Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Eye Beads from the Indus Tradition: Technology, Style and Chronology

Academic journal article Journal of Asian Civilizations

Eye Beads from the Indus Tradition: Technology, Style and Chronology

Article excerpt

Abstract

The "eye-bead" is a distinctive form of bead or pendant that has circular or concentric circular patterns that can be interpreted as representing one or more eyes. This article investigates the origin and development of eye beads in the Indus Tradition of northwestern South Asia. Although the origins of the eye-bead may date to around 7000 BC at sites such as Mehrgarh, the development of numerous different types of eye beads is clearly associated with the urban period of the Indus Civilization. The function of the eye bead cannot be determined from the archaeological record, but ethnohistorical evidence suggests that it was used to protect the wearer from the "evil eye" or malevolent thoughts. The link between the rise of the eye bead and Indus urbanism and the continuity of eye bead used in later periods is an important issue that needs more investigation.

Introduction

The term "eye-bead" is a very general label that can be applied to any bead or pendant that has circular or concentric circular patterns that can be interpreted as representing one or more eyes. Oval or lenticular patterns are also included in this general pattern, but the circular forms are the most commonly represented in ancient eye beads. Various types of eye-beads and pendants, as well as finger rings with eye motifs are used in many parts of the world as protective ornaments to ward off evil spirits or evil thoughts that might be directed at the wearer. This use is well documented historically (Beck 1928; Dubin 1987; Elsworthy 2004) and we can assume that this practice has its origins in the prehistoric period when the first eye-beads were being produced.

The discovery of beads with distinctive eye patterns is well known from the early excavations at the sites of Mohenjo-daro (Marshall 1931) and Harappa (Vats 1940), Pakistan, but a comprehensive study of their production and use as well as their chronology has never been undertaken. The excavations at the site of Harappa conducted by the Harappa Archaeological Research Project (Dales and Kenoyer 1991; Meadow and Kenoyer 2005) have resulted in the recovery of a large assemblage of well documented beads that are being studied to understand the overall chronology and contexts for the use of different types of beads (Kenoyer 2005). This paper will provide a preliminary discussion of the eye beads found at Harappa and some other sites, as well as the variation in production and style over time. Very few eye beads have been found in primary contexts at Harappa where their function can be determined, but the use of these beads can be determined on the basis of depictions on sculptures, such as the so-called "Priest-King" from Mohenjo-daro, as well as contemporaneous civilizations. Additional information can be obtained from the use of eye beads in later periods and ethnographic examples.

Chronology

In order to better document the creation, use and changes in eye-bead styles over time, it is important to clearly define the major chronological periods of the Indus Tradition of the northwestern subcontinent. The Indus Tradition represents the long trajectory of cultural development that includes the early settling down of huntergatherer communities and the eventual development of agriculture, animal husbandry and specialized craft technologies (Kenoyer 1991; Kenoyer 2008). The Indus Tradition is divided into five major Eras representing distinct subsistence practices, socio-economic and political-ideological developments (Table 1). Each Era is subdivided into Phases that are defined by pottery styles and also distinctive artifact styles. The regions encompassed by such diagnostic artifacts can be a small region or valley, or larger areas that encompass many regions. This framework provides an optimal tool for making broad regional comparisons without the confusion of individual site sequences and internal chronologies.

Early Bead Making and "Eye Beads"

Although no clear examples of eye beads have been reported from Upper Palaeolithic sites, the origins of the technologies used to make beads of shell and stone can be traced to the Upper Palaeolithic period of South Asia, some 10,000 to 30,000 years ago (Kenoyer 1992). …

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