Lauren Morris B.A.
Doctoral Fellow: April 2014 - März 2017
Focus Area: Constructions of Elites
The Begram Hoard and its Context
The Begram Hoard is an important assemblage of around 400 objects from the Mediterranean, India, and China that was found in two sealed rooms at Site II of the "New Royal City" at Begram and excavated by the Délégation archéologique française en Afghanistan in 1937 and 1939. The way this find was documented and published has produced incomplete data that is difficult to interpret. In order to clarify the archaeological context and contents of this hoard, this dissertation analysed primary excavation publications, associated coins allocated to the Musée Guimet, and unpublished excavation documentation and photographic materials preserved in the Musée Guimet. First, fieldwork at Begram was examined, focusing on the 1936-1940 campaigns under Joseph Hackin's directorship. While these were not modern archaeological excavations, understanding their idiosyncratic but internally consistent methods makes it possible to use the data they produced. Lacunae and errors in the publication record were also addressed and corrected. Chronology was then considered through the reconstruction of the archaeological contexts of the hoard rooms, re-identification of coins found there, and ceramic, numismatic, and architectural evidence from the wider "New Royal City". It is argued that structure in which the hoard was found was occupied for longer than previously thought, namely through Niveau III, the final main occupation layer at this part of the site. The deposition of the hoard is placed after c. 260 AD with the abandonment of Niveau III, which was possibly instigated by the expansion of the Kushano-Sasanian Kingdom. The first comprehensive inventory of the hoard objects was then presented, collating published and unpublished data. Evidence for dates and places of production were offered for each object class, and their arrangements within the hoard analysed. Instances of object decay and iconographic misunderstanding are highlighted. Clarifying the context and contents of the hoard reveals a temporal span of over two centuries between the production of its earliest datable objects and the deposition of the entire assemblage. Systematically considering the biographies of the hoard objects reveals that they probably derive from two major sources: 1. possessions of a wealthy residence or palace (these largely obtained through diplomatic or other exchange relationships beyond regular market conditions), and 2. reference material from an associated atelier. Generally, most of the hoard objects were "antiques" by the time they were deposited, having been misunderstood or attained new meanings through their lives, and it is possible to detect a certain indifference in their arrangement within the hoard rooms.