Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Grave Goods in the Bactria Margiana Archeological Complex

Grave Goods in the Bactria Margiana Archeological Complex

When we consider the utensils, ornaments and organic remains uncovered in excavating the ancient sites of human settlement, we classify those things that have been obviously put in the tomb or pit with the human remains as grave goods.   Ancient items discovered on the surface cannot be classified at all and museums usually are not interested in them for that reason.   Beads are the items commonly found in abundance in the rubble of a ruined settlement and in the graves.  Such beads as these were found in East Iran's ruined settlements of that era.  Those settlements are related culturally to the Margiana sites, according to the archeologist, Dr. Victor Sarianidi.

Casual explorers of ancient sites have gathered such objects through the centuries, and that is how antiquities show up in merchant shops in the countries where people have lived in settlements since the waning of the New Stone Age.   Such archeological material also comes onto the market through clandestine digs, of course.  Once the items are on the market with no context with which to identify the items, again, the museum loses interest and the items pass into the hands of dealers.  The dealers display them in market places of the Middle East where these cultures first sprang up.  And from there, the travelers and collectors buy them.  When I lived in Afghanistan, where Bactria is located, I found these unidentifiable pieces in dealer's shops and only many years later learned that they came from ancient Bactria, not just the Bactrian period of Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia.

The Bactria Margiana Archeological Complex, BMAC, includes sites in East Iran.  Some of the identical cultural products found in both areas are these spindle whorls or loom weights marked with circular designs.  They were found strung with beads.  The ones shown in the photo below are from Bactria, and may date from late antiquity, having been formed in the old way.   However, since grave goods are generally better preserved than items that have been left among the general ruins, these well-preserved spindle whorls or loom weights or beads may date from as long ago as four thousand five hundred years ago.  If they were simply made in later Bactria in the ancient pattern, they could date from as recent as one thousand five hundred years ago.
The texture, weight and appearance of these pieces closely resemble ivory or a very dense bone or shell.  They are not made of stone, glass or ceramic.  According to Dr. Victor Sarianidi, who excavated a large part of the BMAC sites in Turkmenia and some in Afghanistan, ivory materials were discovered in East Iran and in Margiana.   

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Victor Sarianidi, Necropolis of Gonur, Athens, 2007
Victor Sarianidi, Margiana and Protozoroastrism, Athens, 200-
Giancarlo Ligabue and Sandro Salvatori, Bactria, Venice, 198-
Lois Sherr Dubin, The History of Beads, New York, 1987
Robert K. Liu, Collectible Beads, Vista, 1995

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