Bactria-Margiana Bactrian Stone Column Idol

SKU SF.251

3000 BC to 2000 BC


13.50″ (34.3cm) high x 5.50″ (14.0cm) wide




Central Asia

Gallery Location



This piece pertains to an ancient culture referred to both as the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BCAM) or as the Oxus Civilisation. The Bactria-Margiana culture spread across an area encompassing the modern nations of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Northern Afghanistan. Flourishing between about 2100 and 1700 BC, it was contemporary with the European Bronze Age, and was characterised by monumental architecture, social complexity and extremely distinctive cultural artefacts that vanish from the record a few centuries after they first appear. Pictographs on seals have been argued to indicate an independently-developed writing system.
It was one of many economic and social entities in the vicinity, and was a powerful country due to the exceptional fertility and wealth of its agricultural lands. This in turn gave rise to a complex and multifaceted set of societies with specialist craftsmen who produced luxury materials such as this for the ruling and aristocratic elites. Trade appears to have been important, as Bactrian artefacts appear all over the Persian Gulf as well as in the Iranian Plateau and the Indus Valley. For this reason, the area was fought over from deep prehistory until the Mediaeval period, by the armies of Asia Minor, Greece (Macedonia), India and the Arab States, amongst others.

The meaning of these objects in ancient Bactria still mystifies scholars. Many are convinced that they must have had a ritual function and were perhaps worshipped as idols. Others argue that they had a more practical purpose and were used as a counterweight for pounding grain or pumping water. Bactria is the ancient Greek name for an area that encompassed parts of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and northern Afghanistan. It was a mountainous and extremely fertile region that had a highly developed civilisation in the late third and early second millennium BC. Excavations have uncovered other intriguing artifacts such as the composite stone goddesses which attest to the presence of a vibrant religious culture. Today these marble ‘pillar-like’ sculptures impress us with their simplicity of form and mysterious past.

This grey-stone marble ‘column’ has a wonderfully smooth finish. The ancient craftsman may well have chosen this block of stone for its attractive white veining which enlivens the surface. The cylindrical form gets progressively narrower towards the upper part and then flares out at the top. A shallow channel runs across both ends, dividing them into two halves.

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