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Griffins found at Old sarum.jpg

Image: © The Trustees of the British Museum  [1]

Answer to Photo Quiz No. 43


These beautiful beasts found at Old Sarum are a pair of gryphons (griffins, griffons), confronting one another, separated by a rosette, surrounded by a narrow-ribbed border. The surface at the back is sunk, with a plain raised border, which suggests that the panel may have served as a writing tablet. It exhibits oriental and Islamic influences on the Romanesque.[2]

It was carved on walrus ivory 1075 to 1125.[1] Donated to the British Museum in 1892, it remains in their care but is not on display.

Gryphons had the head and wings of an eagle and body, the hind legs and tail of a lion, one the king of the air, the other of the landbound beasts and appeared in the art of ancient Iran and Egypt 5000 years ago. In medieval Europe it was used to suggest Christ’s dual origins, heavenly and earthly.


Today they are still popular in everything from heraldry to Harry Potter novels.

Kerry O’Connor

April 2022

[1 ]© The Trustees of the British Museum. Asset number 983677001 Museum number 1892,1102.1. Panel; walrus ivory; depicting a pair of confronted gryphons; between them a rosette; narrow ribbed border. Image used under their Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike Licence


[2] Dalton, Ormonde Maddock. 1909 Catalogue of the Ivory Carvings of the Christian Era with Examples of Mohammedan Art and Carvings in Bone in the Department of British and Mediaeval Antiquities and Ethnography of the British Museum. Item 36 Page 36 Plate 37.

This article supplies the answer to Question No. 43 in the website's

Local History Photo Quiz.

Click here to see all the questions.

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