The distribution and role of Harappan ‘headdress’ figurines and Harappan socio-political organisation

Another look at the "Mother Goddess" interpretation of female figurines from the ancient Indus Valley, in this case those remarkable ones with elaborate headdresses. Once again, an author comes away unimpressed by this common identification. Wankowski writes that "a review of published information on site distribution and possible roles attributed to these and other figurines concludes that rather than being fertility symbols or images of deities, their most likely use was as initiation figurines to socialise, train and educate children and young adults: a method of exercising power and social control by a ruling elite which was absent from the cities and towns."

Indeed, his ideas seem much in line with Shereen Ratnagar's recent The Magic in the Image: Women in Clay at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa (2018, although he does not reference her), and builds on previous extensive analyses of Indus figurines by Alexandra Ardeleanu-Jansen and Sharri Clark.

Wankowski concludes: "‘Headdress’ female-format figurines are found almost exclusively in the core Indus areas of Harappa in the north, at Mohenjo-daro and at Chanhu-daro in the south. A different style (see Table) of female-form figurines is found in the Mehrgarh and Nausharo areas west of the Indus River at the edge of the Baluchistan highlands. Other areas of the Indus Civilisation to the east (from the upper reaches of the Ghaggar-Hakra-Saraswati River valley down to the sea) do not appear to have much affinity with the core as far as female-form (or, indeed anthropomorphic) figurines are concerned; any commonality may be attributed to the same subject matter (the human body) and the same material (clay)."

Another well-reasoned piece that addresses the specificity of ancient Indus sites and objects, and warns us not to make simplistic identifications that blind us to meaningful conjectures.

Above: Terracotta female figurine from Harappa, Pakistan 2500-1750 BCE, Nicholson Museum University of Sydney. NM48.46.8.0cm H x 5.6cm W x 3.5cm D.