Ethnic Jewels

An appreciation of ethnic jewellery and adornment

The Signet Seals of Pre-Literate Early Bactria-Margiana

by Anna Garner

Still no actual alphabetic messages have been found on a single artifact excavated from or picked up from the surface of one of the sites of the Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex.   Geographically, the more or less agreed upon boundaries of this area would be Southern Turkmenistan, Eastern Iran and most of Afghanistan reaching over to the Indus Valley in what is now Pakistan.  The time frame of the most significant cultural items produced by these migrating farmers and animal domesticators inhabiting the oases and river plains was 4,500 years ago to 3,600 years ago.  They did not disappear after this time, but other cultures blended with theirs so thoroughly that the area congealed into a trade system that spread all products far and wide throughout the Middle East, often including parts of Europe, and always including North Africa and the Arabian Gulf.  

But in the pre-literate period for the Bactria-Margiana culture -- 4,500 - 3,600 years ago -- the people used seals with meaningful symbols.  In the case of stone seals, the images were engraved; in the case of bronze, copper or occasionally silver, the images were cast.  The seals were usually furnished with a device that would allow the owner to wear or carry the seal.  In fact, so many of the seals were decorated with mythical images that Dr. Sarianidi, the excavator of much of the archeological material, calls them amulets and after long field experience with the amulets, he has interpreted the meanings of the amulets.  His work is published in Myths of Ancient Bactria-Margiana on its Seals and Amulets.  

One of the more artistic of the seals is the copper image of a wolf killing a goat.  The device for hanging the seal on a cord is the loop in the center of the image that shows as a distortion in that area.  

  This seal is a naturalistic one, and may not carry any mythical meaning.  The more abstract seals that I hope to explore in later blogs will carry the proto-Zoroastian message that was later expressed in the old Indo-European language in their sagas.  

This side is the side that would have been held by the loop while the opposite side was pressed into the clay or wax in order to seal a message or a possession.  

These seals were made beautiful because they were an adornment of the person, expressing the person's identity, status and in some cases, their religion in a special amulet.  

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

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