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Bactria and Margiana seals: A new assessment of their chronological position and a typological survey

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Bactria and Margiana seals: A new assessment of their chronological position and a typological survey
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  Bactria and Margiana Seals À New Assessment f Their Chronological Positionand à Typological SurveyÜó SANDRO SALVATORI It is worth mentioning that îïå of the most intriguing problems in the archaeologyof Central Asia is stil1 presented Üó the unusual1y varied archaeological assemblagewhich, since the early seventies, has flooded the antiquary market of ÊàÜèl and fromthere private col1ections and museums alI over the world (Pottier 1984). Thousandsof objects from pillaged graves rom Dasbly, Doulatabad, Farukhabad and Nichin oasesin Northern Afghanistan have now Üååï published, while' as òàïó are dispersed inseveraI private or mèseum col1ections and are still waiting to Üå published.That large number of objects is clearly connected with à flourishing urban society(see, for instance, the strong narrative symmetry between the scene portrayed îï àBactrian siIver vessel (Amiet 1986: fig. 202) and îïå of the panels of the famous Urstandard) which shows strong and firmly consolidated links with most of contemporarypolitical or cultural aggregates of the Middle East, from Elam (Amiet 1986) to theIndus Val1ey (Pottier 1984; During Caspers 1994à), from central Iran (Ligabue &Salvatori 1979; Amiet 1986) to the Gulf (Potts D. Ò. 1994; Crawford & Àl Sindi1995) and possibly beyond. In this respect some scholars have suggested possibleconnections with Anatolian seals o the west (Poetto & Salvatori 1981) and with theso-ñalIåd Nestorian seals rom the Ordos, to the east (Biscione 1985; Brentjes 1987;ÊîÛ 1981).Excavations carried out between 1969 and 1979 Üó V. Sarianidi and the SovietAcademy of Sciences n northern Afghanistan oases - the same area from whichthe so-called Bactrian graves assemblage arrived at the ÊàÜèl antiquary market -brought to light some of the larger Bronze Age settlements of the region south of theÀòè darya and at the same time, Üó means of regional surveys of varying intensity,revealed there the presence of à large and complex settlement pattern dating backto the Bronze Age (Sarianidi 1977à) in the large deltaic fans of the rivers rising fromthe northern cliffs of the Hindu Kush. Îï the opposite bank of the Oxus river,during the same period, some important settlements and cemeteries dating back tothe same cultural horizon were investigated, e.g. Sapal1i depe and Dzarkutan, insouthern Uzbekistan (Askarov 1973, 1977). Though extensive and impressive, Sovietscholars' activities in northern Afghanistan, faiIed to solve îïå of the main problems:~[1]97  the bèilding èð îÅ à chronological and cèltèral frame for the rich archaeologicalassemblage rom the plèndered graves îÅ the region (1).Only very few objects from the deepest ayers îÅ Dasbly 3 palace ñàï Üå comparedwith materials from the plèndered Bactrian graves. Among these à handful îÅ open-work geometric compartment seals (Sarianidi 1977à: figs. 45-46) and fragmentarycylindrical schist poles (Sarianidi 1984: fig. 17 at ð. 24; ñÅ. Pottier 1984: fig. 7.29-35;Salvatori 1993: 10).This scarcity îÅ elements traceable to cemetery complexes is higbly sèspicioès.As has already been pointed oèt (Salvatori 1995Ü), this ñàï Üå accoènted for onlyÜó postèlating that the settlements referring to the plèndered graveyards have notbeen identified or that the earlier levels îÅ the excavated settlements have barelybeen toèched èpon (2).With reference to this kind îÅ problem, the research carried oèt Üó Sovietresearchers starting in the 'fifties in the Mèrghab delta (the Margiana îÅ the historicalperiod) in soèthern Tèrkmenistan proved to Üå îÅ the greatest importance. In thisregion reconnaissance campaigns often alternated with excavation projects (3). Thelatter involved the performance îÅ sondages n nèmeroès sites as well as more extensiveresearch that broèght to light monèmental complexes and entire villages (Kelleli 1,3, 4, 6; Togolok 1, 21, 24; Gonèr 1 soèth and north; Aèchin 1; Takhirbai 3; AdziKèi 8). The great merit îÅ the: Mèrghab delta excavations is to have presented èswith à clearer seqèence îÅ the Bronze Age developments in the area, which haveimportant implications also for the neighboèring Bactria. It Üåñàòå increasinglyclear that the settlements, or rather, the levels îÅ settlement, excavated in northernAfghanistan were sitèated in the Late Bronze Age horizon, and had very strong linkswith à considerable body îÅ Margiana evidence. Bèt what was even more important,it clearly emerged that in Margiana there was à nèmerically significant presence îÅearlier settlements datable to the Middle Bronze Age as well as scanty bèt èndeniableevidence îÅ the presence îÅ Ancient Bronze Age and Final Chalcolithic settlements(NMZ III-IV) (Masimov 1981à, 1981Ü, 1984, 1986; Udeèmèradov and Masimov,personal commènication). The Middle Bronze Age settlements yielded material thatshowed an immediate similarity with the despoiled cemetery complexes îÅ Bactria,thès contribèting to à chronological and cèltèral relocation îÅ this complex materialin à more comprehensive framework and enormoèsly expanding the decidedly narrowcontext to which it had been relegated in earlier interpretations (4). (1) Preliminary attempts have been worked out Üó Pjankova 1993.(l) This seems o üå the case of Dasbly 3, à site that has however been only partially andinadequately published: Sarianidi 1977à, 1984.(3) For the history of research n Margiana before the early '80s see ÊîÛ 1984: 143-50; or thefollowing period, until1989, see Hiebert 1994à and for subsequent esearch ee: Salvatori 1993, 1994à, 1994Ü; Gubaev, Koshelenko & Tosi 1998; Sarianidi 1990Ü, 1998.(4) For à discussion of the problem ñÅ. Salvatori 1995Ü. Ã?, 8  It is in this context that it is necessary oview the initiative of the Ligabue Study andResearch Centre which in 1991 began to focusits activities îï identifying and excavating thecemetery that could Üå traced back to the greatMiddle Bronze Age settlement of Gonur 1 North.The graveyard, discovered in 1991 îï thewestern side of the settlement, although alsosystematically plundered in ancient times likeòàïó other Central Asian cemeteries (see ÊîÛ1984: passiò), has yielded precious and decisive I information related to the problem of thereconstruction of the picture of the development -of Bactro-Ìàrgiànà civilization between the Fig. 1- Open-work ompartment tamp-Middle and the Late Bronze Age, as we have seal rom Grave 91, Gonur 1, Middleemphasised n previous contributions (Salvatori Bronze Age cemetery.1993, 1994à, 1994Ü, 1998Ü, n.d.).With reference to the aim of the present work, three graves, two of whichintact and the third plundered, have yielded three bronze open-work compartmentseals displaying à direct and close kinship with similar materials from the Bactriangraveyard complex (5).These materials, already published (Salvatori 1994Ü, 1995à), are important notonly per se but also because they ñàï Üå traced back to definite grave contexts inwhich they are associated with grave goods of great interest owing to the fact thatalso the latter display strong similarities with the materials of the plundered Bactriangraveyards.Thus grave 91, as à well as an open-work compartment seal with geometric motif(Fig. 1) also yielded à sub-cylindrical alabaster vase of à type that was extremelycommon in the mid 3rd millennium Â.Ñ. (Casanova 1991: Òóðå IV ðð. 33-35;Salvatori 1995à: 12).In Margiana only à few fragmentary specimens were found during reconnaissancecampaigns carried out within the framework of the Murghab archaeological mappingproject (Masimov, Salvatori & Udeumuradov 1998), together with others from theKelleli area (Masimov 1979: fig. 12.14), Togolok 15 (Sarianidi 1990à: table XXVII.2),Togolok 1 (ibid.: table XXVII.1) and Gonur South (Hiebert 1994à: fig. 9.10:7). Withthe exception of specimens ound out of context, at the present state of our knowledgeit appears that the production of alabastrine calcite vases must Üå situated withinthe chronological span of the Middle Bronze Age. An apparent exception is the~ (') We reiterate that, when we speak of Bactrian graveyard complex, we are referring exclusivelyto the materials rom the plundered necropolises f North Afghanistan which are oday scattered among numerous private collections and American and European museums. 99 3]  fragment attributed Üó Hiebert to à dwelling context in Gonur South. Nevertheless,it must Üå pointed out that also other types of calcite containers from Margianañàï Üå attributed with certainty to the Middle Bronze Age. This is true of thetwin-vase from the Middle Bronze Age graveyard of Gonur (Salvatori 1993: figs. 9,12.G.C.2j12), of à tal1 stemmed ñèð from à grave of the same period at Takta Bazar(Udeumuradov 1993: fig. 34) and à tall stemmed ñèð from Gonur North (Sarianidi1990à: table IV.2 room 22).À number of specimens of cylindrical vases with horizontal1y flared rim madeof alabastrine calcite have been found in Bactria (Pottier 1984: figs. 26.203-204,27.205; tabIes XXV.203; XXVI.207).One interesting detail concerning the Gonur graveyard specimens s the knobbedinner bottom. For the time being this feature appears o Üå typical of the Bactria andMargiana production, although it will Üå recal1ed hat it is found also îï alabastrinecalcite vases known to have been imported into the Mesopotamian area and datingto between the Early Dynastic III period and the post-Sàrgînid Akkadian period.This is true for instance of à specimen from Ur dating to the Early Dynastic III(Heinz 1989: fig. 11) and several mottled alabaster vases, again from Ur, bearingRimush and Naram-Sin dedicatory inscriptions that identify them as part of thebooty from the eastern campaigns of the two Akkadian kings (Potts Ò.Ð. 1989: figs.1, 6, 11; Potts D. Ò. 1986: table XXIV).While this feature, as òàó Üå nferred from the thorough investigation Üó R. Ciarla(1979, 1981. See also the absence of knobbed bottoms in the Site 109 specimensin the Gardan Reg survey Üó Fairservis 1961: fig. 29), is completely extraneous tothe Sistan production found at Shahr-i Sokhta, where vessels of similar shape wereindeed found, for example in Graves 712 and 725 Lower, both dating to phase 4(2500-2400 Â.Ñ.) of the site sequence, as well as n other sites in the Hilmand Delta,it is instead found îï at least one specimen of high-stemmed ñèð from the Shahdadnecropolis (Hakemi 1997) and îï one specimen of cylindrical vase with horizontal1yflared rim from this deposit known as 'Vase à la Cachette' from Susa dating toaround 2400 Â.Ñ. (Amiet 1986: fig. 96.7). It is found in Turkmenistan îï à lowsub-cylindrical alabaster vase from Grave 843-845 at Altyn Depe (Kircho 1988: fig.4.7), à grave dating to the beginning of the Namazga IV period. Similar itemsñîòå from the furniture of unpublished graves (Graves 677,634-638,526-627) fromExcavation 5 at Altyn Depe which cover all the chronological span of the NamazgaIV (6). The Mesopotamian specimens and the Susiana one provide à sure chronologicalreference for this product characterized Üó the knobbed internal bottom shared Üóseveral different shape types such as the cylindrical vase with horizontal1y flared rim,high-stemmed cylindrical cups, twin-vases, etc.Grave 37, as well as an open-work compartment seal with à geometric pattern(Fig. 2) (Salvatori 1994Ü), yielded also à bronze hemispherical bowl, à bronze cosmetics (6) L. Kirtcho, personal communication 100 [4]  Fig. 2 - Open-work compartment stamp-seal rom Grave 37, Gonur 1, Middle Bronze Age cemetery.Fig. 3 - Open-work compartment stamp-seal rom Grave 72, Gonur 1, Middle Bronze Age cemetery. container (ibid.: fig. 11.5) similar to that from Grave Ñ.2 in the same graveyard(Salvatori 1993: figs. 7, 12), of à type that was quite widespread in Bactria (Amiet1977: fig. 18.9; Sarianidi 1979à, 1979Ü; Pottier 1984: 71-72; Pittman 1984: fig. 19à;ÒànàÜå 1983: IV.12-13), as wel1 as à cosmetic spatula (Salvatori 1994Ü: fig. 11.7;this type of object had already been found in the same graveyard: Salvatori 1993:fig. 12), with specific links with other excavated graveyard contexts along the banksof the Murghab (Udeumuradov 1993: fig. 32.5), in Bactria (Amiet 1977: fig. 15.11,12 and ðð. 116-17; 1989: fig. 10ñ; Pottier1984: pl. XVI.104-8) and elsewhere (Altyïdepe: Masson 1981à: pl. XV and fig. 14, Grave 252; Quetta: Jarrige 1987; Jarrige& Hassan 1989).Lastly, grave 72 yielded à third open-work compartment seal (Fig. 3) bearing àmotif represented Üó an eagle with spread wings (Salvatori 1994Ü: fig. 13.6) identicalto numerous Bactrian examples. The same grave also contained half à ceramictwin-vase (ibid.: fig. 13.5) of à type known both at Kelleli (Masimov 1981à: fig. 3)and at Atyn-depe (Tosi 1973-74: figs. 54, 56; ÊîÛ 1984: 147) again from NMZ Vcontexts, as well as à baked clay version of à cosmetics flacon (Salvatori 1994à:fig. 14.1).The graveyard we excavated at Gonur (Salvatori 1993, 1994à, 1994Ü, 1995à)is îï the whole located in the same chronological and cultural horizon as the Kelleliarea settlements (Udeumuradov 1993) in the north-western sector of the Murghabdelta, and the large settlement of Gonur 1 North (Sarianidi 1990à: 13-33; 1998) inthe central sector, while the deeper levels of Togolok 1 (Sarianidi 1990à: 34-44) arefound in the centre-south sector. Numerous other sites òàó certainly Üå attributedto the same horizon, as has been shown Üó recent reconnaissance work performedwithin the Murghab delta Archaeological Ìàð project (Salvatori 1998à).With reference to the absolute dating to assign to this cultural period, to thepreviously published Ñ14 datings (Sarianidi 1990à, 1993à, 1998; Koh11992; Hiebert[5] 101
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