2500 BC to 1800 BC
3.7″ (9.4cm) high x 3.11″ (7.9cm) wide
Afghanistan / Turkmenistan
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.
In 2003 one inventory calculated that there were at least thirty-eight examples of such Bactrian idols known. Although the number of examples inventoried since that time has increased, the total number of such Bactrian idols remains relatively small. Nine examples have been founded in southeastern Turkmenistan and two more in Pakistan. The discovery of a silver pin depicting a kaunakes-clad woman sitting on a small backed chair and of silver vessel depicting a second, similarly dressed female figure, kneeling on the ground, at the site of Gonur- depe in Turkmenistan suggests that the origin of such figures is to be sought in that area.
The eleven examples just cited, although discovered in archaeological contexts, were not accompanied with related finds sufficient to define the nature of the kneeling women depicted in the kaunakes. Although some scholars prefer to identify them as elite members of this early society, other scholars, noting their compelling monumentality, suggest these female figures are depictions of one or more goddesses. Indeed, their faces are imbued with the look of divine authority. The use of different colored stones in their design would seem to support such a divine interpretation for such spiritually- charged beings where the focus of one’s attention comes to rest on their head and face.
Recent Carbon 14 dating of some of the organic material found in association with some of the excavated examples suggests a chronological position for the group in the early second millennium BC about 2000-1800 BC. The use of different colored stone is apparently consistent with this dating. The technique appears to be used for the creation of composite figures of approximately the same dimensions excavated at Ebla. In its simplicity and in its inherent monumentality, the figure resonates with contemporary aesthetic taste. As such, this idol reveals the timelessness of the mother goddess and her continuing ability to command both attention and respect.