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Bactrian Bronze Kohl Container

Bactrian Bronze Kohl Container

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Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex, c. 2200-1700 BC, Central Asia

Fantastic cast bronze kohl container with an elongated ovoid body standing on three radiating legs that are shaped like the front bodies of rams, ornamented with cast heads with curved horns. The elegant vessel is completed with a tubular neck and a flat everted rim decorated with incised patterns. The Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), also known as the Oxus Civilization, recently dated to c. 2250-1700 BC, is the modern collective term referring for a Bronze Age civilization of Central Asia. Bactria or Bactriana, was an ancient Iranian civilization in Central Asia based in the area south of the Oxus River (modern Amu Darya) and north of the mountains of the Hindu Kush, an area within the north of modern Afghanistan, while Margiana is the ancient Greek name for what was the Persian satrapy of Margu and is today south-eastern Turkmenistan and southern Uzbekistan. The inhabitants of the BMAC were sedentary people who practiced irrigation farming of wheat and barley. With their impressive material culture including monumental architecture, bronze tools, ceramics, and jewelry of semiprecious stones, the complex exhibits many of the hallmarks of civilization.  

Kohl is an ancient eye cosmetic and it has been worn traditionally since the Naqada III (c. 3100 BC) by Egyptian queens and noble women, who use stibnite (antimonite) or galena (lead glance) for darkening the eyes. Kohl was originally used as protection against eye ailments. There was also belief that darkening around the eyes would protect one from the harsh rays of the sun. In Islam, Muhammad used kohl and recommended others to use it because he believed that it was beneficial for the eyes based on the following saying by him:

”One of the best kinds of kohl that use is Ithmid (antimony); it brightens the vision and makes the hair (eyelashes) grow”

Good condition. Wear consistent with age and use. Surface scratches and corrosion due oxidation. Engraved decorations on the body and the rim almost erased by wear. Small hole at the bottom. Built up verdigris patina, light earthen deposits. Size approx. 9,5cm x 5,5cm x 5,5cm.

Provenance: private collection from Denmark

For a similar example see:

Vessel, The British Museum, Accession Number: 1996,0323.1 (https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/W_1996-0323-1)

References and further reading:

Margus, Turkmenistan: Ancient oriental kingdom in the old delta of the Murghab river, Wiktor Sarianidi, Publisher Benatzky Druck & Medien, January 1, 2002.

Treasures from the Oxus: The Art and Civilization of Central Asia, Massimo Vidale, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.

Thinking Around Grave 3245 in the 'Royal Graveyard' of Gonur (Murghab Delta, Turkmenistan), in: On the Track of Uncovering a Civilisation. A volume in honor of the 80th-anniversary of Victor Sarianidi, Sandro Salvatori, 2010.

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