A Rattling Pomegranate

Have you ever gently shaken a dried pomegranate? Probably not, but if you did, you would hear a soft rattling from the small dried membranes of juice hitting each other and the outer peel.

The pomegranate, it turns out, was an inspiration for bells in Antiquity.* The pomegranate tree originated in the region of ancient Persia (modern-day Iran), and so many of the oldest surviving relics of pomegranate-shaped bells come from here. Bronze casting itself began in the region of modern-day Iran and Iraq, even though copper and tin were found nowhere nearby!

These early bronze bells had a latticed exterior, resembling the divided sections of the inside of a pomegranate. We can also see the pointed end of the pomegranate mimicked in the bell design, too, in the last picture on the bell on the right. Some artifacts from Luristan (or Lorestan), Iran, even have cast leaves.

"Pomegranate DSW" by Augustus Binu. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Pomegranate DSW” by Augustus Binu. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
"A pomegranate" by Aravind Sivaraj - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“A pomegranate” by Aravind Sivaraj – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Luristan bronze bell, ca. 800-700 BCE
Luristan bronze bell, ca. 800-700 BCE
Luristan Bronze Bells, ca. 1000-800 BCE
Luristan Bronze Bells, ca. 1000-800 BCE

These early bells are called crotals, due to their spherical shape with a clapper or pellet rattling in the inside. This bell shape never died off. They have been used for centuries on livestock, among other uses, and the most familiar example of them today are in sleigh bells. Ding-a-ling!

Sleigh Bells
Sleigh Bells

* Luc Rombouts, Singing Bronze: A History of Carillon Music (Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 2014), 15.

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