Vani, second half of the 4th century BC, Grave 24, GNM: 1-2005/1

This magnificently wrought openwork ornament is the most impressive element of an elaborate headdress worn by the principal deceased from Grave 24. In technique and form, the piece is firmly rooted in local Colchian production. What makes the piece so fascinating, however, is its wide array of cultural influences.

Framed on three sides by rounded studs, the central area features a stylized stag and three smaller deer set around it — a motif also present in the gold work of the nomadic Scythians in the northwest. The piece’s openwork design recalls objects produced in Luristan in the southeast. Along the folded upper edge is a pair of outward-facing lions that, in composition, seem loosely related to Assyrian door guardians. Between them are three birds, a motif that occurs throughout ancient cultures, but which is particularly present in the goldwork at Vani. Several gold necklaces in this exhibition, for example, incorporate repeating bird pendants.

As part of a larger headdress that included stylized griffin appliqués, diadem chains with pomegranate finials, temple ornaments, granulated tubular beads most likely worn at the forehead, and pendants originally worn around the neck, this intricate openwork ornament most likely took the most prestigious position on the very top of the deceased’s head.