Lavishly embellished belt hooks were the most important objects of personal adornment worn by the elite male during the latter half of the first millennium B.C. Such hooks were secular objects, reflecting a love of display and luxury expected of a person of status and wealth, and had no religious or ritual significance.
Iron hooks, like this example, were cast in high-fired ceramic molds and were probably considered a novelty, cheaper than bronze, and, when polished, the shiny white surfaces contrasted well with the further addition of gold and silver. The hook itself is cast in the shape of an animal head, and the lute-shaped body is triplanar in cross-section, a shape that became popular during the late fourth and third centuries B.C.1 The body of the belt hook has been inlaid with thin gold foil to produce an overall symmetrical design forming lozenges, triangles, and spirals. The resulting lattice has been further embellished by silver foil inlays. The reverse, which is partly corroded, is set with a stud for attachment to a belt.
Iron belt hooks decorated with foil have been found at sites in Shanxi, such as Qiaocun, Houma.2 Microscopic examination has shown that the iron was cast with space reserved for the gold and silver inlays. These reserves as well as channels cut to better hold the inlays can be observed where the inlays are missing. The black seen in-between the inlays is polished iron.
1. White and Bunker 1994, p. 99, no. 20.
2. Wagner 1993, p. 171, fig. 4.16.1; cat. no. 89 above.