This piece pertains to an ancient culture referred to both as the Bactria-
Margiana Archaeological Complex (BCAM) or as the Oxus Civilisation.
The Bactria-Margiana culture spread across an area encompassing the
modern nations of Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Northern
Afghanistan. Flourishing between about 2100 and 1700 BC, it was
contemporary with the European Bronze Age, and was characterised by
monumental architecture, social complexity and extremely distinctive
cultural artefacts that vanish from the record a few centuries after they
first appear. Pictographs on seals have been argued to indicate an
independently-developed writing system.
It was one of many economic and social entities in the vicinity, and was
a powerful country due to the exceptional fertility and wealth of its
agricultural lands. This in turn gave rise to a complex and multifaceted
set of societies with specialist craftsmen who produced luxury
materials such as this for the ruling and aristocratic elites. Trade
appears to have been important, as Bactrian artefacts appear all over
the Persian Gulf as well as in the Iranian Plateau and the Indus Valley.
For this reason, the area was fought over from deep prehistory until
the Mediaeval period, by the armies of Asia Minor, Greece (Macedonia),
India and the Arab States, amongst others.
During the 2nd millennium BC metallurgists in Bactria-Margiana were
already fairly well-versed in the bronze casting process, both by mould
and lost wax. As an integral part in their artistic production, bronze was
used not only for ceremonial and functional axes, but also to create
adornments, including pins, pendants and other accessories such as
small cosmetic bottles. These bottles have been mostly excavated from
burial contexts in Bactria-Margiana; the most interesting examples
featuring three-dimensional sculptures of animals, just like the one
Our little bottle features a three-dimensional bull
standing on his four sturdy legs, with harnesses,
including what looks like a yoke, his eyes bulging
out, his short horns slanting above his elongated
Judging by the burial inventory of these graves,
cosmetic bottles were indeed a gender item
confined to women, who seemed to have used
them together with small copper stick
applicators. Contents of such bottles have been
tested in the lab revealing traces of powder of
wormwood, which was obviously used as a
V. Sarianidi, Margus, 2002: pp.111-115.