Unknown Artist

Ringstone, 3rd century BCE


Ringstone, 3rd century BCE

Pyrophyllite 3 in. diam. (7.62 cm)

Crocker Art Museum, anonymous gift


  • Chandragupta Maurya founded the Mauryan empire (circa 323–185 bce) in Magadha, north India. Greek and Achaemenid Persian cultures influenced the region. Indigenous beliefs and artistic styles, such as the Buddhism propounded by King Ashoka (circa 272–231) and the depiction of yakshas and yakshis (nature spirits), formed an integral part of its development.
    One mysterious find from the Mauryan Period are ringstones such as this fragmentary example (complete examples are circular). Their use is unclear, and it has been variously suggested that they were earplugs, molds for earplugs, chakras (wheel-shaped objects), or yantras (geometric diagrams). Other scholars have suggested that they were amulets carried by traders, as some sixty or seventy ringstones have been discovered in ancient Gandhara and in the area of Patna, Bihar, where the Mauryan capital was located. All of these sites are along the ancient trade route linking Gandhara and India.
    In all examples, the decoration on the inner circle tends to follow a pattern that includes nude females and foliate motifs. The nudity of the females, with legs apart, suggests an association with fertility. This example has an additional motif, a predacious water beetle, that alternates with the others.

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