|Proto-Elamite bucranium or bovine head, a motif found on pottery (Potts 1999: 53)|
During the third millennium BCE (between 3000 and 2000 BCE), early civilizations made contact in an area termed “Middle Asia” by the archeologist G. Possehl (2002: 215). The Indus Civilization was the easternmost part of this area. It also included the southwestern portion of Central Asia, which Possehl refers to as Turan; southeastern Iran and the western border of the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf, known to Mesopotamians as Magan or Makan, as well as islands in the Gulf such as Bahrain; and Mesopotamia itself, the land between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Contemporary kingdoms to the west in Egypt and to the northwest in Canaan were peripheral to “Middle Asia,” although also in contact.
|Gulf seal with bucranium (top center), anthropomorph (left), grid, |
and scorpion (right), as well as bird (Kjaerum 1983: 37).
There is an Intercultural Style of objects carved in soft stones (including steatite, the material of most Indus seals), common to this area. Certain motifs appear in this style in several locations. There are scenes of combat with snakes, depictions of bulls including the zebu or humped bull (seen on some Indus seals), a lion-headed bird called Imdugud in Mesopotamia, depictions of huts or temples resembling the Indus VEST sign, plant-like forms including rosettes and palm trees, and geometric patterns such as grids, whirls, guilloche, and an imbricate motif (nested arcs) (Possehl 2002: 216-7). The shared motifs may indicate a shared ideology of some sort. Certainly, though, these are indications of contact and trade, much was which was apparently conducted via waterways.
|An Indus bucranium on a pot shard (Shah and Parpola 1991: 374, Rhd-241).|
|A zebu on a plaque from the Elamite Diyala Valley (Lamberg-Karlovsky and Potts 2001: 225).|
|Seal M-1111 from Mohenjo daro with inscription: FAT EX / STRIPED FAT CEE /|
POTTED THREE / CRAB / POT (note how different the zebu is from the Elamite example).
Dice are another intercultural phenomenon, both in the cubical form known to the modern world, and “stick dice” (2002: 224). Various objects of other types also occur in the Indus Valley, Mesopotamia, and the Gulf: some types of pottery, a few figurines, spiral-headed pins of copper or bronze, , and Harappan weights. Oddly enough, though, very little material from the west has been found in the Indus Valley (2002: 227). Possehl notes six Gulf seals and six cylinder seals, a few metal objects, and the motif formerly described as Gilgamesh battling two animals. In Mesopotamia, this scene typically shows a hero with a lion, a bull, or between two such animals. The comparable Indus scene contains two tigers instead.
|Panel from an inlaid harp from Ur, Mesopotamia, showing |
"Gilgamesh" with two bull-men (Aruz 2003: 106).
|Seal M-306 with hero between tigers, the "Gilgamesh" motif|
(inscription VEE IN DIAMOND / DOWN MAN ON BASE / POTTED ONE /
CIRCLED FORK / CRAB / POT / TRIPLE BRICK).
|Seal M-312, possibly showing bull leaping.|
The Indus Civilization also had contact with a Central Asian area generally termed Bactria Margiana, centered around the Amu Darya river. This area and parts of eastern Iran form Possehl’s Turan. The semi-precious stone lapis lazuli occurs in this area, which may account for the presence of Harappan artifacts. But the earliest evidence of contact is the appearance of pottery with a stepped cross motif, a pattern later found both in Central Asia and in the Indus Valley. From the Mature Harappan period, there is a stamp seal with two Indus signs from Altyn Depe in Turkmenia. Another stamp seal is clearly of Indus origin, bearing both signs and the motif of the elephant, this object coming from Gonur Depe. Moving in the opposite direction, one seal from Harappa bears an eagle that closely resembles seals from Gonur Depe (2002: 230). The other side of the Harappan seal shows the stepped cross already cited.
|Seal H-166A showing a bird (eagle?) with spread wings.|
|Elamite bird (eagle?) with spread wings on an axe head from |
Tepe Yahya (Lamberg-Karlovsky and Potts 2001: 216).
Aruz, Joan, ed. 2003. Art of the First Cities: The Third Millennium BC from the Mediterranean to the Indus. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University.
Kenoyer, J.M. 2003. "The Indus Civilization," in Art of the First Cities, Joan Aruz, ed. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University. Pp. 377-380.
Kjaerum, Poul. 1983. Failaka / Dilmun, the Second Millennium Settlements, Vol. 1:1, The Stamp and Cylinder Seals. Jutland Archaeological Society Publications XVII:1. Moesgard, Aarhus: Jysk Arkaeologisk Selskab.
Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C. and D.T. Potts. 2001. Excavations at Tepe Yahya, Iran, 1967-1975: The Third Millennium. Cambridge: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.
Possehl, G.L. 2002. The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective. Lanham, MD: AltaMira.
Potts, D.T. 1999. The Archaeology of Elam: Formation and Transformation of an Ancient Iranian State. Cambridge: Harvard University.
Shah, Sayid Ghulam Mustafa Shah and Asko Parpola. 1991. Corpus of Indus Seals and Inscriptions. 2. Collections in Pakistan. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia.