Lyre shaped motif and its origins


Tikhonov D.G., Tikhonova E.D.                                                                                                                                                                                            PDF


Annotation. Lyre shaped ornament is a common motif of ornamental and folklore applied art. But, unfortunately, the origins of the lyre shaped motif are still not well investigated. In the paper we review the literature devoted to the study of the emergence and spread of a lyre shaped motif and analyze museum exhibits from catalogs and published sources.
The aim of the study is to define the сenters of the lyre motif origin and the paths of its distribution.
Material and methods. Article analyzes lyre shaped motifs in museum artifacts, folk arts and crafts using materials presented in published literature and catalogs of museum exhibits.
A spiral motif originated in Egypt. The origins of the lyre motif in ancient Egypt are probably connected with the iconography of the Egyptian god of Hathor, who was depicted as a woman with a headdress decorated with lyre shaped horns and a solar disk between them. It should be noted that the tradition of depicting a human face with cow horns has connections with the Neolithic period of the Nile Valley, where cattle breeding arose in the 6-5th millennium BC. The first cases of using a lyre shaped motif occured in scarab-like seals of Egypt and Minoan culture. Artifacts with a lyre shaped motif were observed related, dating from the Minoan and Mycenaean periods, during to the period of classical Hellenistic Greece. A lyre shaped motif was spread along trade routes from Crete to the Danube, the Elbe, the shores of the Baltic Sea and, together with the Celts, penetrated into Britain, from the Greek colonies of the Black Sea to the Scythians. In the Asian part of the Eurasian steppes, this motif symbolized the image of the eagle totem animal depicted like a griffin, especially in the early Scythian and Hunnic period. The origins of the lyre shaped motif in the Asian steppe, apparently, were the ancient motifs “taotie” in China and “masks” in the Russian Far East. The popularity of the lyre shaped motif in the folk arts and crafts of the Turkic peoples was probably due to the spread of this motif within the Scythian community, when there was a cult of the eagle-like griffin and totem.

Key words: lyre shaped motif, origins, ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, ancient China, Etruscans, Celts, Scythians, Pazyryk, Huns, tamgas, eagle-like griffin, lyre shaped motif in folk art, modern peoples of Russia.

For citations: Tikhonov D.G., Tikhonova E.D. Lyre shaped motif and its origins. // Siberian Research. 2019. 2(2). P. 74 – 84.

Received December 3, 2018; accepted for publication November 12, 2019; published December 01, 2019.


About author


TIKHONOV Dmitrii Gavrilievich, MD, PhD, Professor, Senior Research Officer of the Scientific Research Center of the Medical Institute of the Northeast Federal University, 677009, Yakutsk, St. Builders 8, Russia,, e-mail:

TIKHONOVA Elena Dmitrievna, designer of magazine «Siberian Research», str. Ivana Krafta 58, Yakutsk, Russia.

Supporting Online Material.
Refer to Web version of the journal for supplementary material.




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