Silver Grave Goods from the Sohr Damb near Nal, Pakistan(1)

Find Situation

Some long-lost artefacts from southeastern Baluchistan are offered here as a tribute to a colleague whose publication activity reveals a committment to an ancient Near East which is broadly defined, taking into account more than the areas which a previous generation of archaeologists considered "orthodox". From a small test excavation which Mirza Sher Muhammad conducted on a mound known as the Sohr Damb (red mound), near Nal in the Jahlawan Division of the Kalat State in the year 1903 (later Sir) John Marshall catalogued an unknown kind of prehistoric pottery (2). Excavations which the Hazara Pioneers carried out here in 1908 followed yielding 250 pottery vessels (3). Bizanjau Saidar salvaged further vessels from the mound in 1923 or 1924 (4). In May and June of 1925 H. Hargreaves retested the site with what workmen he could divert from the harvest. 270 mostly well-preserved pottery vessels and other finds were recovered and most published, if only in a rudimentary way. Such pot-counts reflect the archaeological standards of the day. Nonetheless, one must admit that he laid the cornerstone for the study of the Sohr Damb (usually simply refered to as Nal) and its culture. Some curious silver objects were excavated which for what ever reason did not appear in the final report (Pl. 1 and Fig. 1.1-3). The definition of the so-called Nal Culture and its relations to its neighbours, particularly the Harappa Culture, have been controversial over the years because little comparative source material has been available (5).

330 by 200 m in width and 15 m in height, the Sohr Damb is the largest hill in the Nal area (6). Habitational remains less then 2 m in depth cover a geologically formed hill (7). At its northwestern foot Hargreaves's labourers excavated a triangular surface designated "A" near the old diggings still visible at that time. Thirteen squarish "rooms" and "courtyards" without extant entrances, constructed of large quarried stone, and preserved up to three courses high came to light which contained burials. As opposed to the upper portion of the mound, traces of roofing and/or burning were lacking. So Hargreaves, "Whether these stone structures are the remains of deserted and ruined habitations or whether designed originally for funerary purposes cannot at present be asserted, but when excavated the whole area was found to be devoted entirely to the purposes of a necropolis and human remains and funerary pottery were found down to the floor level and in a stratum nowhere more than four feet in thickness. Several methods of inhumation appear to have been practised at the same time" (8). Hargreaves states that the stone walls of Area A probably were preserved to their original height, save a possible additional superstructure of mud brick. This could indicate either a ruined dwelling or a burial structure. A lack of three-dimensional measurements hinders the stratigraphic interpretation of the burials in relation to the building structure. The fractional burials lie at several heights in the thick layer of debris in relation to the floor. This can be explained by their having been sunk into the runoff over a long period after this part of the settlement had long fallen out of use (9).


Hargreaves distinguished the scant pottery from area D atop the mound in terms of form, fabric and decoration from that of the graves at the foot below (10). S. Piggott classified the former as of the "Zhob culture" (11). G. Dales stated more precisely that the cemetery (Dales's Phase D) is earlier than "the settlement" (especially Area D and F) and classified the pottery of the former, a copper seal (from Area F) and a dagger (Area D) in his subsequent Phase E for the entire region (12). This dagger fits nicely in the inventory of the Harappa Culture and belongs in its early phase (13).

It seems unnecessary to treat the Sohr Damb as a mound with simply two periods, one of early burial and a second of subsequent settlement, to judge from the excavator's description. The graves of Area A may lie on an earlier abandoned part of the Nal Period settlement. The graves do not seem to be contained in the buildings in a regularly reocurring way and may postdate them (14). If this is true, the settlement belonging to the cemetery would then lie on some other place, probably on the mound. The architectural features of the adjacent Areas B and G show the same size and orientation, and also belong to this early part of the settlement. Hargreaves sees no difference in the Nal pottery of areas A and G which consequently links them roughly to each other chronologically (15). Despite the poor preservation and limited extent of the documented architecture, two kinds of buildings seem visible in the plan - the plastered irregular chambers of Area D atop the mound and the stone "houses" below.

In 1965 Dales dated the Nal cemetery to the first half of the third millennium BCE by virtue of comparisons of the associated wheel-turned pottery shapes and polychrome decoration with those in Mundigak III1-6 (map, Fig. 3) (16).

Imported pottery from Nal occurred there as well (17). Pottery vessels of Nal type occurred in 1975 in Shahr-i Sokhta (Seistan/Turan) in the northern part of the cemetery there (18). The excavator has assigned them to Phase 4 of Period III which he dates to ca. 2450-2300 BCE largely on the evidence from radiocarbon, later than the other suggested datings for the Nal cemetery and its pottery (19). The publication of the finds presumably would result in a redating of the graves or an adjustment of the chronology at Shahr-i Sokhta. This same pottery also occured at Niai Buthi in Las Belas (20). A pottery synchronism exists between the Nal cemetery and Period IIID at Said Qala in Afghani Baluchistan (21). Two radiocarbon assays from Mundigak III and Said Qala III are of third millennium date (22). Nal pottery also occurs in Togau (northern Baluchistan) Periods III and IV (23). Period A (=1) of once-coastal Balakot (a mere 88 km northnorthwest of Karachi) can de described as belonging to the basic Nal tradition of southeastern Baluchistan (24). Recently further comparisons by means of pottery affinities with Nindowari (just south of Nal) have been noted (25).

Nal is stratigraphically earlier than the Kulli Phase (26). Furthermore at Surab (northern Las Belas) Nal occupations are later than the Kili Gul Mohammad Phase. Some overlap does, however, occur between the Nal and Kechi Beg Phases in Surab III. Finally, Nal and Damb Sadaat Phases are partially contemporary, as indicated by the intrusive Damb Sadat wares in Surab IV and Nal pottery in Mehrgarh VII (27). Following S. Piggott, M.R. Mughal placed Nal und Nundara in his early Harappan complex (28), reiterating the relative dating of the pottery of Nal type. But in recent years the similarities of the Nal and Amri pottery have been less emphasized owing to refinements of our knowledge of the pottery of the entire region, and because Nal is now more definitely linked to a pottery tradition of its own - that of Baluchistan. W. Fairservis understood the Nal cemetery as an expression of the Kulli Culture (29). In a recent study of the Kulli Culture, Nal is excluded as a relative (30).

Hargreaves described the inhumations as fractional and, but for a single adult and three infants, only partial skeletons occurred in his excavation. The skeletons are mixed and appear also from the published photos and descriptions to be disturbed, i.e. with little or no visible order of the finds and skeletal remains is preserved. A variety of grave goods including pottery vessels, metal objects and animal remains. Hargreaves unearthed most of the copper implements in the loci A3 and A5 respectively on an earth and stone floor, partly in close association with either skeletal remains or other antiquities (31). Several tools in A3 seemed to him part of a disturbed burial (32). In his discussion of Nal had D.H. Gordon known the associated non-functional silver finds (see below), he perhaps would have held some or all of our metallic finds for grave goods (33). It is useful to note here that the attractive (fugitive) polychrome and bichrome Nal wares originally littered the entire site (34) which is rare in cemeteries. This should be taken as evidence of the extensive disturbances prior to and during the early excavations. Such sherds also occurred in Area B, E, G, the latter which can be confirmed as belonging to the cemetery (35). B. de Cardi points out that only rarely does true polychrome Nal pottery occur in the settlements of Surab (36). This pottery at Nal is clearly a funerary ware.

The New Finds

Hargreaves's excavation report of 1929 lists copper and silver objects which he recovered. Those of silver were not described in greater detail than "[No.] 20 silver foil. Eight fragments of brittle and oxidized silver foil. Largest fragment 201 mm in length. One fragment shows small parallel flutings in repousé... A5" (37). The "eight fragments" catalogued belong actually to the three objects of our study. Hargreaves's near omission in the excavation report of the silver objects from locus A5 seems to have been an oversight. Perhaps they were in the process of restoration and for this reason unavailable. The finds have been cleaned and show no clear signs of oxidation to the naked eye.

A silver dagger-like blade (Fig. 1.1) and in the same material an unusual implement (Fig. 1.2), both which I examined and recorded in 1985, are on permanent exhibition in the National Museum in Delhi. Hargreaves also mentions the silver "unidentified object, No. 20" on p. 33 which is probably the "cult object" (quotation marks mine) in our

Fig. 1.1 Dagger blade NM 2622.- 1.2 Cult object NM 2620.- 1.3 Harvesting knife NM 2619. Figs. 1.1-1.3 Sohr Damb
Fig. 1.1 Dagger blade NM 2622.- 1.2 Cult object NM 2620.- 1.3 Harvesting knife NM 2619. Figs. 1.1-1.3 Sohr Damb

Fig. 1.2, since the other two objects are readily identifiable. In addition, inquiries in the Museum yielded a repousé silver harvesting knife or hand sickle (Fig. 1.3), which, like the other two objects, is registered in the accessions record (38). The source given is the "DGA" (Director General of Archaeology). The number "26" in the inventory number attests to the accessioning of the three pieces in 1926, doubtless from Hargreaves's excavation, and not those of his predecessors. The three pieces are sequentially numbered and no further silver objects appear to belong to this lot. Confirmation of the find circumstances lies in Hargreaves's description " fragment shows small parallel flutings in repousé", evidently a reference to our dagger blade. The dagger blade by no means measures 20 cm in length, but the harvesting knife is approximately this size. The hand sickel is fragmentary and reconstructed from 21 fragments. Fresh breaks are evident. Little imagination is required to explain their multiplication over the years from eight to 21. Fresh breaks are visible.

Fig. 2.4-6. From Sohr Damb. 2.7-8 from Mohenjo daro. - 2.4 Palstaves A 9782.- 2.5 NM 2614.- 2.6 NM 2616.- 2.7 & 2.8 Mohenjo daro Museum, no inv. nos.
Fig. 2.4-6. From Sohr Damb. 2.7-8 from Mohenjo daro. - 2.4 Palstaves A 9782.- 2.5 NM 2614.- 2.6 NM 2616.- 2.7 & 2.8 Mohenjo daro Museum, no inv. nos.


Fig. 3 Findspots mentioned

Fig. 3 Findspots mentioned 



Significantly, the copper palstaves (Fig. 2.4-6) are similar to each other in form, all derived from the loci A3 and A5, and clearly are contemporary with each other (39). They are smaller, simpler in their form and proportionally thicker in cross section than those from Harappan sites (cf. Fig. 2.7-8) which also are generally fashioned from copper (40). Until recently rare indeed were prehistoric/protohistoric metallic objects from Baluchistan although copper was worked from Mehrgahr III onward (41). Harvesting knives are known locally from the Harappan Culture/Period and later (42). But diagnostic parallels cannot be identified in the Harappan and Baluchi material for our three unusual silver objects. The cultural affinities of other metallic finds from Nal can seldom be traced because their forms are relatively simple (43). Metal otherwise is nowhere documented in the sites which contain Nal pottery, and was rare in comparison to the Harappa Period/Culture.

Owing to the disturbance of the context of the silver objects, with regard to function the finds must speak for themselves. All three are unique in their shape, material and probably their function as well. The thinness of the material excludes a functional use for the dagger blade and the harvesting knife. Neither have rivet holes for a grip, and the entire construction must have been flimsy. The blade of the harvesting knife may be incomplete and its butt end is broken off. The so-called cult object is unique, and probably incompletely preserved. It shows no device in order to attach it to clothing or to a mounting. Thus its position as reproduced here (which reflects the way it was worn or used) may well be incorrect. Its edges seem intact.

Our few metallic objects of the Nal Culture differ morphologically from those of the Harappa Culture and in that at least those fashioned in silver appear to be exclusively grave goods. Given the simple form of the metallic implements from the cemetery it seems unnecessarily risky to see in them the genetic predecessors of Harappan artefacts. Considered in the context of the entire cultural assemblage, especially the pottery, the artefactual similarities between the two regions are more disparate than previously thought. The metallic finds published and republished here bear witness to a still little-known culture in what Harappa/Greater Iran-oriented colleagues have called the Indo-Iranian borderlands, which for the era before Christ is an area in its own right in the cultural continuum. Further excavation in Sind and Baluchistan would be highly desireable to illuminate the identity between these two areas prior to the advent of the mature Harappan Culture. A new context-oriented study of the handsome Nal pottery based on new material seems a useful project.


1.  This article was made possible by a grant from the German Research Society (DFG). I should like to thank L.K. Sihare, then director of the National Museum Delhi for the permission and his help to work on these and other artefacts. The photos were supplied by the National Museum. The drawings are those of the author. I thank Ute Franke-Vogt for reading an early version of the text. A. Hannibal also made suggestions.

2.  H. Hargreaves, Excavations in Baluchistan 1925, Sampur Mound, Mastung and Sohr Damb, Nal, in: Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India (=MASI) 35 (Calcutta 1929) 17 quoting J. Marshall, A New Type of Pottery from Baluchistan, Annual Reports Archaeological Survey of India 1904-05, p. 105-106, pl. 33, 34. Site location: 6648'E; 2704'N at 1258 m altitude.

3.  There exists no known documentation from this salvage operation (S. Piggott, Prehistoric India (Middlesex 1950) 80-96).

4.  H. Hargreaves 1929, 18. None of the finds survived transport from the site.

5.  J. Shaffer, Prehistoric Baluchistan (Delhi 1978) 1-4.

6.  To judge from the unlabled contour intervals (9 x 5') and old descriptions. M.A. Stein, An Archaeological Tour to Gedrosia. MASI 43 (Calcutta 1931) 166; H. Hargreaves 1929, pl. 6.

7.  H. Hargreaves 1929, 29. But on p. 19 he describes the hill as "artificial".

8.  H. Hargreaves 1929, 21.

9.  W. Fairservis, The Roots of Ancient India (New York 1971) 160. Fairservis interprets the uppermost layer in the cemetery area not as a "habitation level" but rather as debris and dates the burials subsequent to it.

10.  H. Hargreaves 1929, 31, 36 "Their greyish red fabric and ornamentation are in marked contrast with wares from the necropolis".

11.  S. Piggott 1950, 80.

12.  G. Dales, A Suggested Chronology for Afghanistan, Baluchistan, and the Indus Valley, in: R.W. Ehrich (ed.), Chronologies in Old World Archaeology (Chicago 1965) 265, following Hargreaves's (1929, 31) discussion of surface finds from D 6. It should be bourn in mind that both areas yielded only five known vessels: H. Hargreaves 1929, pl. 19.2 (x3), 13, 14. Two simple daggers from Sohr Damb A5 and D are comparable in their form to those of the Harappan Period, but only the similarity of that from locus D seems significant.

13.  Cf. H. Hargreaves 1929, pl. 14b.54 & 55. Cf. J. Marshall, Mohenjo daro and the Indus Civilization (London 1931) pl. 129.1; E. Mackay Further Excavations at Mohenjo daro (London 1938), pl. 123.6.

14.  But neither do they destroy walls nor do they pierce floors, which would be clear evidence of a later use of the area for the cemetery. In A5 they lay on the floor, but not in immediate context with skeletal remains or burial goods.

15.  H. Hargreaves 1929, 32-33.

16.  G. Dales 1965, 265.

17.  J. Shaffer, The Later Prehistoric Periods, in: F.R. Allchin & N. Hammond (eds.), The Archaeology of Afghanistan (London 1978) 125 fig. 3.21.6-8; idem., The Indus Valley, Baluchistan, and Helmand Traditions: Neolithic through Bronze Age, in: R.W. Ehrich (ed.) Chronologies in Old World Archaeology 1 (Chicago 1992) 463.

18.  M. Piperno, Socio-economic Implications from the Graveyard of Shahr-i Sokhta, in: South Asian Archaeology 1977 (=SAA 1977) (Naples 1979) 124-125 graves 55, 58, 62, 64, 65, 67, 68 and 69.

19.  M. Tosi, Proto-urban Cultures of Eastern Iran, in: SAA 1977, table between pp. 168 and 171. But this dating does not correspond to that of the Nal cemetery in the table. Period III at Mundigak does not appear in the table. From Shahr-i Sokhta in all 51 Radiocarbon assays are known to me. Those listed in G. Possehl, Radiocarbon Dates from South Asian Archaeology [Philadelphia 1989] 48-51 update the ones published in J. Shaffer 1992, 433-437 which was submitted for publication in 1984 and corrected in October 1985.

Lab-no.  14C-5730 BC    MASCA calib. BC
TUNC-25  2464±60       3065-2860  Shahr-i Sokhta Period III, Phase 3-4.
TUNC-26  2295±70       2900-2615
TUNC-21  2240±70       2880-2535
TUNC-23  2250±70       2835-2535
TUNC-24  2110±70       2645-2310
TUNC-27  2050±95       2555-2285
TUNC-22  1995±60       2425-2155

20.  W. Fairservis 1971, 189-194. It occurred beneath a layer of the Kulli Culture (Per. 2). Radiocarbon assay for the latter: P-478, 14C age: 2065±110 BC, MASCA calib.: 2320-2090 BC.

21.  J. Shaffer, Prehistoric Baluchistan (Delhi 1978) 63-64, 65 fig. 30; 84: Polychrome from trench A phase IIIB, black on buff from trench A phase IIA.

22.  J. Shaffer 1978, fig. 33; G. Possehl 1989, 37, 45.

Lab-no.  14C-5730 BC   MASCA calib. BC
GSY-53   2360±155      3015-2630 Mundigak Per. III5
GSY-51   1135±115      1400-1095 Mundigak Per. III1
DIC-18   1965±225      2555-1960 Said Qala Per. III

23.  B. de Cardi, Excavations and Reconnaissance in Kalat West Pakistan The Prehistoric Sequence in the Surab Region, Pakistan Archaeology 2, 1965, 155, pl. 7.8, 12, 13, 14 (Togau); 137, 144 no. 13, 147 no. 49, 149 no. 52, 150 no. 7 (Siah trench II and III). J. Shaffer 1992 vol. 1, 456; vol. 2, 427 fig. 3: read from the chronological table he places the Nal pottery between 3200 und 2500 BC.

24.  G. Dales, The Balakot Project: Summary of Four Years Excavation in Pakistan, in: SAA 1977, 250-255; G. Possehl 1989, 6: Period I, Balakotian:

Lab-no.      14C-5730 BC   MASCA calib. BC
UCLA-1923A   3405±140     4150-3800
UCLA-1923B   3335±75      3960-3795
UCLA-1923C   3060±85      3800-3520
UCLA-1923D   2385±80      3005-2765

25.  J.-F. Jarrige, Die frühesten Kulturen in Pakistan und ihre Entwicklung, in: Aachen, Vergessene Städte am Indus (=Vergessene Städte) (Mainz 1987), 63; idem. Nindowari, a 3rd Millennium Site in Southern Baluchistan, Newsletter of Baluchistan Studies 1, 1982/83, 48: Nindowari Mound ND.B, early.

Lab-no.  14C-5730 BC   MASCA calib. BC
TF-862   2065±110      2560-2295 Per. II or III

26.  J. Shaffer 1986, 82.

27.  J. Shaffer 1986, 82.

28.  S. Piggott 1950, 72: Piggott coined the term "Amri-Nal" buff-ware culture. M.R. Mughal, The Early Harappan Period in the Greater Indus Valley and Northern Baluchistan (Ann Arbor 1971) 182 note 300. "There is some infiltration of the Nal wares in the Amrian area...".

29.  W. Fairservis 1971, 158.

30.  G. Possehl, Kulli An Exploration of Ancient Civilization in Asia (Durham 1986).

31.  H. Hargreaves 1929, 29.

32.  H. Hargreaves 1929, 28.

33.  D.H. Gordon, The Pre-historic Background of Indian Culture (Bombay 1958) 46.

34.  M.A. Stein 1931, 167, repeating Hargreaves.

35.  Hargreaves's "R"-designates which describe the pottery (e.g. pottery nos. 13, 14, 38, 53) do not clearly distinguish findspots inside or outside of the cemetery.

36.  B. de Cardi 1965, 153. Surab is not a typical findspot for the Nal pottery.

37.  H. Hargreaves 1929, 40.

38. Fig. 1: 15,5 x 4.1 x 0,3 cm (Neg. 83.9:90). Fig. 2: ca. 17,0 (as reconstructed) x 7,0 (pres.) x 0,3 cm (Neg. 85.7:13). Fig. 3: 19.4 (pres.) x 3.2 x 0.3 cm (Neg. 85.7:13 and 15). According to S.P. Gupta (oral information) the material silver has been confirmed by analysis.

39. One analysis of a metal fragment near one of the graves revealed the following result: Cu 93.05 %, Pb 2.14 %, Ni 4.8 %, As trace (S. Piggott 1950, 90). Our Figs. 1.5 and 1.6 weigh 360 and 295 g. Especially Fig. 1.4 shows signs of use-damage and all probably were not only intended as grave goods, but also as practical tools.

40. Fig. 1.7=DK 3468, 1.8=VS 1450g. Both are from Mohenjo daro. With regard to the identification of the metal see P. Yule, Figuren, Schmuckformen und Täfelchen der Harappa-Kultur. Prähistorische Bronzefunde (=PBF) I.6 (Munich 1985) 5; idem. Metalwork of the Bronze Age in India. PBF XX.8 (Munich 1985) 99.

41. J.-F. Jarrige, Der Kulturkomplex von Mehrgarh (Periode VIII) und Sibri. Der "Schatz" von Quetta, in: Vergessene Städte, 102-111; J.-F. Jarrige, A Prehistoric Elite Burial in Quetta, Newsletter of Baluchistan Studies 4, 1987, 3-9; J.-F. Jarrige/M. Usman Hassan, Funerary Complexes at the End of the Third Millennium in the Light of Recent Discoveries at Mehrgarh and Quetta, in: South Asian Archaeology 1985 (Copenhagen 1989) 150-166.

42. E. Mackay 1938, pl. 128.7 (Mohenjo daro). Two harvesting knives from Jhukar near Mohenjo daro date to the Postharappan Period (inv. no. Jk 119, Jk 238, iron, Mohenjo daro photo album no. 560). A harvesting knife from Amri is dated to the Moghul Period (J.-M. Casal, Fouilles d'Amri (Paris 1964) 150 fig. 119.5: couche 2, Per. VB).

43. The exception is the dagger mentioned above from Area D. Similarity between the "copper weapons and tools" from the Nal cemetery and those of the Harappa Culture: J.-F. Jarrige, in: Vergessene Städte, 63.

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