A Representation of the Cosmos?
The handbag image is so called because it looks very similar to the modern-day purse. The objects “typically feature a rounded handle-like top and a rectangular bottom, and may include varying degrees of additional details of texture or pattern” (Scranton, 2016). The images sometimes appear as stand-alone objects; sometimes they are depicted in the hand of a person, god, or mythical being in a manner similar to how one would hold a basket.
One possible theory for the proliferation of this image is its simple and straightforward representation of the cosmos. The semi-circle of the image (what would appear to be the bag’s strap) represents the hemisphere of the sky. Meanwhile, the solid square base represents the earth. “In ancient cultures from Africa to India to China, the figure of a circle was associated symbolically with concepts of spirituality or non-materiality, while that of a square was often associated with concepts of the Earth and of materiality” (Scranton, 2016). Thus, the image is used to symbolize the (re)unification of the earth and sky, of the material and the non-material elements of existence.
Olmec Monument 19, from La Venta, Tabasco, shows a man holding the handbag in his hand. ( Xuan Che )
Another instance of ancient handbag imagery can be found in faraway New Zealand. A Maori myth tells of a hero who once ascended to the home of the gods and returned to earth carrying three baskets full of wisdom. Thus, much like the Göbekli Tepe handbags, the Maori handbags symbolize worship and gratitude for divinely inspired knowledge.
Finally, in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the handbag-like image can be seen. This time serving as a home for the gods and goddesses, with the purse straps being the domed poles of the portable tent and the square bottom being the cloth or animal skins laid across the poles. This structure is quite similar to the Native American teepee or the central Asian yurt.
Read the full article at Ancient Origins