British Museum collections, £12.99
Width: 8.900 cm
Thickness: 1.900 cm
Gift of Angela Kidner and Stephen Dobell in memory of C.H.M. Dobell
Asia OA 1995.1-24.1
Room 33: Asia
Ring stone with goddesses
Mauryan dynasty, 3rd century
From north-west Pakistan
Ring-stones like this are in flat cylindrical tablets. Usually referred to as dating from the Mauryan period (about 324-185 BC), some may be older and others have been dated on stylistic grounds to the Shunga period (about 185-50 BC). The more widely known types, like this fragment, have a hole with sloping sides in the centre, and are carved with figures in low relief. This female figure is usually nude except for jewellery, which includes at least a girdle and necklace. She wears a large wig-like hairstyle; her hands fall straight by her sides and feet point in opposite directions. The prominent pudenda and broad hips highlight her generative qualities. She is invariably associated with some kind of foliage: her figure either flanked by palmettes or emerging from a vine scroll. This foliage is at times recognisable as a palm tree, lotus or honeysuckle, or, as here, entirely stylized.
The figure was clearly an ancient goddess of a cult that spread over a broad region. Even though we do not know the exact use of these ring-stones, they are of special value for the study of ancient beliefs, especially that of the mother goddess.