TITLE: Axe head
PERIOD: End of 3rd Millennium BC
DIMENSIONS: Height 27 cm
PRICE: 10,000 Euros
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Holland, acquired in the 1980s.
CONDITION: Intact, in an excellent state of preservation. Still has the original patina.
Slender votive axe head of a light and elegant design. It has a very elongated T-form. There are three elements: the hollow circular eye socket, of tube shape, where the axe handle - probably of wood and now missing - would have been inserted; the head proper with a really narrow cheek; and the bit or cutting blade of a tear-drop shape, which would suggest that the axe was never meant to be used in battle, but for ceremonial purposes. The butt of the axe is crowned with a delicate and realistic sculptural representation of a mountain goat. It is reclining, occupying the full width of the butt with its head turned to the right, directing its gaze to its hind legs. This animal is one of the first animals to be domesticated, and for this reason goats have a long history in the iconography of the Near East and Central Asia.
In the last centuries of the third millennium BC an impressive expansion of The Trans-Elamite dominions took place, reaching beyond what is today the boundaries of Iran to the confines of Central Asia, to the Persian provinces of Bactria and Margiana, which established a distinctive identity. Following on from archaeological and iconographic studied over the last hundred years, a connection with the Near East has been observed, as vestiges of this Bronze Age society have been found in various sites in Mesopotamia and Iran as a consequence of habitual inter-Iranian exchanges.
Bactrian culture is the modern archaeological designation for the Bronze Age culture in Central Asia dating from approximately 2200-1700 BC. It was located in present-today Turkmenistan, northern Afghanistan, southern Uzbekistan and western Tajikistan. The Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex was discovered and named by the Uzbek Viktor Sarianidi in 1976.
Bactria was the Greek name for the area of Bakhlo, the ancient name of a historical region, which today is in northern Afghanistan, and Margiana, which was the Greek name given to the Persian satrapy of Margu, the capital of which was Merv, located in today’s Turkmenistan.
It is defined as a proto-urban civilization. Its inhabited centres extended across the region of western Bactria in a series of agglomerations dominated by fortresses and with a complex almost city-like layout.
Its striking material culture included monumental architecture, bronze tools and pottery and jewellery of semi-precious stones. The Bactria-Margiana Archeological Complex shows many signs of civilization. Many carved seals were produced by this culture. Carved idols, either stylized (as cylinders or disks) or anthropomorphic, of which many variations have been found, are their most outstanding pieces of art. Their significance, particularly in the case of the geometric idols, is still unknown.
This was a civilization that still did not have the use of bronze. Their metallurgy was based on arsenical copper. They developed traditions previously elaborated by the nomad founders from Luristan with the Elamites in Trans-Elamite central Iran and in the western flank of the Iranian valley. Many examples of tools and weapons have been found, among which magnificent axes like this one have been found. Elamite texts, which have been discovered above all in Susa, explain the social function of this type of piece, which were insignias of high dignitaries given by the king.