WASHINGTON – What would you not expect to see pop up in ancient carvings across time, cultures and epochs?

From the Sumerians of Iraq to the ruins of Turkish temples to the decorations of Maori of New Zealand and the crafts made by the Olmecs of Central America, one mysterious anomaly seems to show up time and time again – the purse, the handbag.

Sometimes the image appears as a stand-alone object, sometimes in the hand of person, god of mythical being. But there they are – again and again.


Experts have been baffled, though there are theories, according to a report in Ancient Origins.

“One possible theory for the proliferation of this image is its simple and straightforward representation of the cosmos,” says the report. “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. … 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.”

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Another theory? “When used in Assyrian art it is said the purse holds magic dust,” says the report. When depicted in Olmec art they postulate it contains herbs for getting high. This suggests that the handbag may have been a standard of measurement uniquely discovered by both cultures.”

There are more ideas, too. “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,” explains the report. “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, experts say, 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.”

Or could it be as simple as the ancients needed something in which to carry their lip gloss and credit cards?

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