Thursday, December 22, 2011

Cultural Finds in Ghazni and Kabul

In 1973, we did not have Wikipedia so I had to read about the Ghaznavid Empire from other sources, but we are now gifted with the internet. Here is what Wikipedia, that compendium of human knowledge writes about the empire whose seat was at now humble small-town Ghazni:

*The Ghaznavids ...were a ... dynasty of Turkic slave origin... which existed from 975 to 1187 and ruled much of Persia, Transoxeania and the northern parts of the Indian Subcontinent... The Ghaznavid state was centered in Ghazni, a city in modern-day Afghanistan. ....

The dynasty was founded by Sebutkin upon his succession to rule of territories centered around the city of Ghazni from his father-in-law, Alp Tigin, a break-away ex-general of the Samanid sultans. Sebuktigin's son...expanded the empire in the region that stretched from the Oxus River to the Indus Valley and the Indian Ocean; and in the west it reached Rey and Hamadan.

Under the reign of Mas'ud, the dynasty experienced major territorial losses, losing the western territories to the Seljuqs ... resulting in a restriction of its holdings to Balochistan, Punjab and modern-day Afghanistan. In 1151, Sultan Bahram Shah lost Ghazni to Ala'uddin Hussain of Ghor and the capital was moved to Lahore, India until its subsequent capture by the Ghurids in 1186. *

Our first finds in Ghazni were copper alloy utensils that were rather obviously old and made in a different manner and of a different metal than the modern output of the tinkers and copper mongers of modern Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the people were familiar with the many older items made in the past from what they called Aw-i-josh, or *7 metals.* They pronounce it more like ow-ee-joosh. The metal is cast like a cast iron skillet, thick and all in one piece. We still have one big pot with a piece of its handle missing. The handles are cast as part of the rim. It has a maker's mark? or religious symbol? or some other kind of marks in a series on one side of the rim.

In addition to the old pot, I found this item in the same antique shop:

It is a snake with its tail in its mouth. I had read a lot of mythology, so I recognized the symbol. On the off-chance that it really did have something to do with the Afghan past, I bought it. When my husband saw how taken I was by the find, he mentioned that he had seen a similar figure in Kabul in an antique shop.

Back in Kabul, on our next browsing of the antique shops, now that we knew real antiquities might be available, we found the carving that he had remembered.

This carving shows two entwined snakes eating a goat. These are amulets produced by or derived from the Bactria Margiana civilization which existed in what is now Afghanistan, Iran and Turkmenistan.

Many years later, my interest in these alabaster amulets was vindicated. As I assisted in the editing of Dr. Victor Sarianidi's Myths of Ancient Bactria and Margiana, I learned much more of the history and cultural value of the items for which I thought I might have over-paid.

See more of my collection of ancient Bactrian archeological finds.
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