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Friday 29 September 2017

Manufacturing and trade of Asian elephant ivory in Bronze Age Middle Asia. Evidence from Gonur Depe (Margiana, Turkmenistan)

Dennys Frenez
Department of History and Cultures, University of Bologna, Via San Vitale 28/30, 48121 Ravenna, Italy

This paper presents the detailed stylistic and functional analysis of a large collection of artifacts made from Asian elephant ivory discovered at the Oxus Civilization site of Gonur Depe in southern Turkmenistan. Artifacts in ivory of Asian elephant from Bronze Age sites in Middle Asia have usually been considered as evidence for the import of finished items from the greater Indus Valley. The detailed study of the Gonur Depe ivories has instead proven that there are significant morphological and stylistic differences between these artifacts and those found at contemporaneous sites in the Indus Valley. This evidence raises important questions about the provenance of the raw material and about the origin and training of the craftsmen who manufactured the objects. Detailed research in textual sources about traditional arts and crafts in South Asia and in classical and medieval commentaries about ivory carving, integrated with ethnographic data about skilled crafting in traditional societies,has led to propose new hypotheses about the complex socioeconomic and cultural organization of manufacturing and trade of Asian elephant ivory during the Bronze Age.

Keywords: Ivory Asian elephant Bronze Age Oxus Civilization Indus Valley