Detail of the Airtam frieze
1st century AD
This fragment is part of the world famous Airtam Frieze,
which comes from Bactria, an ancient state of Central Asia,
and dates from the Kushan period (1st-3rd centuries).
Half-figures of three girls with musical instruments and
presentation vessels in their hands are fashioned in high
relief from a yellowish limestone. They are located between
two rows of acanthus, executed more roughly than their
Greek prototype. The girls' faces are very similar -
passionless and with regular features - except for one,
whose expression is softened by a smile. Some of them have
an aquiline (‘Greek') nose (the nose and forehead form one
almost straight line), but in general their faces are of the
Asian type: an almost square face, a heavy chin, and a
highly positioned small mouth. This type probably
corresponded to the Bactrian idea of female beauty.
The theme is associated with the apotheosis of Buddha
Gautama – his departure for Nirvana.
This fragment was found at the bottom of the River
Amudarya in 1932. The following year, during excavations
of the bank nearby, archaeologists discovered the walls of a
Buddhist sanctuary dating from the early 1st century AD
and containing several more fragments of the frieze.