Photo source: Hunan Provincial Museum

Bronze Ding with human face masks

Shang dynasty, 16th - 11th century B.C.
Hunan Provincial Museum, Changsha

This remarkable bronze fangding is the only one known that is decorated with human faces. Around each face there is a pair of small horns near the forehead, a cloud-and-thunder pattern in the place of "ears," and a pair of claws beside the cheeks. The legs are decorated with taotie. It is not known for sure who or what the faces represent; according to the museum website, the framing horns and claws indicates these could be gods, spirits, or half-god-half-human; ancestors or shamans, for example. The design is unique, which complicates any attempt at analysis.