You are here

Biblical Archaeology Review 49:1, Spring 2023

World Wonders: The Demon Humbaba

“Humbaba’s cry is the roar of a deluge, his maw is fire, his breath is death!” The Mesopotamian monster Humbaba is depicted here as if made from the coils of sheep intestines. The clay mask, excavated in the city of Sippar (modern Tell Abu Habba in Iraq) and dating to the Old Babylonian period (c. 1900–1600 BCE), serves as an artistic example of a possible divination result. Three inches tall, the mask contains five lines of text, including an omen and the name of the diviner who crafted the mask, on its back.

Humbaba is the legendary guardian of the Cedar Forest in ancient Lebanon. According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, Humbaba was slain by Gilgamesh and Enkidu who then cut off the monster’s head. Amulets and plaques of Humbaba’s head, typically depicted as a hideous creature, were common in the ancient Near East, and a clear parallel to Humbaba’s head exists in the Greek myth of Perseus and Medusa.

The Humababa mask is housed in the British Museum in London, England.

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.