By and large, Indiana Jones notwithstanding, archaeologists deny any real attraction for specific artifacts. It's the assemblage, we'll argue, the collection of artifacts from any one site that is really interesting. It's the context, we'll say, the location of the artifacts within a particular room or area or part of the world, that fascinates us. No, no, it's the settlement patterns, the way the assemblage fits, or doesn't fit, the prevailing theory of the way humans organize their living areas.
Well, that's all true, most of the time. But sometimes, we are lucky enough to run across a single artifact that seems to speak to us across the ages, seems to express a culture both distant and not so far away from our present day, in one lovely concrete moment.
So it would seem to be the case with the 'dancing girl,' a 10.8 centimeter high bronze statuette, sculpted using the lost wax method around 2500 BC, and excavated in 1926 from a house in the ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro, Pakistan.
She was British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler's favorite statuette, as you can tell in this quote from a 1973 television program:
There is her little Baluchi-style face with pouting lips and insolent look in the eye. She's about fifteen years old I should think, not more, but she stands there with bangles all the way up her arm and nothing else on. A girl perfectly, for the moment, perfectly confident of herself and the world. There's nothing like her, I think, in the world.
John Marshall, one of the excavators at Mohenjo-Daro, described her as a vivid impression of the young ... girl, her hand on her hip in a half-impudent posture, and legs slightly forward as she beats time to the music with her legs and feet...
The artistry of this lovely statuette crosses time and space and speaks to us of a seemingly unknowable, but at least fleetingly recognizable past. As author Gregory Possehl says, We may not be certain that she was a dancer, but she was good at what she did and she knew it.
The quotes from this article come directly out of the book by Gregory L. Possehl called The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective, available from Altamira Press, and published in September 2002. Thanks to Dr. Possehl, who provided the graphic of the delicate lady.