Forschungen und Fortschritte, 24, 148–149.
Steindorff, G., & Seele, K. H. (1957). When Egypt ruled the East. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Stiles, D., Redmond, I., Cress, D., Nellemann, C., & Formo, R. K. (2013). Stolen apes. The illicit trade in chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans: A rapid response assessment. Oslo: United Nations Environment Programme, GRID-Arendal.
Tanyaş, H., Dirican, M., Lütfi Süzen, M., Asuman, G., Türkmenoğlu, G., et al (2017). Identification of possible source areas of stone raw materials combining remote sensing and petrography. International Journal of Remote Sensing, 38, 3923–3942.
Urbani, B., & Youlatos, D. (2020). Occam’s razor, archeoprimatology, and the ‘blue’ monkeys of Thera: A reply to Pareja et al. (2020). Primates. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-020-00825-2.
Vallat, F. (1998). Elam. I. The history of Elam. In E. Yarshater (Ed.), Encyclopaedia Iranica, Vol.VIII (pp. 302–313). http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/elam-i
Wilson, A. (2017). Saharan exports to the Roman world. In D. Mattingly, V. Leitch, C. Duckworth, A. Cuénod, M. Sterry, & F. Cole (Eds.), Trade in the ancient Sahara and beyond, Trans-Saharan Archaeology (pp. 189–208). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wood, J. G. (1875). Wood´s Bible animals. Philadelphia: Bradley, Garretson & Co.
Great thanks go to John M. Halley (University of Ioannina), who helped substantially with the editing of a previous draft. We are grateful to the primatologists and archaeologists who agreed to look at the original images from the gallery webpage and for concurring with the existence of the photographs and with our taxonomic identification. They are M. Marlena Antczak, Liliana Cortés-Ortiz, Paul A. Garber, Jim J. Moore, Stephen Nash, Marilyn A. Norconk, Ryne A. Palombit, Alfred L. Rosenberger, and Damián Ruiz-Ramoni. Another archaeologist also agreed with the previous scholars but preferred to remain anonymous. An eleventh colleague, Eckhard W. Heymann, observed the photograph three times at different moments and has another opinion. At a first glance, he identified them as common chimpanzees, but later, based on the line between the forehead and the hairy part of the upper head, he considers that the apes might be young or female orangutans. Thanks particularly go to M. Marlena Antczak, Eckhard W. Heymann, and Jim J. Moore for providing further insights that served to improve an early draft of this manuscript. We appreciate the productive comments and editorial support of Joanna M. Setchell, as well the constructive suggestions of the two anonymous reviewers that strongly enriched this article. B. Urbani also acknowledges the cooperation of the personnel at the libraries of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Harvard University.
Handling Editor: Joanna M. Setchell
About this article
Cite this article
Urbani, B., Youlatos, D. On the Earliest Representations of Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): Were African Apes Traded to Bronze Age Elam?. Int J Primatol (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10764-020-00169-0
- East Africa
- Near East
- Pan troglodytes
- Primate trade