Bronze Age interaction on the Iranian Plateau
From Kerman to the Oxus through seals
Holly Pittmanp. 267-288
Focusing on the glyptic art of southeastern Iran and western Central Asia during the Bronze Age of Exchange in the third millennium BC, it establishes through exhaustive iconographic and stylistic analysis the Iranian origin for five cylinder seals found at the site of Gonur and more broadly in the region. These cylinder seals and others were certainly a vector along which imagery central to the Oxus Civilization was borrowed from earlier complex cultures in the region of Kerman. Along with other artifacts, these seals and the imagery they transmitted are proxies for the intense interregional interaction of the second half of the third millennium which criss-crossed the Plateau.
1The title of the Lyon conference: “Urbanization, Trade, Commerce, and Subsistence in Bronze Age Iran”, was a broad and ambitious one. Behind these diverse and important themes is first and fundamentally the land. In order for urban, complex communities to come into being and to flourish certain conditions must exist: most basically readily available water and fertile soil for agriculture and adequate pasture for animal husbandry. Access to routes is also central, overland and by water, either on rivers or by open sea, which allow both communication and movement of goods and people. Further, proximity of natural resources is desirable. Resources for subsistence are fundamental, but also resources that can be extracted and developed either for local consumption or to be passed on in a long distance trade network. These are the ecological niches in which we expect to find remains of the Bronze Age in Iran. The particular combination of features contributes to the timing, the structure and the success of each community.
2Iran is a huge and diverse land mass (fig. 1). Its ancient, pre- and protohistoric past is known to us only in the few pockets that have been explored by archaeologists and historians leaving the zones in between as blank but certainly not empty. Several attempts have been made to equate Bronze Age cultural zones on the Iranian Plateau with names recorded in the Mesopotamian texts1. This is a debate that I will not enter into here, choosing rather to identify cultural zones by other established nomenclature. We are especially knowledgeable about alluvial Khuzistan from the early Neolithic to the modern day. But for the rest, our understanding is spotty, some areas are well known or at least have been characterized, while others are almost entirely unknown.
Fig. 1 – Map.
3Despite lacunae, we can be confident that from around 3200 to 1800 BC, from the end of the Late Chalcolithic and through the Early Bronze Age, the fertile zones of the Iranian Plateau were teeming with smaller and larger communities situated around abundant available water sources, primarily artesian waters supplemented with rainfall and snow melt that dispensed water in the river systems which descended from the mountains that ring the entire circumference of the great land mass. In Khuzistan, the Karun and Karkheh rivers are the eastern extensions of the Tigris and Euphrates drainage emptying into the open waters of the Persian Gulf. Most of the other major river systems of the Plateau, however, are part of the great oases systems with their abundant water disappearing into sands or swamps before reaching open water: in the northeast are the Amu and Syr rivers, plus the smaller oases with their deltaic fans in Margiana and further to the east in Bactria; in the southeast is the Helmand river system which is linked on the west to the double oasis system in the modern province of Kerman. During the Early Bronze Age each of these oases riverine systems was home to a sedentary, complex urban community. Although much remains to be known, through their material culture we can detect that these regions were closely linked with each other through river and land routes and to the outside world to the west which they accessed primarily through open water. This era has been aptly named the Bronze Age of Exchange by Pierre Amiet2, the first scholar to articulate it through a review of its material culture. More recently a systematic and comprehensive treatment of this interaction was undertaken by Salvatori3.
4The first of these oases systems to be known archaeologically is the drainage basin of the Helmand River which supported the Bronze Age Helmand civilization with its two major cities of Mundigak in the north and the much larger Shahr-i Sokhta in the south. Both of these sites have been investigated and Shahr-i Sokhta has produced vast quantities of data that will continue to shape our understanding of Early Bronze Age eastern Iran4. We know that by the third quarter of the third millennium the Helmand civilization was in decline, apparently due to the diminishing water resources. To the east of this internal drainage are the great rivers of the Indus system, which like the Tigris and Euphrates, flow directly into the open water of the Arabian Sea.
5To the south and west of the Helmand are two separate oases systems in the modern day province of Kerman which is divided north south by the eastern extension of the Zagros. To the north of the Jebalbarez and the Sarduiyeh mountain ranges and on the southern rim of the Lut Desert is the Bronze Age complex of Shahdad5, which was watered in the third millennium BC by streams and rivers flowing north6. To the south of the mountain range is the complex drainage of the Halil and the Bampur rivers which converge from the north and the east respectively to empty into the Jazmourian oasis situated only about 150 km northeast of the Persian Gulf.
6Until the massive looting of graves associated with large settlements prompted excavations in the Halil River valley in the early years of this century7, the Halil/Bampur oasis systems was poorly known. Sir Aurel Stein reported the existence of large and small mounds of Bronze Age date8. He put soundings into some of these, among them Khinaman, Khurab and Damin. To this evidence was added the excavations of small highland site of Tepe Yahya9 as well as the Bronze Age component of the large mound of Bampur in the 1960’s and 70s10. We now know, through the efforts of Youssef Madjidzadeh and people working under his direction during six seasons of excavation, that there was an indigenous major civilization centered on the Halil River11 to which Tepe Yahya and Shahdad belonged, while Bampur looked to the east to the cultural complex of Makran and the Helmand. While showing regional differences, Shahdad, Tepe Yahya and Konar Sandal are closely related. When combined these three archaeological complexes can be described as the Kerman culture, a term that I use in this discussion.
7Similar to the discovery of the Halil River culture, the Oxus civilization was also first revealed through a massive spasm of looting that took place in the 1970’s, this time in response to a period of political disturbance in western Central Asia, especially in Afghanistan12. While decontextualized, the objects that filled the bazaar in Kabul and that flooded onto the antiquities markets13 gave us the first hints of what would become evidence for an indigenous, complex, rich, urban civilization that flourished during the second half of the third millennium BC. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, international archaeological work began in earnest, especially in Turkmenistan14. Several names have been given to this new civilization: at first it was called the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, (aka the BMAC) to describe its geographic extent following ancient Greek names for the regions; later it was called the Oxus civilization to highlight its riverine character along Amu Darya, known to the Greeks as the Oxus River15. This is the name that I will use in this discussion. Most recently, an Iranian-Italian team exploring on the Iranian side of the border has found evidence to warrant them proposing a third name: the Greater Khorasan Bronze Age Civilization to reflect the fact that this culture extended south considerably beyond the Oxus to encompass the same geographic zone that was held as a coherent province by Sasanian and subsequent hegemonic ruling entity16.
8With the recent investigations of the Halil River Valley, the suite of Bronze Age oases communities (Oxus, Helmand and Kerman) ringing the central deserts of the Plateau is complete. Although more work is needed to flesh out the character and to grasp the complexity of their interactions over time, it is now possible to consider the oases communities as a system, independent and yet interacting throughout the third millennium. With our current evidence one of the most fruitful ways to articulate such a system of interaction is through a study of their symbolic worlds, available through the iconography and style of imagery carried on seals and other works of art. What has become clear is that there was a close and continuing interaction between Kerman and the Oxus. This is especially illuminated through two distinct data sets: imagery and material culture. What can be detected seems to be a two stage process: the first sees the infiltration of ideas (and certainly people) from the Iranian Plateau into the symbolic world of the Oxus, the second sees the movement of people from the Oxus onto the Iranian Plateau. This is a subject that has been of interest to a number of scholars, in particular to Salvatori17, S. Winkelmann18 and H.‑P. Francfort19. My goal in the discussion that follows is to scrutinize the glyptic evidence for the first stage of this interaction, examining assumptions and conclusions and attempting to articulate the nature of the interaction in a more systematic, evidence-based manner. It is my belief that it is necessary to carefully tease apart the distinctions between these two civilizations, and to anchor our understanding in a careful assessment of the existing evidence.
9The one major center of the Oxus civilization that has been extensively explored is the site of Gonur, excavated by the late archaeologist Victor Sarianidi and now led by N. Dubova. In addition to monumental architecture, a cemetery was uncovered that contained some dozen or more “royal/elite” tombs with animal burials, chariots, as well as gold and silver vessels20. In addition to these spectacular finds, an important group of seals were found that augmented the looted seals that had been collected over the years21. My interest is to consider a small subset of those seals in order to establish them as proxies for a pattern of interaction that connected the Oxus civilization with the oases cultures of Kerman. As a group, these five seals help us to understand the Iranian roots of the symbolic world of the Oxus civilization and to hypothesize about the nature of the interaction which led to this interaction.
10In order to fully appreciate these particular seals it is useful to begin with an over view of the rich universe of glyptic art found at Gonur. Three basic types of seals are known from the Oxus civilization: compartmented metal stamp seals, stone stamp cylinders and stone cylinder seals22. Unlike comparable glyptic art on the Iranian Plateau or in Mesopotamia, seals in the Oxus context seemed to have played a minor role in any economic administration that required the making impressions on clay masses. At Gonur, among the hundreds of seals found, only one stamp seal impression on a fragment of baked clay is reported from the north mound of Gonur23, while ten are reported from the later south mound at Gonur24. The range of function includes small mouth jar stoppers, fusiform tags, and flat tabs, as well as impressions of compartmented stamp seals on the body of ceramics25 a practice common at Shahr-i Sokhta, Shahdad, Yahya and Konar Sandal North.
11At Gonur, compartmented stamp seals were the most common type, often carrying figural imagery that depicted winged females associated with animals, male figures associated with snakes or other animals, and a bird headed figure also associated with snakes, dragons and other creatures. This imagery has been analyzed extensively by S. Winkelmann26 and H.‑P. Francfort27 who have sought to define an indigenous, coherent, iconographic system that visualized significant cultural and religious norms. As they have recognized, many of the design elements, had their origins on the Iranian Plateau.
12Beyond the stamp seals, there is another seal type which seems to have been invented in the Oxus. This type combines the form of the cylinder and stamp into a multi-media format with a pendant loop. As with other distinct types, when found at sites on the Iranian Plateau, these stamp-cylinders are understood as imports from their Oxus origin. For example, two such stamp-cylinders were found to the south east in Quetta together with other artefacts that certainly originated in the Oxus28. Another was reportedly found in southwestern Fars29. In both instances we can be confident that these were exported outside of the Central Asia home carried no doubt by the people from the region who migrated southeast and southwest bringing with them their distinctive pottery and ritual artifacts. Salvator provides a comprehensive summary of the exports from Central Asia found at sites on the Iranian Plateau30.
13In addition to the stone and bronze compartmented stamps and the stamp-cylinders, the third seal type found at Gonur is the cylinder seal, having a longitudinal hole that would have received a cord for suspension. Although originating in the west, in the alluvium of Mesopotamia and Khuzistan during the Middle Uruk period, the cylinder seal format was adopted on the Iranian Plateau as early as the proto-Elamite period. Following the proto-Elamite period, there is strong evidence from Tepe Yahya31, Shahdad32 and Konar Sandal South33 of a robust indigenous tradition of glyptic art in the form of cylinder seals. It is with close reference to that glyptic tradition that the Gonur examples must be considered in order to fully appreciate their value for illuminating the relations between Kerman and the Oxus. Unlike the other two glyptic formats, there can be no question that the cylinder seal as a type was foreign to the Oxus civilization, and indeed, as I will argue below all of the cylinder seals found to date at North Gonur are imports. While others have assumed that some of the cylinders were imported, no one has systematically demonstrated this through close iconographic and stylistic comparisons. It is useful to do this in order to understand more carefully what distinguishes the Iranian symbolic universe from that of the Oxus and to establish them as evidence for interaction.
14One cylinder was found in survey not far from Gonur on site 122034, while the four additional cylinders seals were found through the regular excavations at the Gonur. Three were found in graves, and one was retrieved from a structure which has been interpreted as a temple. In a separate article, I have argued35 that the seal found in survey (fig. 2), must be understood not as a locally manufactured seal but rather as an import from Kerman, and possibly manufactured in the region of the Halil River Valley36. This identification is based on a close analysis of the imagery and style of the seal in comparison with the large corpus of glyptic art from Tepe Yahya, Shahdad and Konar Sandal South. The same conclusion will be reached in the consideration of the other four cylinder seals, all of which were found in controlled context at Gonur.
15Three of the four cylinders from Gonur have been discussed as imports from outside of the Oxus Civilization37. Most easily recognizable is a seal, of Old Akkadian date (fig. 3), carved in the reign of Naram Sin, after he had made his administrative reforms38. There is nothing out of the ordinary in this seal, which is worn but in no way defaced or recarved. Owning and using this seal within the domain of Old Akkadian administration would have been an official act authorized by the state39. How this seal travelled to Gonur, some 1500 km to the east, is hard to know. While it could have come directly from Mesopotamia, it also could have come indirectly through any of several probable routes carried by traders, merchants or wives. There is nothing to suggest that it retained its original significance by the time it reach Gonur. It is important that it gives us a relative terminus post quem of the reign of Naram Sin for the grave in which it was found. Indirect evidence for the importation of another Old Akkadian seal can be seen in the silver cup found together with other gold and silver vessels in a cache beneath the floor of Grave 3235 at Gonur40. The cup, having a typical Central Asian shape with flaring sides, is embossed with a scene of animals in a mountain scape. This scene could only have originated on a cylinder seal of Old Akkadian date, which must have served as the model for the gifted toreutic craftsman who rendered it on the flaring side of the vessel (fig. 4). Equally important for us is that the seal as well as the design on the silver vessel establishes the western extent of interregional interaction from the perspective of Gonur. Along with the Old Akkadian seal an equally foreign and equally identifiable stamp seal originating in the Indus Valley was also found in a grave at Gonur41. Each of these seals is a unique and indisputable import from the western and eastern peripheries of the Central Asian center of Gonur. Both serve as proxies for interaction as well as sources for imagery that was adopted and adapted by the inhabitants of Gonur.
Combat scene. Mesopotamian, Late Old Akkadian period. Shell. Gonur, Burial #2550. Adapted from Sarianidi 2007, p. 107, fig. 182.
Gonur, Grave 3235. Adapted from Sarianidi 2005, p. 256.
16When we turn to the remaining three cylinder seals from Gonur, consensus has formed around two that they are clearly imports from the region of Kerman42. One from Grave 23 at Gonur shows a vegetation goddess with grain coming out of her body squatting on the back of a snake with a horned quadruped to the side (fig. 5)43. The excavations at Konar Sandal South produced impressions of several examples of this theme (fig. 6). Additionally actual seals carrying this iconography are known among the cylinders found at Tepe Yahya (fig. 7) and Shahdad (fig. 8). The other seal deemed to be imported shows an enthroned goddess encircled by a rayed nimbus and flanked on one side by a vegetation goddess and on the other by a goddess of horned animals (fig. 9). This seal was found in the Temple of the Sacrifices and can also be closely compared to examples from Tepe Yahya (fig. 10), and Konar Sandal South (fig. 11) as well as unprovenanced seals belonging to the Kerman culture (fig. 12‑13).
Grain goddess seated on snake and kneeling horned quadruped. White Stone. Gonur, Grave 23. Adapted from Sarianidi 2007, p. 105, no. 180.
Grain deity. Height 1.3 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 5 008V302. Drawing by author.
Grain goddess and winged and horned goddess. Steatite. Height 2.3 cm. Tepe Yahya IVB. Drawing after Pittman 2001, fig. 10.49. TY 32.
Seated grain goddess and standing horned goddess. In the field four horned quadrupeds with head turned back. White Stone. Height 3.8 cm. Shahdad Grave 163. Obj. no. 1792. Photo courtesy Massoud Azarnoush.
Goddess surrounded by a rayed circle and flanked by grain and horned goddesses. Black Stone. Temple of Sacrifices. Adapted from Sarianidi 2005, p. 283, fig. 137.
Seated winged goddess with horned surrounded by kneeling adorants and a grain goddess, snakes in the field. Height 3 cm. Chlorite. Tepe Yahya IVB, TY 38. Drawing after Pittman 2001, p. 262, cat 48.
Goddess stands on the back of addorsed bulls, over her is a twist of copulating snakes, to the right side of bird of prey seen from below; to the left side is a female figure. Height 3.3 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 5, 028V402. Drawing by author.
Two registers showing a ritual scene below and a supernatural divine community above. Height 4.33 cm. Collection of Jonathan and Jeanette Rosen, New York. Adapted from Amiet 1997, p. 127, fig. 5.
Two kneeling divine heroes salute the sun deity with raised arms. To the side a goddess seated on the back of a dragon. White Stone. Height 4.0 cm. Collection of Jonathan and Jeanette Rosen. Photo courtesy the Rosen Collection.
Discussion of the cylinder seal from Grave 1393 at Gonur Tepe
17The final seal to be considered in this discussion carries an extremely complex iconography arranged in a two registered composition (fig. 14). It was found in a modest grave no. 1393 in which a female around 60 years old was interred. The seal was found at her waist44. Everyone who discusses this seal acknowledges that it is associated somehow with the southeastern Iran45. The question is how. The only in depth consideration has been undertaken by H.‑P. Francfort in a celebratory volume for V. Sarianidi46. While acknowledging that this seal belongs stylistically to the Kerman group, Francfort argues that features of its iconography, in particular the human headed birds and the bird-headed demon emerging from snakes in the upper register require that the seal be understood as manufactured by an itinerant seal cutter originating in the Kerman region but residing in in Central Asia. From Francfort’s perspective, the itinerant craftsman was commissioned to render elements of a uniquely Central Asian iconography embedding them in a Kerman iconographic matrix and rendering them in a purely Kerman style. Based on close comparisons found on imagery that can be confidently associated with the Kerman region, I will argue below that, contrary to Francfort’s analysis, the iconography as well as the style of this seal belongs entirely and squarely within the cultural domain of Kerman. It was produced in the cultural province of Kerman, it carries iconography typical of the region rendered using stylistic conventions that are uniquely associated with the glyptic art of Bronze Age Kerman and more particularly with the art of the Halil River Valley. With that established it becomes necessary to understand this object as imported into Central Asia just was were the other seals we have discussed here. From there we have a firmer basis on which to consider the nature of the interaction between Kerman and Central Asia in the Early Bronze age of exchange. Further we can consider further the degree to which the iconography of the Oxus has its origins in the earlier glyptic of the Iranian Plateau.
Two register scene with ritual below and supernatural creature above. Red Stone. Gonur, Grave 1391. Adapted from Sarianidi 2007, p. 106, fig. 181.
18Beginning with its composition, the arrangement of imagery in two registers is familiar from the seals in the Kerman group. Each register carries a distinct iconography: on the bottom is the terrestrial world of humans and animals; while the imagery of the upper register depicts the supernatural world of mixed, certainly mythological beings. This division of domains is precisely the same as a seal, now in the Rosen Collection, belonging to the Kerman Narrative group (fig. 12). Composition then is consistent with the other features of the seal’s distinctive style demonstrating, as Francfort also concludes, that its maker was working entirely within the stylistic conventions of the Kerman style. As a type within the Kerman style, the composition belongs to a group of seals coming from the excavations at Konar Sandal South which I have labeled as “Narrative” based on the apparent depiction of a story or a ritual event. This type was first identified as coming from southeastern Iran by Edith Porada on the basis of a seal in the Foroughi collection47. Although there was at that time no comparanda from excavated context, Porada proved prescient in her identification of the cultural identity of the seal. Following Porada, Pierre Amiet identified (as trans-elamite) and published a closely related seal (fig. 15) which is now in the collection of the Louvre48. By the time Amiet published the seal it could be more securely located through comparisons to excavated material that had come to light at Yahya and Shahdad. From Konar Sandal South Trench III impressions of two other Narrative type seals are preserved which help us extend even further the identity of this group and to anchor it securely through archaeologically secure parallels (fig. 16‑17).
Divine figure with snakes emerging from shoulders sits enthroned on top of a niched platform. To the side is a two register depiction of celebrants: standing women above and kneeling figures with instruments below. White Stone. Previously in the Virginia Bailey collection, Louvre Museum. Sb 6707. Height 3.5 cm. Photo courtesy of Virginia Bailey.
Female kneels to the side of a platform on which a figure stands. Behind her are palm trees, head of a horned quadruped and a vessel. Height 2.75 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 3. 2005III102. Drawing by author.
Celebrants in a ritual next to a platform. Snake, bird, geometric forms in the field. Height 2 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 3. KSBtrIII103006. Drawing by author.
19Turning next to features of the formal stylistic aspects of the carving, as Francfort asserts, the distinctive stylistic features of the Gonur seal, such as the drillings used to define shoulders, the narrow waist of the male actors, the manner in which the leg is tucked under the body of the kneeling figures, the two lines that define the undulating body of the snake all require us to acknowledge that the seal carver was not copying, emulating or imitating the Kerman style, but, in fact was an expert craftsman working in the Kerman style and rendering a seal belonging to the Kerman Narrative type.
20When we turn next to iconography of the lower register, the same conclusion can be reached. The scene of men kneeling and gesturing to a distinctively shaped structure finds close comparisons in Rosen cylinder seal (fig. 12). The distinctive shape of the structure with the sagging roof line can only refer to the so-called hut motif which is ubiquitous on the soft stone objects from Konar Sandal South49 which come from the looted graves at Mahtoutabad and from the workshops of Tepe Yahya. Effigy models of such a structure were found in the burials at Shahdad50. It is a quintessentially architectural form typical of and meaningful for the communities of Kerman during the Bronze Age. Indeed one of the burials excavated by Madjidzadeh51 has such a sagging lintel cut into the soft limestone matrix of the structure.
21The bird and the bull pair, situated to the right side of the hut structure, both face left with their heads turned back. Such images are also frequently carried on seals and small decorated objects from Kerman. Among the excavated comparanda is the stamp seal from Tepe Yahya carrying the image of a human headed feline with its head turned back52, while from among the looted materials from the graves now held in the Kerman museum are the double sided disks with comparable iconography, including a lapis disk showing similar bird looking back (fig. 18).
Both sides carved with a bird with its head turned back surrounded by lions. Diameter 3.9 cm. Confiscated from Looters. Kerman Museum. Adapted from Madjidzadeh 2003, p. 173 bottom.
22It is the upper register which Francfort believes carries imagery unique to Central Asia. As noted above, in the upper register we enter the domain of the supernatural, captured on this seal in two complex motifs: a double bird-headed man in an undulating snake frame and a snake-headed bird to the left of a pair of human-headed horned birds flanking a spread winged bird of prey. An examination of comparable motifs carried on objects originating in Kerman establishes their southeastern Iranian identity.
23A double bird-headed male holding his fists clenched at his waist emerges from a U-shaped support formed by two undulating snakes whose bodies are delineated by two strong outlines defining a central ridge. The immediately striking detail of this figure is its doubled bird head. This is certainly the image which first drew Francfort’s attention because it occurs frequently in both seals and other objects from the Oxus civilization. He remarks that the bird heads have a closed beak and a beard. It is on that basis that he identifies the bird as a lammergeyer, a carrion eating bird rather than the eagle. He observes that there are two birds of prey in the Oxus system of iconography: the short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus) that combats with snakes and the carrion eating bearded vulture, lammergeyer (Gypaetus bartus) who is associated with snakes53. In fact to my eye it seems that the double headed bird-man on the seal under consideration has both types of heads. The one looking left has no beard, while the smaller one looking right clearly has a beard. Perhaps this double headed creature combines the avian characteristics of both into the one demon.
24There is no doubt that the overwhelming number of comparisons for this figure come from the Oxus. The demon itself finds its most famous parallel on a silver axe in the Metropolitan museum (fig. 19), which I identified in 1984 as coming from Bronze Age Central Asia54. This double headed bird man is not bearded, while a similar bird-headed demon on the axe in the Ortiz collection has the beard. Both of these masterpieces were made in the Oxus civilization suggesting that either Francfort is right and they had two different types of raptor headed deities, or that the distinction was in fact not relevant to their system of meaning.
Height 15 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art MMA 1982.5. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
25Importantly for this discussion, however, is that it can also be established is that the image of the bird-headed human did not originate in Central Asia, but that it was borrowed, like most of the other divine images seen in the Oxus repertory from Iran. Indeed, it was probably introduced into the Oxus civilization through iconography carried on cylinder seals such as the one under consideration here. The earliest bird-headed figure currently known is depicted on the so-called Jeweler’s seal, found at Susa (fig. 20). This seal image, which is completely unique at Susa, shares many features with the glyptic art of Kerman. Before the material from Konar Sandal was discovered, I argued that because this image, both stylistically and iconographically, is unique at Susa, the Jeweler’s seal must be understood as coming from outside of Susa55. Now that we have the glyptic and iconographic evidence from Konar Sandal South, it is clear to me that the Jeweler’s seal should be understood as belonging to an individual, probably a merchant, originating in the region of the Halil River Valley and more broadly Kerman. Because the image is carried on a door sealing, we can know that he or his agents were physically present at Susa controlling some kind of immobile storage. He must certainly have been acting as an intermediary in the robust trade in stones, metal, woods and other preciosities that made their way west by the sea route. Among the finds from Konar Sandal South, there is a fragmentary impression preserves the lower half of a figure having talons for feet similar to the figure in the Jeweler’s seal (fig. 21). While the head is missing, there is no reason to believe that this figure did not have the head of a bird. While not associated with snakes in this fragment, the use of the double snake as a framing device for an emerging central motif is preserved on two seal impressions from Konar Sandal South (fig. 22‑23).
Above divine figures including a bird headed human, bull headed human, a goddess on opposed lions and a hero. Below a crossed animal combat scene and two goddesses on backs of lions. Height 3.9 cm. Louvre inventory number AS 10081, 10082. Adapted from Delaporte 1920, p. 56‑55, S462.
Bottom half of male figure wearing a kilt and a covering over his leg, and legs of a bird man, two squatting females with arms bent and a scorpion. Height 1.8 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 5, 039V402. Drawing by author.
Two snakes emerge from a circle from which a camel head emerges, to the side a winged vegetation goddess. Konar Sandal South Trench 5, 029V402. Height 3.3 cm. Drawing by author.
Horned head emerging between undulating snakes. Height 1.7 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 5, 097V402. Drawing by author.
26Additional comparable evidence for the double headed figure surrounded by snakes is the image on one side of a lapis lazuli disk showing a double headed winged human which emerges from a U shaped double scorpion tail from the confiscated materials now held in the Kerman museum (Kerman museum no. 7114). Another lapis disk shows the upper body of a bird headed human, and finally among the confiscated material is a soft stone plaque in the shape of a double-headed frontal eagle56.
27Standing next to the bird man is a standing bird facing left with its head turned back. Francfort interprets this bird as a long necked fowl similar to those rendered on stamp seals from the Oxus. However, a closer look at the image shows that this bird is identical to the one in the lower register except that the one in the upper register has the head of a snake. While unique in the Oxus, the image of a snake headed bird is known on a small lapis pendant from the looted materials held in the Kerman Museum and has been published by Madjidzadeh (fig. 24)57. The combination of animal parts is a frequent feature of Bronze Age art of Kerman. It can be seen in a similar pendant having the body of a bird and the head of a lion58.
Lapis Lazuli. Confiscated material from looters. Kerman museum. Adapted from Madjidzadeh 2003, p. 164 lower left.
28To the left of the birdman and snake-headed bird pair is another important motif. What we see are two different species of horned human-headed birds flanking a spread winged bird of prey seen from below. Above the back of the left most horned human-headed bird is an undulating snake. On his head he has a pair of horns that splay outwards in a spiral form. We agree with Francfort that these should be considered the horns of a markhor goat. The figure is bearded and the base of the beard turns up in a prominent and distinctive curl. Emerging from his chest is a single curling form and from his back two similarly curling forms emerge above the curled tail feathers. Francfort interprets these elements as additional horns, but they find close parallels in Konar Sandal South that suggest another interpretation. It is unclear if the drilling at the back of the creature’s neck is meant to suggest a hump. Facing him is a different and equally distinctive horned human-headed bird creature. This creature either has a short beard or a clean shaven elongated chin. He also has horns but in this instance the horns curve inward and are certainly those of a bovid. Additionally, above his back a wing rises in a gracefully curving line. Finally in a manner similar to his companion, his tail feathers curve out in opposite directions. Francfort takes this last feature to argue that both of these creatures are depictions of a Northern black grouse (Lyrurus tetrix) which he posits might have lived in the Oxus zone during the Bronze Age.
29Both of these human headed bird creatures find close comparisons among the imagery from Kerman as well as from Mesopotamia, while I am unaware of any examples of human headed birds from Central Asia. Among the double sided lapis disks typical of Kerman, the one found in the Tod treasure in Egypt (fig. 25)59, shows the head of a man with a long curl on the body of a bird. On the other side of the disk, a lion headed bird with similarly curving tail features is rendered. A virtually identical image is carried on a lapis disk in a private collection. Francfort asserts that the tail features on Gonur seal are different than those on the disk. The only way that they are different is that on the disk they are seen in profile and on the seal they are seen from above. Probably the closest parallel for this pair of human headed birds is seen on a gold cylinder seal in the Al Sabah collection in Kuwait60. The imagery on this seal is rendered in the distinctive Linear style known through seal impressions from Konar Sandal South61. This remarkable seal shows two horned human headed birds flank an emerging human-headed bull (fig. 26). Notably each of the human-headed birds on this extraordinary seal has a beard which curls prominently upward toward the chin, identical to the treatment of the beard on the right facing bird-creature on the Gonur seal. Finally a comparison which is more formal than iconographic can be found for the curled forms emerging from the chest and the back of the bearded human headed bird. In a Linear style seal from Trench III from Konar Sandal South a female whose hair falls down her back in identical curls (fig. 27) sits facing an interlocutor. While a second fragmentary example (fig. 28) shows the same set of curls on a missing figure.
Lion headed bird with curled up wings and tail feathers. From Tôd, Montu temple, Egypt. Cairo JE 66485. Adapted from Aruz, Benzel and Evans 2008, p. 68, fig. 26.
Grain goddess on top of addorsed horned quadrupeds and a bull man emerging from between two human headed bird demons. Gold, hollow. Height 2.21 cm. Al Sabah Collection. LNS 4517.1. Drawing by author after photos in Goldstein 2013, p. 47, no. 12.
Female with large curls sits facing right toward a tree (?) and star. In front of her is a male figure with long hair and a male with a large cap. Linear Style. Height 2.3 cm. Konar Sandal South, Trench 3. Drawing by author.
Small figures in between the horns of a cervid and the back of a seated female with huge curls. Height 2.3 cm. Konar Sandal South, Trench 5. 154V402. Drawing by author.
30The detailed analysis presented above is intended to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the extraordinary seal found in a grave in Gonur was manufactured in the region of Kerman, and was subsequently exported to Gonur. It can be combined then with three other cylinder seals found in Gonur that were imported from Kerman, along with the Old Akkadian cylinder seal from Mesopotamia and the stamp seal from the Indus Valley. Together these examples of glyptic art serve as tangible proof for the interaction between the Oxus and Kerman as well as with actors on the peripheries to the west and the east during the last quarter of the third millennium BC. I conclude this discussion with an exploration of the implications for the relationship between Kerman and the Oxus that can follow from this fact.
31Let me begin by considering again Francfort’s conclusion and reflecting on what it would mean if Francfort were correct and the seal was actually produced in Gonur. The first thing that we must query is why would a citizen of Gonur commission a seal that was entirely Kermani in iconography and style but was meant to be used as a token of identity in the Oxus civilization? As mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, there is very little evidence for the use of seals in an administration context at Gonur or even more broadly in Central Asia. Apart from the ten seal impressed container sealings and tags found in a somewhat later context in North Gonur62, whatever administration existed at Gonur did not require the impressing of seals on clay closing devices or documents. Francfort concurs and agrees with Sarianidi that seals in the Oxus had an amuletic rather than administrative function. Another possibility of course is that the denizen of Gonur who commissioned the seal intended to use it outside of the Oxus perhaps in the interregional trading network which certainly included interaction with Kerman. If this were the case, why identify with strictly Kermani iconography and style?
32When thinking about the place of seals in Early Bronze Age Iran, it is necessary to consider the relationship of seal type (i.e. morphology, style and iconography) to its owner, the actor who used the seal to denote membership in a particular administrative community. Unlike bodies of impressions of comparable size found anywhere else in either Bronze Age Iran or Mesopotamia, what is remarkable about the corpus from Konar Sandal South is its variety. There is nothing coherent or continuous about the range of seals found and used administratively together at Konar Sandal South. Within a single archaeological context, highly distinctive seal types were found. In previous publications, I have presented the different seal types found at Konar Sandal South. Following my model63, each distinct seal type can be associated with a different community, some of which can be located while others await discovery on the Iranian Plateau. The actors in each of these communities came together at Konar Sandal South (and certainly other central sites), to engage in activities that required them to use their seals to mark the clay closing devices of small bags, boxes, baskets and the like. Because the sealings at Konar Sandal South were found together with detritus of the working of semiprecious stones in Trench V and with other administrative debris in Trench III, a good guess is that the sealings are residue of the buying, selling, exchanging of these luxury raw materials, that is some kind of merchant-like, commercial, behavior.
33Among the seal types that can be distinguished at Konar Sandal South are examples from Early Dynastic Mesopotamia,and from Susa. Seals with hatched borders carry a distinctive iconography loosely based on Mesopotamian or western Iranian subject matter. A Linear style which I identify as belonging to an official or elite group that was located in the Halil River Valley is known through many examples at Konar Sandal and in one example at Shahdad64. Stamp seals, some of which are familiar from other regions, and some of which are until now entirely unique stylistically are also used to administrate transactions. Finally, the Kerman Group, which includes all of the seals found at Yahya and Shahdad, as well as many from Konar Sandal South were found in large numbers and with a wide range of iconography. Following my model, these are the seals that traders from Kerman would have used to participate in the exchanges.
34Returning to Francfort’s discussion of the seal from Gonur, one must conclude that the actor who commissioned the two registered seal found in the Grave of a 60 year old woman wanted to be associated at a level of semiotic relevance with the Southeastern Iran community through style, while at the same time affiliating with the community of the Oxus through iconography which has now been shown to also originate in Southeastern Iran. While not logically impossible, such a scenario is inherently inconsistent with the highly developed semiotic of glyptic art shared across the entire Middle Asian Interaction sphere. Further, as I have shown, it is not necessary to appeal to such a construct because as more evidence has become available, each of the elements that Francfort identified as uniquely Central Asian, indeed finds earlier and multiple manifestations on the Iranian Plateau, in the seals and other small finds found in or associated with the Halil River valley. Certainly as the rich corpus of Kerman continues to expand, these elements of comparison will become more numerous.
35Finally it is left to consider briefly the mechanism whereby this seal, and all of the other cylinders found at Gonur, were imported from outside, came to the Oxus civilization. Although small in number, they are significant because they are the only objects that can be identified with certainty as imported into this very rich and highly creative civilization. Sylvia Winkelmann has long argued for the Iranian origins of much of the imagery found on seals and other objects in the Oxus civilization65. Most recently she has argued that this shared imagery reflects a shared religious ideology that was introduced by traders into Central Asia from the Iranian Plateau66. While in general I am happy to accept this hypothesis, for me it is important to be as precise as possible when making such an argument. The danger is to fall into the construct of the “trans-elamite culture” which subsumes Kerman and the Oxus into one large cultural entity67. Indeed when one examines the symbolic world of each region, there are considerable differences as well as similarities68. With the evidence from Konar Sandal South it is now possible to more carefully articulate what belongs in Kerman, what was borrowed by the Oxus, and what was uniquely Oxian within the iconography. In that way we can better understand both cultures and give nuance to their complex interaction. It is clear that some of the imagery of divine figures rendered on the seals and other object from the Oxus originates on the Iranian Plateau, but much that the Plateau had to offer was not adopted and what was adopted was changed to meet the needs of a another distinct culture.
36What I am confident we can know is that the world of the Oxus civilization drew heavily on the imagery that originated on the Iranian Plateau, and more specifically in the region of Kerman and the Halil River Valley. We know through the work at Konar Sandal South together with the masses of looted objects that were confiscated that a local imagery began to develop in the region of Kerman at the beginning of the third millennium. By the height of the interregional exchange system, as exemplified by the Royal Cemetery of Ur, Kerman was a center of the movement of preciosities off of the Iranian Plateau delivering them to a port near the modern port of Bandar Abbas to load on to boats headed up the Persian Gulf to Susa and to Mesopotamia. This interregional trade moved commodities, but also people and ideas, including religious ideas. It was at this time that actors from Kerman would have also gone north, to centers like Gonur which is located very close to the source of gold and lapis lazuli and tin.
37The lack of administrative residue in the form of clay sealings at Gonur suggests, however, that such seals would not have been used as administrative tools in their new setting. That they served as amulets is certainly possible. But is it also possible that they served to identify their owner, not as a trader per se, but perhaps as an object of trade, indeed as a commodity. If that were the case, we could easily hypothesize that the woman with whom the seal under consideration was buried, was a woman of Kerman who came to the Oxus as a bride, meant to solidify relations anchored in exchange that crisscrossed the routes between Kerman and the Oxus.
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1 Stopler 1982; Steinkeller 1982; Steinkeller 2012; Potts 2008; Francfort and Tremblay 2010.
2 Amiet 1986.
3 Salvatori 2008a.
4 Tosi 1983.
5 Hakemi 1997.
6 Eskandari this volume.
7 Madjidzadeh 2003a; Madjidzadeh 2003b.
8 Stein 1937.
9 Lamberg-Karlovsky 1974; Lamberg-Karlovsky 1986; Potts and Lamberg-Karlovsky 2001; Mutin 2013.
10 De Cardi 1970.
11 Madjidzadeh 2008.
12 Pottier 1984.
13 Pittman 1984; Sarianidi 1998.
14 Sarianidi 2002; Sarianidi 2005; Sarianidi 2007; Salvatori and Tosi 2008.
15 Salvatori 2008a.
16 Vahdati and Biscione 2015.
17 Salvatori 2008a; Salvatori 2008b.
18 Winkelmann 2000; Winkelmann 2014.
19 Francfort 2010.
20 Sarianidi 2002; Sarianidi 2005; Sarianidi 2007.
21 Sarianidi 1998.
22 Sarianidi 1998; Sarianidi 2007.
23 Sarianidi 1998, p. 317.
24 Sarianidi 1998, p. 317, 319.
25 Sarianidi 1998; Sarianidi 2007.
26 Winkelmann 2000; Winkelmann 2014.
27 Francfort 1992; Francfort 1994; Francfort 1998; Francfort 2010.
28 Jarrige et al. 1995, p. 360, 412.
29 Ascalone 2008.
30 Salvatori 2008a.
31 Pittman 2001.
32 Hakemi 1997.
33 Pittman 2008; Pittman 2018; Pittman in press.
34 Salvatori 2008b.
35 Contra Salvatori 2008b.
36 Pittman 2014.
37 Sarianidi 2007; Salvatori 2008a; Francfort 2010.
38 Contra Steinkeller 2014.
39 Rakic 2003; Rakic 2018.
40 Sarianidi 2005, p. 255‑256.
41 Sarianidi 2005, p. 258, fig. 114.
42 Sarianidi 2007; Francfort 2010.
43 Sarianidi 2007, p. 105, no. 180.
44 Sarianidi 2007, p. 245.
45 Sarianidi 2007; Francfort 2010.
46 Francfort 2010.
47 Porada 1964.
48 Amiet 1986, p. 137; Amiet 1997, p. 123, fig. 6.
49 Madjidzadeh 2003b, p. 67.
50 Hakemi 1997, p. 62.
51 Madjidzadeh 2008.
52 Pittman 2001, p. 266, fig. 10.57.
53 Francfort 2010, p. 77.
54 Pittman 1984.
55 Pittman 2002 contra Amiet 2005.
56 Madjidzadeh 2003a, p. 133.
57 Madjidzadeh 2003a, p. 164.
58 Madjidzadeh 2003a, p. 167 top.
59 Porada 1982.
60 Goldstein 2013, p. 47, no. 12.
61 Pittman 2008; Pittman 2012.
62 Sarianidi 1998.
63 Pittman 2018; Pittman in press.
64 Hakemi 1997.
65 Winkelmann 2000.
66 Winkelmann 2014.
67 Amiet 1986.
68 Francfort 1994; Francfort 1998.
INDICE DELLE ILLUSTRAZIONI
|Titolo||Fig. 1 – Map.|
|Titolo||Fig. 2 – Drawing of the modern impression of a cylinder from site no. 1220 Turkmenistan.|
|Legenda||Combat scene with hero and human headed bulls. Height 2.8 cm. White Stone. Adapted from Salvatori 2008a, fig. 8.3.|
|Titolo||Fig. 3 – Cylinder seal and modern impression.|
|Legenda||Combat scene. Mesopotamian, Late Old Akkadian period. Shell. Gonur, Burial #2550. Adapted from Sarianidi 2007, p. 107, fig. 182.|
|Titolo||Fig. 4 – Drawing of wild animals in a mountainous landscape setting rendered in repousée and engraving on a silver vase.|
|Legenda||Gonur, Grave 3235. Adapted from Sarianidi 2005, p. 256.|
|Titolo||Fig. 5 – Cylinder seal and modern impression.|
|Legenda||Grain goddess seated on snake and kneeling horned quadruped. White Stone. Gonur, Grave 23. Adapted from Sarianidi 2007, p. 105, no. 180.|
|Titolo||Fig. 6 – Drawing of an ancient impression of a cylinder seal.|
|Legenda||Grain deity. Height 1.3 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 5 008V302. Drawing by author.|
|Titolo||Fig. 7 – Drawing of modern impression of a cylinder seal.|
|Legenda||Grain goddess and winged and horned goddess. Steatite. Height 2.3 cm. Tepe Yahya IVB. Drawing after Pittman 2001, fig. 10.49. TY 32.|
|Titolo||Fig. 8 – Cylinder seal and modern impression.|
|Legenda||Seated grain goddess and standing horned goddess. In the field four horned quadrupeds with head turned back. White Stone. Height 3.8 cm. Shahdad Grave 163. Obj. no. 1792. Photo courtesy Massoud Azarnoush.|
|Titolo||Fig. 9 – Cylinder seal and modern impression.|
|Legenda||Goddess surrounded by a rayed circle and flanked by grain and horned goddesses. Black Stone. Temple of Sacrifices. Adapted from Sarianidi 2005, p. 283, fig. 137.|
|Titolo||Fig. 10 – Drawing of a modern impression of a cylinder seal.|
|Legenda||Seated winged goddess with horned surrounded by kneeling adorants and a grain goddess, snakes in the field. Height 3 cm. Chlorite. Tepe Yahya IVB, TY 38. Drawing after Pittman 2001, p. 262, cat 48.|
|Titolo||Fig. 11 – Drawing of a fragmentary ancient impression of a cylinder seal impression.|
|Legenda||Goddess stands on the back of addorsed bulls, over her is a twist of copulating snakes, to the right side of bird of prey seen from below; to the left side is a female figure. Height 3.3 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 5, 028V402. Drawing by author.|
|Titolo||Fig. 12 – Drawing of a modern impression of a cylinder seal.|
|Legenda||Two registers showing a ritual scene below and a supernatural divine community above. Height 4.33 cm. Collection of Jonathan and Jeanette Rosen, New York. Adapted from Amiet 1997, p. 127, fig. 5.|
|Titolo||Fig. 13 – Modern impression of cylinder seal.|
|Legenda||Two kneeling divine heroes salute the sun deity with raised arms. To the side a goddess seated on the back of a dragon. White Stone. Height 4.0 cm. Collection of Jonathan and Jeanette Rosen. Photo courtesy the Rosen Collection.|
|Titolo||Fig. 14 – Cylinder seal and modern impression.|
|Legenda||Two register scene with ritual below and supernatural creature above. Red Stone. Gonur, Grave 1391. Adapted from Sarianidi 2007, p. 106, fig. 181.|
|Titolo||Fig. 15 – Modern impression of cylinder seal.|
|Legenda||Divine figure with snakes emerging from shoulders sits enthroned on top of a niched platform. To the side is a two register depiction of celebrants: standing women above and kneeling figures with instruments below. White Stone. Previously in the Virginia Bailey collection, Louvre Museum. Sb 6707. Height 3.5 cm. Photo courtesy of Virginia Bailey.|
|Titolo||Fig. 16 – Drawing of fragmentary ancient impression of a cylinder seal impression.|
|Legenda||Female kneels to the side of a platform on which a figure stands. Behind her are palm trees, head of a horned quadruped and a vessel. Height 2.75 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 3. 2005III102. Drawing by author.|
|Titolo||Fig. 17 – Drawing of fragmentary ancient impression of a cylinder seal impression.|
|Legenda||Celebrants in a ritual next to a platform. Snake, bird, geometric forms in the field. Height 2 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 3. KSBtrIII103006. Drawing by author.|
|Titolo||Fig. 18 – Drawing of a double sided disk in lapis lazuli.|
|Legenda||Both sides carved with a bird with its head turned back surrounded by lions. Diameter 3.9 cm. Confiscated from Looters. Kerman Museum. Adapted from Madjidzadeh 2003, p. 173 bottom.|
|Titolo||Fig. 19 – Silver and electrum shaft hole axe with double bird headed man grappling with a boar and a dragon.|
|Legenda||Height 15 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art MMA 1982.5. Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.|
|Titolo||Fig. 20 – Drawing of fragmentary ancient impression of a two registered cylinder on a door sealing.|
|Legenda||Above divine figures including a bird headed human, bull headed human, a goddess on opposed lions and a hero. Below a crossed animal combat scene and two goddesses on backs of lions. Height 3.9 cm. Louvre inventory number AS 10081, 10082. Adapted from Delaporte 1920, p. 56‑55, S462.|
|Titolo||Fig. 21 – Drawing of fragmentary ancient impression of a cylinder seal impression.|
|Legenda||Bottom half of male figure wearing a kilt and a covering over his leg, and legs of a bird man, two squatting females with arms bent and a scorpion. Height 1.8 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 5, 039V402. Drawing by author.|
|Titolo||Fig. 22 – Drawing of fragmentary ancient impression of a cylinder seal.|
|Legenda||Two snakes emerge from a circle from which a camel head emerges, to the side a winged vegetation goddess. Konar Sandal South Trench 5, 029V402. Height 3.3 cm. Drawing by author.|
|Titolo||Fig. 23 – Drawing of fragmentary ancient impression of a cylinder seal.|
|Legenda||Horned head emerging between undulating snakes. Height 1.7 cm. Konar Sandal South Trench 5, 097V402. Drawing by author.|
|Titolo||Fig. 24 – Snake-headed bird pendant.|
|Legenda||Lapis Lazuli. Confiscated material from looters. Kerman museum. Adapted from Madjidzadeh 2003, p. 164 lower left.|
|Titolo||Fig. 25 – Lapis lazuli disk carved on both sides.|
|Legenda||Lion headed bird with curled up wings and tail feathers. From Tôd, Montu temple, Egypt. Cairo JE 66485. Adapted from Aruz, Benzel and Evans 2008, p. 68, fig. 26.|
|Titolo||Fig. 26 – Drawing of cylinder seal.|
|Legenda||Grain goddess on top of addorsed horned quadrupeds and a bull man emerging from between two human headed bird demons. Gold, hollow. Height 2.21 cm. Al Sabah Collection. LNS 4517.1. Drawing by author after photos in Goldstein 2013, p. 47, no. 12.|
|Titolo||Fig. 27 – Drawing of fragmentary ancient impression of a cylinder seal.|
|Legenda||Female with large curls sits facing right toward a tree (?) and star. In front of her is a male figure with long hair and a male with a large cap. Linear Style. Height 2.3 cm. Konar Sandal South, Trench 3. Drawing by author.|
|Titolo||Fig. 28 – Drawing of fragmentary ancient impression of a cylinder seal.|
|Legenda||Small figures in between the horns of a cervid and the back of a seated female with huge curls. Height 2.3 cm. Konar Sandal South, Trench 5. 154V402. Drawing by author.|
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Categories: U05- Iranistica