What is the Mysterious Handbag Seen in Ancient Carvings Across Cultures and Countries?

What is the Mysterious Handbag Seen in Ancient Carvings Across Cultures and Countries?

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One of the more mysterious symbols that has been found in ancient carvings is an image that looks uncannily like a handbag. The shape appears in depictions made by the Sumerians of Iraq, in the ruins of ancient Turkish temples, in decorations of the Maori of New Zealand, and in crafts made by the Olmecs of Central America. Handbags can be seen in the art of disparate cultures from around the world and throughout time, with the first known instance of a handbag appearing at the end of the Ice Age. What is this mysterious symbol that can be found throughout the ancient world?

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.

Could the mysterious handbag really represent the cosmos? Assyrian relief carving from Nimrud, 883–859 B.C.

Could the mysterious handbag really represent the cosmos? Assyrian relief carving from Nimrud, 883–859 B.C. ( Metropolitan Museum of Art )

Oldest Depictions of the ‘Handbag’

One of the earliest instances of the handbag motif can be seen in the ruins of Göbekli Tepe, located at the top of a mountain ridge in southeastern Turkey. Dating back to approximately 11,000 BC, Göbekli Tepe is one of the oldest temple complexes ever discovered (Tinfoil Hat, 2014). The exact purpose of the mountain sanctuary is unknown; however, it appears that temple may have served as a site for religious sacrifices (archaeologists unearthed many butchered animal bones). The walls and pillars of the temple are decorated with finely carved animals, gods, and mythical creatures, perhaps in an effort to portray the many different creations of the cosmos. Amidst these other carvings are three handbags.

Experts believe that early religions worshiped the fundamental elements of life on earth.  Therefore, “the three Göbekli Tepe handbags, taken as an early form of those icons, could be said to symbolically define the site as a temple” (Scranton, 2016).

Pillar 43 from Gobekli Tepe in Turkey shows three ‘handbag’ carvings along the top.

Pillar 43 from Gobekli Tepe in Turkey shows three ‘handbag’ carvings along the top. Credit: Alistair Coombs

From the Middle East to South America, the Strange Carving Can Be Found

Elsewhere, the handbag image shows up with striking similarities in two stone reliefs, one made by the Assyrians of ancient Iraq sometime between 880-859 BC and the other made by the Olmecs of ancient Mesoamerica sometime between 1200 – 400 BC. In both of these images, a man-like figure carries the handbag in his hand, as if it were a basket or purse. “When used in Assyrian art it is said the purse holds magic dust. When depicted in Olmec art they postulate it contains herbs for getting high” (Freeborn, 2013). This suggests that the handbag may have been a standard of measurement uniquely discovered by both cultures. 

Olmec Monument 19, from La Venta, Tabasco, shows a man holding the handbag in his hand.

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.


I believe it is just what it is...a useful handbag, not a religious symbol...BUT did you notice the WATCH on the left wrist of one, and the right wrist of the other!!! What a sight!!! More important than the handbag!! Also not a religious symbol!

I have seen these images hundreds of times and never noticed the watches! What a very significant observation! Prestigious time travelers sporting Gucci Handbags and Patek Philippe Watches???

Have these been photoshopped? If not this is incredible!

all the answers to what they had, wore and how they did things is simplistic.
No watches.

Sure...go ahead and mess up a fun concept. Then why are there 12 lines on these bracelets?

No...I counted 16 on one and 15 on the other I think. lol

OK... Count the lines...on the "Watches"
12 for hours dividing the day into 12...
then the moving arms on watch:
two for hours/one for minutes =
15 lines on watch...

thats not a watch. a bracelet. the indentations all around just represent balance of the persons status or position in society.
Another question is, whats inside the bag ? From society to society; hmmmm.

Kit Kats!

I would like to know -Is that a wrist watch on that figure??? Sure looks like a pretty good representation to me! It even has numbers around the dial and appears to have a minute or hour hand as well!!! Even more of a mystery!!!

Nuclear codes

The handbags could be almost anything...but what's with the pine cone poking me in the face? That's what always worries me.

In the second image, you can see a second "watch" on the other arm, with the "face" on the inside of the wrist. The only reason for two watches is if the Assyrians had already invented timezones, and had telephones to communicate between them so it was important to know the time in two different locations! Or maybe they are bracelets with a wheel design, one of the most popular designs in religious symbolism.

Tsurugi's picture

That "flower" shape of the watch face is also very similar to the Imperial Seal of Japan, which is........weird.

Just a thought: Could they be some form of standard for weight measurement?


I’d go with the bucket theory and expand upon it. If you want some sort of ritual connotation it could be for carrying ritual fire or embers to start a fire. 



Maybe ancient smartphones were carried in a cases with handles.

daniel.pletinckx's picture

This post-truth era is really fun, you know! Have a look at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situla

Digital heritage expert - Visual Dimension - Belgium

The objects carried by the carved figures have curved bottoms which means they would not be useful as buckets. They are more likely to be some kind of bag.

Interestingly, the similar images on the stone at Gobekli Tepe have flat bottoms. They could represent buckets or, bags that do not have anything in them,

daniel.pletinckx's picture

Plese have a look at the real thing, which are the ritual buckets (called situla) that are preserved today in museums: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Situla

You will see that both curved bottom and flat bottom are present

Digital heritage expert - Visual Dimension - Belgium

I see what you mean but, the objects in your link don't appear to be exactly the same.

Buckets with curved bottoms would need to be propped up continuously. Unless held by someone, they could not support themselves. That would not make them very useful. I don't know about you but, if I had to buy a new bucket and had a choice between one with a curved bottom or one with a flat bottom, I would not choose the one with a curved bottom. I would have no use for one that would need to be constantly supported. It would be in the category of useless inventions, along with chocolate teapots and square wheels.

Or... the Gobelki bags could be a loose bag with a round bottom and a lot of junk in them setting on a flat surface just appearing as if they are something they're actually not. Kind of like modern armchair archaeologists sitting in front of their computer screens thinking they will be vindicated & revered as a pioneer when tinfoil hats become all the rage.

I'm guessing it's a power source for the "pine cone" and other tech.

I believe the figures represented are Shaman and the bags contain whichever psychoactive material was used, most likely psilocybin containing mushrooms. Pinecones have for thousands of years served as a symbolic representation of human enlightenment, the third eye, the pineal gland, and Shamans in some parts of the world still carry similar bags. I find it odd that some would rather talk of aliens and whatnot rather than the very obvious fact that homo sapiens have been consuming psychoactive plants even before leaving Africa. I'd even be willing to wager that consuming this "food of the gods" is what led to a higher level of thinking and likely helped form the foundations for religion. Makes a lot more sense than aliens and time travelers, although it is fun to read all the wild theories.

Tsurugi's picture

I don't think those are pinecones. I've seen them referred to as "the spathe of the date palm" in old archaeology journals.

Aliens and time travelers make just as much sense as anything else, considering these images span the globe and are older than almost every other known symbol.

I think that basket have the same meaning as Easter Basket today.

Tsurugi's picture

I think this bag motif also appears at Tiawanaku/Puma Punku.

And if it is in Indonesia, no doubt it will be found in and around Gunung Padang as well, which could date it even older than Gobekli Tepe.

i suppose it's a metaphor for ones "baggage" ? i'm assuming one needs to fires look at who the carving/statue is to discern what it is they bring with them


Yes I agree these may well symbolize cosmological temple markers as per the interesting mathematical work of carl munck -''concerning'-' worldwide megalithic sites, it may well be that our origins are indeed written in the stars, our state of 'amnesia' in regard of our true 'state of being' was perhaps taken into account and ''recorded'' worldwide, for us to unravel at a later period-
In any case the quantum nature of 'freewill' existence is the wake up call, as science is indeed verifying, the implications I believe will stagger the physical mind.

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