Since its publication in an article1 in 1991 this plate has been referred to, relied upon, and used as an iconographic example of early bowing, with claims it may be the earliest example of bowing, and at very least the earliest example of bowing in Armenia. The identification of a bow and k'amancha seems to have been accepted without challenge.

Ceramic plate from Dvin, Armenia. 900-1099 CE

Ceramic plate from Dvin, Armenia. 900-1099 CE

The interpretation of the horizontal triple line and ball feature (lower left quadrant) as a bow is highly problematic. I cannot recall any depictions where only the hair is shown. All depictions of bows show either a solid stick where the hair is not visible due to being hidden by the stick, or both hair and stick. Even if we accept that the triple line feature represents hair, the large circular feature at the end is even more problematic. In depictions where bobbles are shown on bows they are always shown at a size that is appropriate for the bow. This feature appears to be quite excessive in size and is larger than the hand by a factor of about 4x.

If not a bow then what is depicted? I would like propose another explanation. That the ball and triple line feature do not represent a bow but a thurible , an incense burner that is swung during religious processions and ceremonies. The censer is not a symmetrical ball and has a flat bottom. This practice exists in Armenia and possibly existed during the period of the creation of this plate. Whilst looking for suitable pictures to illustrate this (alas none with suitable licence for inclusion here) I noticed the distinct similarity between the depiction and clothing worn by members of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Church members have beards, and wear a black hood and cote. The parallel is quite striking.

Thus the depiction shows a member of a church swinging a thurible, their beard has been carefully styled, and their hood flows down behind them. Despite the apparently simple styling, the depiction is quite sophisticated. The artist has used dynamic balance to evoke motion. Here the artist is depicting a moment, the arm is up the chains are out straight, the censer slightly tilted. Knowing what this represents our mind has already filled in the forward swinging motion that must have occurred, and combined with our knowledge that suspended objects must fall and the backwards swing must follow, leaves our minds screaming movement. The imbalance is such we just want the image to come alive and resolve! This is a very powerful evocation of movement, and by depicting near/at the apex of the swing the artist plays on this to it's maximum leaving us in no doubt of the direction of movement.

Instead of two problematic elements we now have an explanation that ties together many more details, we know who they are and what they are doing, and why they are doing it. The plate is truly a wonderful archaeological find. 

Rejection Reasons

  • No recognisable bow.
  • The ball feature is excessively large.
  • Lack of any bow stick being shown.
  • Lack of supporting evidence or reasoning that supports the identification.
  • No clearly identifiable bowed instrument (or any instrument).


The feature has been misidentified.

Barry Pearce. 31.Oct.2021

See other articles in the Rejected Sources series.

Tsitsikian, Anahit, ‘The Earliest Armenian Representations of Bowed Instruments’, RIdIM/RCMI Newsletter, 16.2 (1991), p.4, figure 2.