47 • A Group of Eight ‘Singing’ Alabaster Vessels

Mehrgarh, Indus Valley, circa 4000 BC

The appealing characteristic of the alabaster from which these vessels are made is the variegated colouring of its striations. It must have been as attractive to the inhabitants of Mehrgarh 6,000 years ago as it is today, because the mine, located in their vicinity, has been exhausted for millennia. Another quality of this fine-grained stone is that it rings when struck. The search for beautiful materials, and the invention of techniques to endow ordinary materials with beauty, are both characteristic refinements of the Indus Valley civilization.

The technique for firing ceramics was known millennia before Mehrgarh was settled. The Gravettian figurines from Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic date from 29,000 to 25,000 bc, and vessels from 20,000 years ago were found in Jangxi, China. The availability of fine-grained alabaster allowed the parallel production in Mehrgarh of thin-walled vessels with attractive patterns. They must have been a luxury product, akin to having porcelain instead of stoneware.

a. Conical beaker. Size: 11 cm high, 13 cm diameter
b. Conical cup. Size: 8 cm high, 15 cm diameter
c. Bowl. Size: 6 cm high, 13.5 cm diameter
d. Bowl. Size: 7 cm high, 18 cm diameter
e. Bowl. Size: 9 cm high, 18 cm diameter
f. Bowl. Size: 10 cm high, 19 cm diameter
g. Bowl. Size: 11.5 cm high, 21 cm diameter
h. Conical bowl. Size: 13.5 cm high, 21.5 cm diameter