The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
Types and Forms of Ancient Jewelry from
Central Asia (IV BC-IV AD)
By: Elena Neva
Variety of forms and designs is an identifying feature of ancient Central Asian jewelry. The major types of adornments that existed during the given time period are distinguished by principles of wearing, resulting from ritual and socio-cultural peculiarities of the given type of article. Thus, classification of articles depends on direct connections with the conventions of social etiquette and the aesthetic forms of everyday behavior, hence we distinguish: head, temple, ear, neck, chest, hand, and foot adornments, as well as sew-on pieces, and finally votive plates and small articles. Let us consider the most frequently found types and forms of jewelry.
Head adornments: diadems, crowns, fillets.
In the ancient world, headdresses determined the social status of the wearer. This aspect is made clear by gold votive plates with depictions of donors from the Treasure of Oxus. Beginning with the Hellenistic epoch the headdress served solely as a socio-ideological sign (Akishev A. K., Akishev K. A Proishojdenie I cemantika issikskogo golovnogo ubora, // Arheologicheskie issledovanoya drevnego I srednevekovogo Kazahstana. Alma-Ata, 1980, p. 22) A plate with a depiction of geese (from the Treasure of Oxus) (Zeimal. E Amudar’inskii klad, L., 1979, p. 47 # 47 ) could have been used as an adornment for a headdress. Symmetry of the design is achieved by the alternation of a pair of birds and by a dividing line of salient dots. The composition can be completed by repetition of this pattern, thus allowing restoring missing adornment parts. The top edge of the plate is jagged, similar to the headdresses of the donors on votives, as well as the men (of royal origin) found on finger rings (compare with #103 and #104).
Diadems found in the IIIrd and Vth burials of the Tillya-tepe necropolis represent unique models of the finest gold making. The first one is a tracery lattice made of a thin sheet of gold. Due to its fragility and length, it could not be worn alone, and most probably was sewed-on or fixed to a headdress. A repetitive cross motive stands out in the diadem’s ornament (Sarianidi, V, Bactrian Gold, L. 1985, p. 236-246)
A diadem from the IVth burial consists of two combined elements: the lower part -a fillet with rosetts, the top part a tree with birds (Sarianidi, Bactrian gold, p. 254-259). Analogies to this diadem exist in Korean and Chinese art (Gluhareva O. Iskusstvo Korei, M. 1982).
In the early middle ages a different type of headdress, resembling a nomadic abode (a yurta) became wide spread. (Pamyatniki kul’turi I iskusstva Kirgizii. L. 1983, p. 46 #140) In separate details (a rim with cylindrical ringing pendants) it is similar to the diadems described above, thus confirming the existence of cultural relations and exchange of traditions.
Head and forehead adornments are also known through wall paintings, sculpture, relief and pottery. For example, a picture of a woman with a forehead fillet adorned with “precious” stones in its center, is as found on a jug that dates to the Kushan period (Pugachenkova G. Jiga-tepe, Drevnya Bactria, M1979, vol. 2. p. 64). The head of a goddess from a wall-painting in Dilberdjin is crowned with a diadem that is slightly dilated in its central part and gradually narrows on both sides, like a pediment, it’s painted in yellow ocher- the color of gold (Sokolovskii V. Rekonstrukziya 2 skulpturnuh izobrajenii iz Dolberdjina, Drevnya Bactria, M. 1979, vol 2, p. 17) The next stage of coloring consisted of the placement of an ornament of circles and stretched rectangles with the use of dark brown color. Head fillets of the I-II centuries found on sculptures from Dalverzin (“the hall of tsars”) (Pugachenkova G. Dalverzin-tepe, Tashkent, 1978, p. 207) can be identified as Greek, due to their form : one of the fillets is richly decorated with oval semi-precious stones, while the other has a multi-petaled rosette, with traces of gilding in the center. An analogous type of forehead adornments can be found on relieves from Airtam (Trever C. Pamyatniki Greko-Bactriiskogo iskusstva . M-L, 1940, p. 62).
Judging by the diadems of bodhisattvas from Ajina-tepe (Zeimal T, Litvinskii B. Adjina-tepe, Moscow, 1971, p. 180) . the principles of use and the form of head adornments did not change in the VII century. The diadems consist of concentric circular strips, ovals with center mountings or in the shape of rollers formed by a line of repeating ovals.
The following historic information about a Sogdian head adornment made of precious stones had been preserved –the ruler of Samarqand wore a “golden crown” decorated with seven precious stones ” (Mukhtarov A. Puteshestvie v Sogdianu, Dushanbe, 1986, p. 110) . And in Assyria, for example, Ashurbanipal wore wide fillet with a high mitre on state occasions. The fillet was covered with rosettes made of gold tread, and supported the high mitre on the forehead; the ends of the fillet tied together fell on the back of the head (Maspero G. Assiria, Drevnya Istoria, St. Petersburg, 1900p. 225),
It is obvious that after undergoing various transformations, this type of fillet became the model for the forthcoming cross belt.
It should be noted that constructive peculiarities in jewelry art relate it to architecture. Hence, it may not be mere chance that the bottom of a crown was treated as an element of architectural decoration, where décor was based on the rules of free composition with repetition of elements or group elements. Thus, head adornments not only served as elements of distinction and indication of social strata, but also played a major role in artistic completeness of an image; a man –like an architectural form, gained the significance of a closed aesthetic system.
Often, head fillets and diadems were supplemented by temple –pendants. In a manner similar to porticos in architecture, they carry the construction of the diadem; subject compositions could be placed within the pendants (Tillya-tepe). Most temple-pendants are of a rectangular or a square shape. Such types of adornments are absent from the Treasure of Oxus.
Apparently, this type of temple pendants became widespread on the verge of the new era, for similar temple pendants are known to us through the findings of Tillya-tepe.
Scenes, that fill the space on temple-pendants changed in the early middle ages. The “new’ pendants have the following characteristic features: fractionality, strict vertical lines and one multipartite (Pamyatniki kul’turi I iskusstva Kirgizii, p. 46).
Hair adornments- pins, bronze pivots crowned by disks with miniature flowers, relate to the same article group. It is the most ancient type of head adornments, common not only to Central Asia, but in a later time also in China (Hermitage collections)
Earrings are one of the most popular types, of adornments of all times. The variety of form and design that exist in their representation are sticking. On the relieves from Persepolis, among tributaries, a Bactrian is portrayed with a drop-shaped earring in one ear confirming the assumption that earrings were worn by men (Schmidt. E. Persepolis, Chicago, vol. 1, 1953; vol. 2, 1957, vol. 31969). An analogous type of earrings can be found among articles of the Treasure of Oxus. This type of earrings is wide spread even in our time. In ancient Iran, annular earrings are depicted on the ears of guards from Suz (Morant H. Histoire des arts decorative, Paris, 1970, p. 129) relieves. Similar earrings were used in Central Asia during II BC- II AD; this conclusion is supported by findings from burials (see earrings from the finds of Bishkent burials ) (Mandelshtam A. Pamyatniki kochevnikov Kushanskogo vremeni v Severnoi Bactrii, Leningrad, 1975) Thus, it may be concluded that in contrast to women, men wore only one earring. Supporting evidence for this conclusion can be found in ethnography. The diversity of material used to make earrings suggest that earrings were a popular adornment in all levels of society, therefore archaeologists are able to uncover not only gold and silver earrings, but also bronze, brass, iron and copper. For example, in Tulkhar burial earrings that resemble a bird in their shape were found alongside an earring with an amphora shaped pendant. The handles of the amphora are shaped as bent stylized dolphins. This once again notes the diversity of images used in adornments, especially earrings. The appearance of amphora and dolphins indicate the presence of Greek influence that spread on to the territory of Central Asia during II BC-I AD (Litvinskii B. Ukrasheniya iz mogil’nikov Zapadnoi Fergani, Moscow, 1973, p. 211). These motifs became widely used in the first centuries AD. In a Ksirov’s burial (II BC), for example we’ll see the cockerel-shaped earrings with moonlike pendants were discovered, the other ones were “pepper”-shaped with pendant and gold disk (Denisov E. Raskopki mogilnikov Ksirov, Arheolohicheskie otkritiya, 1978, Moscow, 1979, p. 577)
Such disk are a common decorative element to Ksirov’s adornments and those from Tillya-tepe (compare with earrings from the Ist burial). In addition to earrings one may also find heart shaped clips with a square (Vth burial of Tillya-tepe), as well as those in the form of winged cupids (Vth burial). The latter represent not only earrings, but also miniature sculpture. The form of the clips predetermines the composition. The plump faces and bodies of cupids stand out, while the legs are bent following the shape of the hoop. (Sarianidi V. Bactrian Gold). Of interest is an earring in the form of a woman-sphinx with stretched out paws (Dushanbe) (Pugachenkova, G. Iskusstvo Bactrii epochi Kushan, Moscow, 1979, p. 85). The female head is crowned by a small wall crown; a splendid nude bust is girt crosswise by belts. Similar earrings shapes can be found in the first centuries AD. However, these later version of earrings seem to be a simplified version of the earrings from the Treasure of Oxus or from Tillya-tepe. They differ very slightly in technique, as for example a partially damaged earring in the shape of a cored cylinder decorated with wire-net granulation and snake-shaped eyes from Dalverzin-tepe. (Pugachenkova G. Khudojestvennie sokrovisha Dal’verzina, Leningrad, 1978, ill. 77) Earrings depicted Airtam relieves show diverse combinations of geometric shapes: squares, rectangles, rhombuses, circles; only one earring is shaped like a tri-petal rosette (Trever C. 1940). Gold earrings from the treasure of Shamshi (Pamaytniki kul’turi I iskusstva Kirgizii, p. 46) differ from others in their fractional form, having cone-shaped pendants that end with spheres. Such complex form is caused by the design of dynamically active adornment with “singing metal”. A different type of earrings, dating to that period (early middle ages) is known. The basis of their form is the moon, to which seventeen rays are soldered (Pamaytniki kul’turi I iskusstva Kirgizii). Earrings from Sogd (RaspopovaV. Metallicheskie izdelia rannesrednevekovogo Sogda, Leningrad, 1980, p. 110) have a basic oval shape with pendants. Analogies to these earrings can be found among articles from Palmyra, Khatra, Dura-Evropos (Shlumberje D. Ellinizirovannii Vostok, Moscow, 1985). Analogies in Asian art exist not only earrings, for historically these areas were first included in the ancient Persian (Achaemenian) empire, then in the empire of Alexander II of Macedonia, and finally in the kingdom of the Selevkids. Analogies to earrings from Penjikent (VII-VIII AD) can be found in Fergana and the region of the Seven Rivers. These analogies resemble the finds from Turk’s burials of Central Asia and Siberia (Raspopova V., 1980, p. 113). In wall paintings from the medieval period, only some of the personages wear earrings (Balalik-tepe).
For example, an earring of a servant, in front of a three-leaf shape similar to earrings from earlier relieves of Airtam, confirming not only the existence and stability of traditions, but also pointing to the social status of the person represented. One may also find earrings in the form of a rosette (Balalik-tepe); however, most part (as on other personages of the paintings) are spherically shaped. (Albaum A. Balalik-tepe, Tashkent, 1960). In paintings of Adjina-tepe, the earrings of the “saltovian type” consist of two spheres joined by a “bridge”, while others are in the form of large spiral rings (Litvinskii B, Zeimal T. Adjina-tepe, Moscow, 1971, p. 59, 67) And unlike pendants which are strictly a female adornment, having concrete significance and worn only during specific periods (e.g. necessary addition to bridal clothing) earrings are a democratical and mobile type of an adornments.
Let us now turn to the neck adornments. This category includes necklaces, beads, torques, pectorals, etc. Some articles served only as adornments, while others carried magic or utilitarian functions. For example, torques held cloaks and protected from arrows in a battle. In Central Asia and Persia, the torque was a sign of army rank.
M. Gorelik states that a hammer notch can be seen on a torque from the Tolstaya burial; its common use is confirmed also by the restorations done in ancient times (Kievskii muzei istoricheskih drevnostei, Kiev, 1974, ill. 37, 38) The spiral-shaped, bracelets from the Treasure of Oxus could have been torques, twisted into spirals (Zeimal E. Amudariinskii klad, 1979, # 132, 138). Having zoomorphic ends, the torques composed an ensemble with the bracelets. Lion head ends are very common. In Siberian collection, we find a Scythian torque with lion head ends; a torque found next to Archangelsk is also decorated with lion heads.
An enormous diversity of torques is found on relieves from Airtam. These torqueses are more massive when compared to earlier examples. A torque with bracelets from Dalversin has heavily flared ends (Pugachenkova G. 1978, p. 95, 98).
Pectorals are another type of a neck adornment shaped like a chain with a cameo in the center. Pectorals were probably meant to convey social status, for such adornments were worn by members of the upper class or by representations of gods (Pugachenkova G. 1979i, p. 189). A pectoral from the IVth (male) burial (Tillya-tepe) consists of a wide chain with eight loops and a center cameo. Analogies exist in Parthian art: a silver plaque (I century BC) (Pugachenkova G. 1979) portrays a Parthian king wearing a diadem and a pectoral with a center cameo. Pectorals from Dalversin also date to the I century BC. (Pugachenkova G, 1978, ill. 76). One of these consists of two concentric halves joined by their ends, in its center - an intaglio with a representation of Heracles. The gemma was probably added to the pectoral much later, since the representation is horizontal. Figures from the Airtam relieve wear similar pectorals (Trever C., 1940, table 45-46). Analogous pectorals can be also found in relieves from Palmyra -female representations- (Shlumberje D, 1985, ill. 82). A pectoral also decorates the statue of a “general” from Shami ( (Pugachenkova G. 1979, p. 148). R. V. Kinjalov notes the similarity between the portrayal of the Parthian king on the silver plaque and the sculpture of the “general” from Shami (Kinjalov R. Serebryannaya plastina s izobrajeniem parfaynskogo zarya, Sovetskaya Arheologiya, 1959, #2, p. 197-205). In the form of a pectoral is another necklace from Dalversin. It consists of five cords, weaved into a braid of eight strings that are fastened to the openings of two hollow, bent cylinders with precious stones; the centerpiece has been lost. G. A. Puganchenkova claims that such necklaces were often a part of Gandharan representations of the upper class, in particular as attributes of the prince Siddhartha Gautama (subsequently known as the Buddha) and the bodhisattva Maitreya (Buddha of the Future). This is the first life-size finding of such an adornment. (Pugachenkova G. 1978, p. 96)
Truly unique is the beautiful necklace from the Vth burial at Tillya-Tepe. Its form is closely related to Greek examples, but in specific details (pendants), it is closer to nomad and Bactrian art, an amalgam (Sarianidi V. 1985, p. 252, #3; ill. 64, 65). The form of the necklace echoes ancient torques from the famous Tolstaya burial. Here all the details and elements of decor in the form of hollow balls are in continuous metamorphosis: ball to circle, to teardrop, finally becoming a flat disk. The disks may have been in imitation of coins or vice versa, in later adornments disks are interchanged for coins. Throughout the XVIII-XX centuries in Central Asia and Kazakhstan various types of coins were used as pendants for necklaces. The Tajiks termed such adornments “tanga” (coin), the Kazakhs - “alka”. The III and VI burials from Tellya-Tepe contained necklaces made of beads: some with incrustations made of porcelain and turquoise, some of turquoise only; the protrusions and indentations of the edges are so delicate that they give the beads the appearance of paper lanterns. Twisting torques with and without a cord can be seen decorating the necks of party guests from Balalik-tepe paintings. (fig. 7, 13, 18, 21, Albaum A. 1960, p. 173). Thus, we see that torques, pectorals, and girdles are characteristic adornments of the upper class, serving as distinguishing marks and carrying specific meaning.
Review of the literature and jewelry finds from Central Asia allows concluding that bracelets were the most popular adornment in the ancient world. They were generally executed in semi-triangular, omega-like or coiled forms (bracelets from the Amu-Darya treasure). The bracelets could be massive (cast) or delicate, sometimes having zoomorphic ends. The hoops were either smooth or ruffled and were usually cast separately from the ends that were added later. The masters with the use of insertions and incrustation conveyed mystical and decorative intents. It is known that bracelets were worn by the members of both sexes, alone or in pairs, and were subdivided into closed-ended and open-ended bracelets. Indian women wore bracelets in marriage; in Rome, the most popular form of the bracelet consisted of coiled rings with snakehead ends, symbolic of the youthful forces of life. (Solov’ev K. Istoria Hudojestvennoi obrabotki metallov drevnego mira, Moscow, 1963, p. 91). It is possible that the female bracelet evolved from male warrior rings, related not only to the protection of the hand. There also exist bracelets for the legs - anklets. Sometimes the size and weight of the bracelet allow determining whether it belonged to a man or a woman. Men (see omega-shaped bracelets with gryphon from the Amu-Darya treasure) could have worn massive, cast bracelets, while the delicate ones were probably worn by, women (see bracelet with duck heads from the Amu-Darya treasure). Bracelets from the Amu-Darya treasure include both the closed and open-ended types. Those of the former type are more common - 12. The two types of bracelets are unified by the appearance of indentations meant for insets, although the insets themselves are no longer present. Only on bracelet (Amu-Darya treasure), a lapis-lazuli inset survived, and on bracelet, (same treasure), some of the indentations have turquoise insets and come in a variety of shapes: rectangular, circular, triangular, and drop-like. The bracelets from the Amu-Darya treasure are similar not only in form, but also in the method of execution, implying a unity of traditions and the presence of a defined canon. The fact that many examples and distinct decorative elements were found in the treasure suggests that these were acceptable sacrificial offerings, and that a workshop was adjunct to the temple, as for example at Ai-Hanum. (Rapin C. La tresorerie hellenistique d’ai Khanum, Rev. Arch. 1, 1987, p. 42-70)
Bracelets, dating to the II c. BCE - II c. AD, have many common features with those from the Amu-Darya treasure. They also include some new types and shapes, as for example bracelets from the II and VI burial at Tillya-Tepe. The bracelets are open-ended with zoomorphic terminals and incrustation. Some have ends in the shape of antelopes a particularly popular type of bracelets in the Tillya-Tepe collection were bracelets with heavily flared ends or “shepherd’s horn”
In a female burial (I) same bracelets having a soft round features, in a male (IV) they have ribbed edges and in the end are a rectangular. Some of them are cast, another are forged. Similar elements can be found in foot bracelets and torques (Sarianidi V, 1985, p. 238, ill. 16, 17; p. 235, ill. 33;p. 249, ill. 21) In additional bracelet, type closed with spiral wires around similar to a Dalverzin’s articles (Pugachenkova G. 1978, ill. 74) (see the bracelet from the Vth burial of Tillya-tepe). A wide range of forms and decoration can be found in the bracelets on Airtam relieves (Trever C., 1940, table45-46) . On the murals of Balalik-tepe (Albaum L. 1960) and on sculpture of Adjina-tepe, (Litvinskii B. Zeimal T. 1971, p. 106) we can find shoulder bracelets, which in their shape appear to recall forehead adornments with decorations in the center in the form of a rosette, triangle or rectangle . Sogdian bracelets of VIII century are very simple in shape with heavier and wide ends, those types of bracelets were wide popular. (Raspopova V. 1980) Bracelets from a wall painting in Penjikent, (Belenizkii A. Monumental’nya jivopis’Pendjikenta, Moscow, 1975), Afrosiab (according their representation) were with with color stones and look similar to bracelets from Balalik-tepe and Adjina-tepe. Thus it appears, that bracelets just like earrings were a popular type of jewelry and affordable by the masses.
A large number of seal-rings, in a variety of shapes and configurations, can be found among the adornments from the Treasure of Oxus. Such seal-rings are easily classified on the basis of images that appear on the seal, as well as based on their technique of execution (flat, circular, oval or triangular setting). The images on the seal are of two main types: anthropomorphic and zoomorphic. On one of the rings it is even possible to distinguish two human figures (a male and a female). However, on the majority of the seal-rings, images of animals predominate and include bulls, gryphon, deer, lions and panthers. Particularly attractive is a seal-ring with the image of a panther (Zeimal E. 1979 p. 62 #111), executed in lacework cutting, with concave settings, and the positioning of the legs of the animal to straddle the ring.
All of the seal-rings can be subdivided into 4 types based on the execution of the band: ribbed, smooth, covered in spheres, and ridged (see table). Thorough research of the burials allows to conclude that the rings were worn on the left hand, usually on the index or middle finger, and the majority were found in female burials (Litvinsky B. 1973, p. 29). Seal-rings of later periods differ little from those of the ancient period and were worn not only by the members of the nobility but also by ordinary citizens. The large quantity of rings and variety of materials used for their making, suggest that seal-rings were a very popular adornment.
Seal-rings can also be subdivided into the following categories: real seal-rings, seal-rings with a flat setting, seal-rings with concave settings, and seal-rings woven from wires. “Almost all of the figures on the Balalik-tepe wall-paintings wear a decorated seal-ring on little fingers of both hands. A gold decorated oval band, which was probably incrustated with a gemma-seal, is attached to the top of the ring” (Al’baum L., 1960, p. 174). Thus, we see that during the medieval period gold and inlayed seal-rings were worn by nobility. A similar ring-type (with a moving clasp) is known from the finds at Adjina-tepe (Litvinsky B, Zeimal T, 1971 p. 11). Seal-rings from Sogd also depicted images of animals including the ram, Bactrian camel, birds, goats (Raspopova V. 1980, p. 114). The rings are executed using traditional methods, characteristic of this ring type. A two-line inscription in cursive Sogdian appears on one of the seals, a common decorative element of the medieval period. Some of the Sogdian seal-rings are also adorned with simple ornaments. “The widespread use the seal-rings is probably indicative of flourishing commerce during that period, when all legal agreements (e.g. rent, buy-sell, and marriage contracts) were ‘signed’ with a seal” (Raspopova V. 1960. p116). While the shape of the rings remains relatively constant, the depictions change to portray the historic-cultural and political social processes.
Clothing adornments can be classified into two categories: chest adornments and sew-on articles. The former category includes various clasps and fastenings to hold together various parts of dusters and coats . Several articles from this category can be found among adornments from the Tillya-tepe necropolis, and each pair is an irreproducible monument of Central Asian jewelry art. Clasps from the I burial carry immense appeal in their simplicity, while clasps from the II burial in the delicacy of ornamental decoration (a figure of Cupid riding a dolphin), maintained thematically in the clasps from the III burial (here Cupid is portrayed without wings). Of interest are also clasps with the images of warriors, as well as those with the depiction of the “wedding scene” (Sarianidi V, 1985, p. 254, ill. 77-79).
A special, and most abundant, group of articles includes various sew-on articles and pendants-amulets, sometimes executed in the stamping technique. Many such articles are found among adornments from the Tillya-tepe necropolis.
The belt is also counted among clothing adornments, constituting an integral element of the male costume. The belt is a required detail and attribute of military clothing (see belt from the IV burial at Tillya-tepe) (Sarianidi V, 1985 p. 247 ill. 88-89). Belts appear as elements of male clothing even in the early medieval period. Although initially belts are made completely from metal, later belts combine leather with metal disks, as well as other materials (Bentovich E. Odejda rannesrednevekovoi Sredneii Azii po dannim stennih rospisei VI-VIII v// Strani I Narodi Vostoka, Moscow, 1980, #XXII, p. 196-213). Both, clasps and belts were “cult” objects. Surrounding oneself with a belt implied the enclosure of oneself in a magical circle, and carried within apostrophic meaning (Obel’chenko O. Pamyatniki isskustva drevnih kochevnikov Sogda, Tezisi II arheologicheskoi konferenzii, Kemerovo 1984, p. 153).
Examination of the various types and forms of jewelry articles from the ancient and medieval periods, demonstrates not only their quantitative presence, but also their qualitative, as well as utilitarian characteristics, e.g. everyday vs. ritual (burial) articles. Although in this article we examined only burial and votive jewelry articles, it is highly likely that individual articles from these collections were also worn during the lifetime of the individual, for example earrings, bracelets, rings. Here, as well as in our previous article -“Artistic features. ” (Transoxiana, #8, 2004) we devoted little attention to the techniques and methods of jewelry making. These features will be addressed in the next article, which will analyze the methods and techniques of artistic metalwork, thus allowing to trace not only technological advances in jewelry making throughout the IV BC - IV AD period, but also to understand the essence of each piece, the work of the master, his thoughts and creative inspiration.
By examining the types and forms of jewelry art in the IV BC- IV AD period, we can begin to see their multifaceted nature. Many of the described adornments and features survive for centuries, even to the present time. In all of their multitude, as well as the occasionally overwhelming décor, they always comply with the peculiarities of the human figure and rules of costume.
A complete ensemble of adornments, as identified from the finds at Tillya-tepe, was probably used during celebrations or rituals, e.g. weddings or funerals, to accentuate the importance of the event, aiding in creating a specific emotional expression in the image of the participants.
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