October 17, 2013


In 1973 the Hearst Museum received a small figurine of a bull and a miniature pot. They date to around 2,500 B.C. and are two of six similarly small objects collected in 1935 by a U.C. linguistics professor at Chanhu-daro, Pakistan. That was also the year the ancient mound was excavated for the first time. Chanhu-daro, along with Mohenjo-daro and Harappa, is one of the urban settlements of what is known as the Indus Civilization, which flourished between modern day Pakistan and Western India during the Bronze age (3,600-1,200 B.C.).

Hearst Museum # 9-12204
figurine of a bull, clay
Asia, Pakistan, Indus Valley, Chanhu-daro
Collected (purchased) by Murray B. Emaneau

Despite all efforts, Indus texts remain unreadable, but archaeological evidence tells us that cities like Chanhu-daro were well-planned, capable of sheltering additional populations from nearby towns when needed. By the 3rd millennium B.C., its citizens enjoyed a carefully planned and laid out drainage system that served all the houses in the city. Toilets! The 1937 publication indicates that small objects were occasionally found in the ancient plumbing, but nothing of great value to the residents. Lodged in one cesspit, however, a human skull was found, prompting the researcher to suggest that the individual was evidently murdered and his head disposed in a 'hard-to-find' place.

Hearst Museum # 9-12208
Miniature clay jar, traces of red paint on exterior
Asia, Pakistan, Indus Valley, Chanhu-daro
Collected (purchased) by Murray B. Emaneau

Chanhu-daro didn't grow as big as other urban centers, yet it was home to thousands of men and women living in rather close quarters. A certain level of violence is certainly to be expected, but new research published by the National Geographic indicate that, by the 2nd millennium B.C., high numbers of individuals suffered serious injuries or death by violent means. This stands in apparent contrast with the classic Indus iconography, which lacks images of war, soldiers, or killing.

A different kind of violence, however, led many of these cities to be slowly abandoned. Flooding episodes of the Indus river caused damage to walls, streets, and other infrastructure.  At least five major inundations forced the abandonment of the city for long periods of time, and the last group to settle on the mound in 2000 B.C. had little in common with the original Harappan population.


In February 1972, professor J. Desmond Clark and his student, Andrew Smith, were visiting the Republic of Mali where Smith had started the excavation of some prehistoric villages and workshops in the Tilemsi Valley. The results of those excavations were to be included in his 1974 doctoral dissertation. During that winter they worked at the prehistoric site at Lagraich and collected this bead-making set. It includes 47 objects from a workshop where agate was worked into small circular beads that were then polished and perforated. In addition to the beads, Clark and Smith collected the artisan's tools: drills, scrapers, burins and cores all made with high quality flint.

Hearst Museum # 5-10674
agate beads and bead-making tools
Africa; Mali; Lagraich workshop #1
Collected by Andrew Smith and J. Desmond Clark, 1972

The Tilemsi Valley and its archaeological record are significant because it is one of the earliest places in sub-Saharan West Africa where a pastoral economy is recorded. In Africa, domestic cattle are dated to about 8000 BP in southern Egypt but domesticated millet and grains are dated much later. How pastoralism and farming spread across Africa appear to be a more complex process than in Europe and the Tilemsi Valley is a key place for our understanding of it.

Hearst Museum # 5-12268
drilled bone pendant
Africa, Mali, Karkarinchinkat
Collected by Andrew Smith, 1972

Lagraich is located about 20 miles east of Karkarinchinkat, another prehistoric village dated at 2200-1360 B.C. A larger excavation allowed the collection of thousands of diverse artifacts; pots, stone tools, seeds, figurines, faunal remains, soil samples, pendants, charcoals, awls, shells and beads . In this collection it is noticeable that semi-precious stones were not the only medium for crafting items of personal adornment and, likely, trade. Beads, pendants and necklaces were also made with shells, bones and clay. According to some authors, characteristic pottery decoration at Karkarinchinkat was determined to be a type on its own.
In 2006, a team from Cambridge University undertook excavations at the site of Karkarinchinkat. Similarly to Smith, they came across a few human burials, analyzed them and published their results in 2008. They found the earliest evidence of teeth filing for aesthetic purposes, in Africa and possibly worldwide. More specifically, the people who lived at Karkarinchinkat in the third millenium B.C. intentionally modified their canines and incisors to a pointed shape. This type of dental modification is not documented in historic or modern groups in the region but is present in the south (Angola and South African groups).  For more information visit:

Hearst Museum # 5-12275
stone bead
Africa; Mali; Karkarinchinkat
Collected by Andrew Smith, 1972

The material culture and biological record indicate that the Tilemsi Valley must have been an  interesting place to travel to 4000 years ago. The nature of the sites and the objects collected indicate a high degree of sedentism and domestication was a major component of the local economy, supplemented by limited hunting and the exploitation of river resources. The landscape was much greener than today. Possibly as a result of this situation, these tribes developed specific crafts and a sense of aesthetic that was reflected in items for personal adornment such as beads and pendants, high quality stone tools and blanks, a characteristic ceramic style and most likely textiles and basketry. People who traveled to the valley in the Late Stone Age could probably recognize that they had arrived by looking at the inhabitants clothing and couture. Anyone approaching the Tilemsian would see their pointed teeth and know with certainty that they are in the right place. It is likely they also displayed tattoos and piercing.

Hearst Museum # 5-12232
bone awl
Africa; Mali; Karkarinchinkat
Collected by Andrew Smith, 1972