Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Shapes and Styles of Ancient Bactrian Seals

This amulet bead makes a seal impression when the wearer wished to mark a possession, but probably served also as a bearer of religious symbols.  Dr. Victor Sarianidi interpreted thousands of seals yielded from the excavations of the Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex, where he led the Russian teams for forty years.  His work Myths of Ancient Bactria Margiana on Its Seals and Amulets explores his discovery that the Bactria-Margiana culture was the precursor to the Zoroastrian religion of the later Indo-Iranians.

Many of the mythical images on the bead seals/amulets were drilled dots to create abstract "dot figures" of creatures from nature both wild and domestic, and humans in conflict with lions, tigers and dragons.  Here is an example of a three sided prism with a drilled dot image on each side.  

Bactrian three sided bead seal/amulet authenticated and published by Sarianidi
Contact me with questions or for invoice through the private message form at the top right of this page.

The prism shaped beads are just one of the traditional styles created by the craftsmen of Bactria and Margiana.  Sylvia Winkelmann is a specialist in this field and her recent book on Seals of the Oasis based on the Ligabue collection describes the various shapes: 

- Button shaped seals with pierced lug
- Discs, round bifacial seals, longitudinally perforated
- Rectangular bifacial plate, longitudinally perforated
- Square bifacial seal with longitudinal perforation
- Lanceolate forms with truncated ends, longitudinally perforated
- Rhomboid bifacial seal (stepped-cross seal) with longitudinal perforation of two holes in opposite corners of the rhombus.
- Prisms with longitudinal perforation (note: the one pictured above is three sided)

The categories of "bead seals" or amulets listed here are not the only shapes we will discuss.  But since I am showing an example only of the three sided prism bead/amulet, I will not add the several other shapes we will encounter as I show in other blog posts these ancient stamp seals/amulet beads from my collection.  

The compartmented cast metal stamp seals is another distinctive product of the Bactria-Margiana culture, as are the rarer cylinder seals from the Bactrian part of the widespread Bactria-Margiana Archeological Culture (BMAC).  

Speaking of which, I will add simplified maps of the region here, first showing the location of Bactria: 
U.S. Army map ca. 2001 - the oval shows the Balkh or Bactrian province of Afghanistan

The whole BMAC region is now understood to have symbolic art similar to the archeological findings in Anatolia and in the Southwest of Iran and the Northern tip of Syria.   The yellow marked area below emphasizes the ancient settlements whose archeological findings substantiate a relationship to the findings at the digs at Altyn Depe.   

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Discovering Bronze Age Bactria

Stamp Seal from our Collection of Bactrian Artifacts
published on title page of Necropolis of Gonur by
Dr. Victor Sarianidi, leader of Russian excavations
in the Amu Darya and Murghab regions of the 
Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex.

In the mid-1970s, my husband and I had the great good fortune to live in Afghanistan for two years.  As we browsed the bazaars of Kabul, we began to find mysterious and obviously ancient carved, drilled, engraved and cast amulets and seals, in addition to miniature carvings of animals and human feet, hands and other parts.  We did not know where they came from, their age, or the civilization that must have produced them.  When we asked the merchants, they said the artifacts were from Balkh, but they did not offer more than that.  Most of our collection came out of the ruins in the province of Bactria, now located in Northeastern Afghanistan.

The ruins of Bactria had been discovered first by the residents of the towns and villages along the Amu Darya.  The artifacts may have been washed out of the ancient ruins by the occasional rains that sent water rushing down the mountain sides.  The old burial sites were then revealed and the casual explorer found interesting objects that he could take to market.  As the merchants in Kabul bought them and displayed them, only a few Westerners interested in ancient arts and culture were buying them.  We only know two other American collectors of such items; that is to say only two other collectors who lived or visited there.

I want to make clear that though I will be speaking often of my family's association with Dr. Victor Sarianidi, the leader of the Russian excavation of ancient Bactria and Margiana, Dr. Sarianidi was not a source of artifacts for us.  All his findings went to museums, not to private collectors.

Victor taught us what he had discovered about the Bactrian civilization and invited us to his excavations in the Murghab region in Turkmenistan.  Margiana, situated along the Murghab, is a part of the widespread proto-Iranian culture, closely related to the Bactrian culture.  My husband visited the digs in the Kara Kum desert on many occasions.

Here Victor leans on a section of the walls of the palace at Gonur Depe North:

The goal of this blog is to share bits of the information on Bactria and Turkmenistan that we learned from Victor's visits at our home and from his valuable publications.  I will also rely on the books based on the Ligabue collection and the recent work of Ms. Sylvia Winkelmann.

I am gratified to see that Ms. Winkelmann has given due notice to the drilled stone images that make up a large part of my family's collection.  For example:

Stone Amulet from Bactria, authenticated and published by Victor Sarianidi
Contact me with questions or for invoice through the private message form at the top right of this page.

I am now in the process of downsizing our collection and will be posting many of the seals and amulets for sale.  Click on the links below the photos to see a more detailed description, price and payment arrangements that I offer.  

Both copper/bronze compartmented seals and engraved amulets in stone or faience such as these are pictured below: 

Cast copper/bronze: 
Ancient Bactrian Cruciform Compartmented Seal Authenticated and Published by Sarianidi  
Contact me with questions or for invoice through the private message form at the top right of this page.

Engraved in white stone:     
Bactrian Stamp Seal Bird Image   Published by Sarianidi 

All the linked photographs on this page show artifacts that have been authenticated and published, most of them in V. Sarianidi's book on Myths of Ancient Bactria Margiana on Its Seals and Amulets.

  Contact me with questions or for invoice through the private message form at the top right of this page.