Ethnic Jewels

An appreciation of ethnic jewellery and adornment

Ancient Bactrian Steatite Stone Vessel with Typical Incised Designs

by Anna Garner

The use of this ancient Bactrian steatite stone vessel with typical incised designs cannot be determined from this distance in time and differences in technology and culture. We do know from visual examination of the pot that it is incised with the typical zigzag patterns that prevailed throughout an early period of the Bactria-Margiana cultural sphere. 
This can be documented from the hundreds or thousands of drawings and photographs of pottery and soft stone vessels and human figures of Bactria-Margiana that were inscribed with the same patterns. 

I bought this piece in Afghanistan in 1974 from an antiquities dealer. He in turn must have acquired it from someone who had scavenged it from the ruins of one of the archeological sites of the ancient Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex, as the scholars now name the region that extended from central Turkey in the west to the Indus region in the east and from Turkmenistan in the north to the Persian Gulf region in the south. The age covered by this culture is approximately 2,500 B.C. to 1,600 B.C. 

The designs on this piece are crudely incised into the steatite, probably with a copper stylus. Copper, bronze, bone or stone were the only scratching instruments available at the time. The fourth photo above shows a sample of this painted design from a more refined ceramic pot with the same zigzag pattern. 

The two small holes in this pot are just the right size to hold a copper stylus. The two holes go all the way through the wall of the pot to reach whatever contents the pot held. The pot could have been used for kohl, the eye shadow of the ancients. However, the cosmetic kohl containers usually held the stylus applicator stuck in the top of the vessel, just as mascara containers are made today. 

My own speculation is that the vessel held two sharp pointed styluses whose tips touched the special grit that was used on stylus points to enable them to scratch designs and to pierce stone beads and amulets. But that is pure speculation. The vessel has a lipped rim and may have been fitted with a lid in ancient times. 

This item, like all others on my web site, is returnable for full refund if you are not satisfied. 

Diameter at bottom: 47 mm, at top: 44 mm. Ht: 3.2 cm In inches the dimensions are: bottom - 1.85 in, at top - 1/75 in, Ht: 1.27 in.

More information is available at Crafts of the Past at

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Created by Cordelia Donohoe Apr 10, 2017 at 4:03pm. Last updated by Cordelia Donohoe Apr 17, 2017.


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