Banduddu: Solving the Mystery of the Babylonian Container

Banduddu: Solving the Mystery of the Babylonian Container

One of the great riddles in Mesopotamian sacred art concerns the image of anthropomorphic winged figures called Apkallu holding a mullilu (tree fruit) in one hand, and a banduddû — a container — in the other. The purpose of this container is rightly mysterious. It appears throughout Sumer and Babylon, and half a world away in Yucatan; six thousand years earlier, it was carved in relief upon Pillar 43 at Gobekli Tepe, one of the world's oldest standing stone enclosures. But what exactly was the purpose of this container? A look at cross-cultural symbolism in the images provides an answer.

The Apkallu

​Wall relief depicting an eagle-headed and winged man, Apkallu, from Nimrud.

Wall relief depicting an eagle-headed and winged man, Apkallu, from Nimrud. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Apkallu are a group of seven sages, emissaries and mediating figures entrusted by a creator god to bring the civilizing arts to humanity following a catastrophic flood. Their story is repeated almost verbatim in diluvial myths of many ancient cultures, the only changeable aspect being their names. The quintessential image of the Apkallu is that of two eagle-, or perhaps falcon-headed people standing either side of a flowering tree, picking its fruit, and the manner in which they hold the container suggests the fruit are to be placed in said receptacle. Sometimes the figure of the supreme deity Ahura Mazda is depicted inside a winged disc above the axis of the tree, implying it is close to God, and thus, wisdom. This culturally shared image is known as the World Tree or Tree of Knowledge, and served as both focal point and foundation of all Mysteries teachings and traditions.


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