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HOME : Near Eastern Art : Archive : Bactrian Composite Stone Idol
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Bactrian Composite Stone Idol - LO.603
Origin: Central Asia
Circa: 2500 BC to 1800 BC
Dimensions: 3.2" (8.1cm) high
Collection: Near Eastern
Style: Bactrian
Medium: Steatite or Chlorite

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: Great Britain
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Although its small size belies its visually powerful impact, this female idol with its inherent monumentality is rendered with a serene dignity worthy of a cult image. The goddess is depicted seated on the ground with her feet drawn up under her thighs in such a way that her garment becomes stretched out between her legs by her spread knees in order to form a very prominent, ledge-like lap. The garment is the kaunakes of the ancient Near East designed from a fleecy sheep skin, the tuffs of hair indicated by the intricately incised linear network covering the entire surface of the idol. Three large, unadorned triangles ornament the front of her lap and two similarly sculpted, but ovoid-like projections join at her neck to form a V-shape revealing a flat, darker plane below, perhaps indicative of a smoothly woven under garment. The idol is completely enveloped in the costume with the exception of her head and neck, created from a single piece of alabaster. The details of the head, and in particular of the features of the face, are rendered with a miniaturist, jewel-like precision.

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.

- (LO.603)


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