The Musee Guimet Indus and Amri Collection in Paris

In the summer of 2018, one of the warmest ever in Paris, I managed to slip one afternoon into the Musee Guimet, and click away on my iPhone at objects usually not seen in colour. This French national museum which contains one of the best collections of Asian Art in the world (as one collector of Indian art, Gursharan Sidhu once put it, the French taste in objects from India is second to none). The compact ancient Indus and Amri cabinet [Image 1] is rich in interesting Indus objects, including a terracotta dog and rhinoceros [2]. Above them are three nice seals found at Mohenjo-daro, showing a unicorn, a bison with feeding trough, and a rather dynamic elephant, and the associated sealings cast from them [3].

There are also two figurines of women from Harappa [4,5]. Recent research has suggested that they might have been used as part of special home rituals in larger cities, as argued by Shereen Ratnagar in her book The Magic in the Image: Women in Clay at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa.

However, the most unusual thing about the Guimet cabinet is the collection of pottery from Amri in Sindh, an early sun-dried brick walled town that has also named a culture - Amri culture - that flourished before, during and even after the Indus civilization [c. 4000-1900 BCE]. Amri is about 150 kilometers south of Mohenjo-daro. Over 100 sites, primarily in Balochistan and lower Sindh seem to share the distinctive Amri pottery styles that populate much of the cabinet. They are from the French excavations at the site from 1959-62, under the direction of Jean Marie Casal (1905-1977), an archaeologist and former curator at the Guimet. Before Amri he led the excavations at Mundigak, Afghanistan, a Bronze-Age site from 1951-58 (some of the spectacular objects from there at the Guimet are featured in our new Mundigak slide show).

Amri pottery includes red-buff ware, mainly hand-made, S-shaped jars, and a variety of bi-chrome vases that are all well-represented here [6-9]. Most of these are dated in the caption to 2700-2600 BCE, while the red-buff ware goblet is dated to 2100 BCE, when Amri and Indus styles converged. Seeing all these objects together reminds us both of how close these cultures were at times, and how much the Indus civilization was part of a regional complex of cultures that often preceded it (e.g. the Kulli culture.

In the final image [9], the foreground shows what might have been a composite toy, said to have a bird's body and ram's head, mounted on wheels, an anonymous donation from 1989, found somewhere in Pakistan.

Omar Khan, June 2020.