Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Faience and Stone Beads from the Tombs

Ancient Persian Faience Beads Dating Third to Second Millennium B C  
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 This attractive string of faience beads came from the ruins of an ancient site belonging to the Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex.  Because these sites were not only a conglomerate of settlements strung out along the long established trade routes of Western Asian, they were also way stations along the major trade route.  Faience is a blend of clay based technology and glass production.  Silica or fine sand was heated and allowed to congeal around a fireproof rod.

Then it was glazed or not as the bead maker chose.  It was most often pigmented early in the process, but it was also made in its native color and then the pigment could be added during the glazing process.  Many of the beads in this string were made as a long tube and then simply broken or sawed into shorter pieces.  As in almost all necklaces strung together from findings from the ruins of ancient sites, this string contains very special stone and large ceramic beads as well.  

These ancient faience beads from Old Persia of the third to second millennium B.C. were found in various ancient ruined sites where they either came to the surface through erosion or were excavated by unauthorized prospectors for ancient artifacts. They found their way to a city merchant who sold them to an antiques dealer in New York City. That is where I found them. We do not have to take the word of the antiques dealer in order to acknowledge the origin of the beads. Such faience beads are shown in published works on the history, origins, techniques of manufacture and style of various periods in the reference works that I use for this particular period of the Bactria-Margiana cultural complex in Iran and Outer Iran. Outer Iran is a term used as we would use Greater Los Angeles, meaning not only the city but its exurbs as well. Iran's cultural exchanges extended from the foot of the west side of the Himalayas into the midst of what is now Turkey, from Turkmenistan in the north to the Lut and Sindh deserts in the South. 

Back to the string of beads: not all of the beads on the string are made of faience, but most of them are. They also include among the small beads some made of clear quartz, bright and dark shades of carnelian, turquoise that is now green, and lapis of which some have paled to gray. There is even a few tiny beads of coral. The unglazed gray and white striped bead may be of clay, not mixed nor fired into hardness in the same way as the faience beads. The other light gray, dark gray striped bead is the typical, highly valued Himalayan banded agate. Modern bead makers style these as dzi beads and are the sacred amulets of that region to this day. The round carnelian bead in the focal section of the string of beads is carnelian and shows the unintentional faceting on a round bead that is typical of that period. Such faceting cannot be avoided when smoothing the surface of the bead by holding it in hand while smoothing it on a smear of wet grit on a flat stone. The carnelian rondelle above the focal bead is very interesting in shape and in its baroque texture. 

Finally the ceramic rondelle bead strung with the focal may have been at one time decorated with pigment and a pattern which seems very faintly evident. These beads may well have been separated in time as far as their manufacture goes. Some may date from four thousand five hundred years ago, while others may date from closer to the end of that culture about three thousand five hundred years ago. 

Measurements: 21 inches in length; focal bead: 15 mm diameter  Contact me through the private message form above right.

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

Friday, May 18, 2012

Bactrian Copper Compartmented Seal

Bactrian ornament designers made small things: miniature statues, small stamp seals and pounds and pounds of small tubular and tabular beads.  On many of the stone stamp seals, the engraver carved a mythical narrative of heroic battles, or icons that illustrated the Bactrian world view.

The copper compartmented seals were often on a slightly larger scale than the carved stone seals.  But the compartmented metal seals, too, cast with Bronze Age technology and usually equipped with a looped handle to be worn as an amulet, often accompanied the owner to the grave.  Here is the photo and the story of one that is presently in my collection.
Ancient Bactria Copper Seal Authenticated and Published by Knowledgeable Archeologist  Contact me through the private message form above right.

Long after we left our two year residence in Afghanistan, this ancient Bactrian copper seal came into our collection through another resident of Afghanistan finding that we too had found Bactrian artifacts in the hands of dealers in antiquities in Kabul, Afghanistan. At that time, no one knew what culture had produced them, and certainly we did not know who had found them in the ruins of whatever old culture had produced them. We did recognize them as old and probably important to preserve. After we returned to the United States, we bought Bactrian artifacts from other dealers here in America. By that time, published material on Bactria was becoming available. 

We were very pleased to know that our small collection of seals and amulets was from ancient Bactria in Afghanistan, a jewel of a city along the Silk Road. It was active in trade even in ancient times. Its culture flourished from around 2,500 BC to 1,600 BC. But Balkh, the still present city in Afghanistan, was occupied by Alexander the Great in building his Asian Empire around 360 BC. So there is quite a long history and many valuable things to learn about this city and its several cultures. This ancient copper seal is called a 'cross shape' by Dr. Victory Sarianidi in his book on Myths of Ancient Bactria and Margiana on ... Seals and Amulets. 

It was photographed by Ron Garner and seen personally by Dr. Sarianidi at our home before he published the book. This seal appears as Number 332 on pp. 108,9.Size 3.7 cm diam.

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Friday, May 4, 2012

Cosmetic Containers in Bactrian Tombs

One of the more numerous items found in the tombs that were uncovered by official excavations and by casual finds or illicit digging are the vessels for a substance called kohl.  It is a black, waxy material that was widely used in the Middle East and Egypt as a beautifier and a protector for the eyes.  Even modern mothers will apply kohl to their children's eyes when going out with them.  Men also wear kohl to protect their eyes.  The old American movies that show the Sheik of Araby wearing heavy eye make-up was not just a mistake by the movie's make-up artist.

Evidently the Bactrian woman would not be caught without it; even in death, her cosmetic flask was stored in the tomb with her.  Many such flasks with this typical decorative motif have been collected from the tombs.

Three Thousand Year Old Steatite Cosmetic Flask -- Contact me through the private message form above right.

This ancient flask that once contained cosmetics was found in the ruins of ancient Bactria in Afghanistan. The vessel, once found, would have been taken to the nearest city to an antiques merchant and sold. The antiques merchant then sold it to an international dealer and we bought it for our collection from that dealer. For assurance that this is Bactrian, you can consult the work of Dr. Victor Sarianidi and the Ligabue Institute such as Victor Sarianidi, Necropolis of Gonur, Athens, 2007 and Giancarlo Ligabue and Sandro Salvatori, Bactria, Venice, 198-

A simple striation forming cone shapes decorates this kohl flask. Kohl became an essential cosmetic and eye protector throughout the southern parts of the Middle East, South Asia and parts of Africa. It is still popular on the sub-continent. Some ingredient in the kohl was believed to repel insects and the shading around the eyes somehow guarded the wearer from evil influences. 

Kohl came to be regarded as an enhancement of beauty. Women all over the world now apply a similar cosmetic to accentuate the shape and luminosity of their eyes. 

Often these flasks were equipped with very fanciful applicator wands, some with animal figures worked in precious metal, others with geometric designs. Most of the time, archeologists do not find the applicator with the flask. It may be that the applicator was not a part of the flask but a separate possession to be carried with the person to whom it belonged and used in different flasks of cosmetic materials. 

At some point in the three thousand years or more of its existence, this flask was cracked at the edge of one corner, but not broken through the wall of the flask. Otherwise it is much as it was when created. It still has some of the Bactrian soil stuck on one side. 

This flask measures 4.8 cm (1.9 in) high x 2.7 cm (1 in) x 3 cm (1.2 in)

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