Monday, April 7, 2014

Bactrian Carved Stone Bird Amulets

Bactrian Carved Stone Bird Figures as Amulets

Ducks were apparently at least partially domesticated animals in Bronze Age Bactria.  Perhaps they had simply landed there on the waters of the Amu Darya River and the Bactrians could catch them or perhaps artisans simply admired them from a distance and carved their charms for jewelry in the image of a duck.  This is one of those charms found by an unauthorized excavator of the ruins of the Bactrian civilization.  The finder sold it to a passing merchant who carried it to the Kabul Bazaar and sold it to a collector friend of ours. It came into our collection several years ago.

Ancient Bactria Miniature Bone Bead Charm Carved in the Form of a Duck  

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This bead or amulet has great charm. The carver was talented in capturing the character of this domestic duck. The eyes, the bill, the big webbed feet. The down feathers on the chest are layered while the wing feathers are indicated as strong pinions. The tail is just as detailed as the other feathery parts. 

The bead hole is very tiny so it does not interfere with the figurine's form. The amulet bead hangs from the feet just as a duck might be carried to market. The figurine is not a statuette. It is one of the typical carvings of miniature animals, plants, and human anatomical abstractions as beads such as feet, hands and more intimate anatomical parts. 

This miniature Bactrian carving was collected in Afghanistan, the modern nation in which the ruins of the ancient kingdom of Bactria are located. 

Amulet beads such as these are discussed in published works by the archeologists working in the Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex as listed below. 

20 mm x 11 mm x 9 mm

Bactrian Stone Sculpture in Miniature of Eagle Amulet Symbol of Power
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The symbolism of the carved eagle amulet is explained in the book Myths of Ancient Bactria-Margiana on Its Seals and Amulets by Dr. Victor Sarianidi, the Russian archeologist who excavated the Bactria-Margiana culture:

"It has been noted that eagles symbolized male principles and som celestial force which could defend humans from all sorts of adversity." (p. 45)

This white stone eagle statuette is intricately carved with eyes, beak, feet and feathers in a perched eagle position. It is pierced at the feet level to be hung on a string. It shows the wear patina that would result from a long service as an amulet hanging from a string. 

The amulet is at least 3,500 years old and may be much older. It was created by a stone carver in Bactria in its proto-Iranian cultural age, lasting from 2,500 B.C. to 1,600 B.C. 

The eagle was a widely used symbol in the glyptics of the Bactrian culture. In our collection we have miniature carved stone eagles and abstract representations of eagles in stone and copper/bronze seals and amulets. 

This eagle is portrayed on a perch with clawed feet pointing forward and head turned in profile. The strong pinion feathers are strongly emphasized on the back of the statuette. On one side of the head the outlined eye of the eagle is still visible, but on the side which brushed against the human clothing or skin while being worn has become almost invisible. The line of the beak separation is visible on both sides of the eagle's head. 

I would guess the stone statuette to be carved in a pale pinkish quartz. It is very hard and dense, which kept the carving in such good condition over the great period of time since it was carved. 
9 mm wide x 20 mm high x 8.5 mm thick

Victor Sarianidi, Necropolis of Gonur, Athens, 2007
Victor Sarianidi, Myths of Ancient Bactria and Margiana on its Seals and Amulets, 1998
Giancarlo Ligabue and Sandro Salvatori, Bactria, Venice, 198-

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