Slip-painted Terracotta Sculpture of a Zebu Bull

SKU LO.625

2800 BC to 2600 BC


10″ (25.4cm) high x 14.5″ (36.8cm) wide




Central Asia

Gallery Location



Large humped terracotta zebu bull standing on the four legs, his head supporting between two solid up-bent horns what looks like a ceremonial basket, the whole surface painted in bright colourful geometric patterns. The snout carefully sculpted with a small mouth and nostrils and large sunken eyes.

The Indus Civilization is still enigmatic: an ancient civilization with a yet-to be deciphered writing system, a mysterious monumental architecture, no monumental art, a puzzling decline, and little evidence of the identity of its direct descendants. In a civilization extending over an area so vast, one would expect to find monumental art and/or architectural symbols of power displaying the names of the powerful. Instead, the emphasis is placed on small, elegant art and sophisticated craft technology. Three-dimensional representations of living beings in the Harappan world are confined to a few stone and bronze statues and some small objects crafted in faience, stone, and other materials – with one important exception. Ranging variously in size, the anthropomorphic and animal terracotta figurines the Indus Civilization sites depict life as seen by the Harappan people in the Bronze Age.

Terracotta figurines have long been considered toys, often without question. The earliest animal figurines from Harappa date back to the Early Harappan (Ravi Phase, Period 1 and Kot Diji Phase, Period 2) and represent zebu bulls. They are typically very small with joined legs and stylized humps. A few of these zebu figurines have holes through the humps that may have allowed them to be worn as amulets on a cord or a string. One Early Harappan zebu figurine was found with the remains of a copper alloy ring still in this hole. Other animal and sometimes anthropomorphic figurines are decorated with black stripes and other patterns, and features such as eyes are also sometimes rendered in pigment. Figurines of cattle with and without humps are found at Indus sites, possibly indicating that multiple breeds of cattle were in use. Water buffalo are often similar to figurines of humpless cattle, except that the water buffalo figurines usually have large (and sometimes incised) backswept horns.

The large humped terracotta bull would in fact belong to a recently discovered typology datable to pre-Harappan times in the Merghahr phase, datable to the 3rd millennium BCE. The geometric patterns, slanting bands red or ochre painted still visible on the body are paralleled by Merghahr contemporary ceramics, of which several examples are exhibited in the Barakat Collections. This type of fired ceramic was only produced in Baluchistan. From here and other small centres, they were traded far and wide throughout Baluchistan, from the borders of the Indus Valley to south-eastern Iran. Examples of this pottery were also carried by merchants and nomads during their travels within the Indus Valley, and fragments have been found at the site of Harappa dating to 2800-2600 BCE and possibly even earlier. The motifs painted include both geometric and floral and stylised animals. Yet, this type of pottery was no more produced after the beginning of the mature Harappan period (i.e. 2600 BCE). Furthermore, the large size of these zoomorphic figurines together with their mysterious headgear would seem to indicate a ritualistic, rather than ludic, function, hence quite distinct from later Indus Valley pottery figurines.

For comparable examples see: J.F.Jarrige ed., Les Cites Oubliees de l'Indus: Archeologie du Pakistan, 1988: pp.105-107.

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