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This cast bronze zodiac token with a hole in the middle presumably for suspension is from Tibet. It has great age and wear, and seems to have been worn and handled not only for practical purposes but also for talismanic or protective reasons. In this regard, it essentially functioned as a tokcha. It has three other smaller holes and so might also at one point been used to secure bindings around a small package of talismanic items that would have been worn.
(Tokcha or Thokcha is a term applied to small copper alloy talismanic forms worn in Tibet. The term tokcha derives from the Tibetan thog (thunderbolt) and Icags (iron or metal), so literally can be translated as ‘thunderbolt iron’ – according to belief, tokchas were formed when molten thunderbolts struck the earth and reacted forming the metal used to cast tokchas.)
The token is decorated with the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac on one side, around an inner border that has in much-worn Chinese script, the name of the Chinese hours of the day. (Traditionally one Chinese hour was equivalent to two ‘Western’ hours and each hour was given a name and sign of the zodiac.)
The other side is decorated with six figures – perhaps deities.
The token relates to a cloak pin with zodiac motifs published in Borel (1994, p. 168).
The example here has the great wear and visible age. Overall, this is a very fine, early item.
Borel, F., The Splendour of Ethnic Jewelry: From the Colette and Jean-Pierre Ghysels Collection, Thames & Hudson, 1994.
Heller, A., Early Himalayan Art, Ashmolean Museum, 2008.