Pottery vessel bought at a flea market and used as a toothbrush holder turns out to be 4,000 years old

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A 4,000-year-old pottery item bought for less than $5 (4 pounds) at a flea market and used as a toothbrush holder for years prior to its discovery. Sounds like a pretty bad joke but that is exactly what happened to Karl Martin, a man from England who – unbeknownst to him – came to possess a rare piece of artifact dating back to the Indus Valley Harappan civilization.

Featuring a line painting of an antelope, the ancient pottery vessel caught the owner’s eye at a yard sale nearly five years ago. A collector himself, he picked up the jar – along with another pot – for around $5. Speaking about the purchase, Martin, who currently works at Derbyshire-based Hansons Auctioneers, said –

I liked it straight away. I used it in the bathroom to store my toothpaste and toothbrush – it even ended up getting a few toothpaste marks on it.

Martin learned of the vessel’s unusual origin several years later, while helping the firm’s Head of Antiquities James Brenchley unload a van at the auction house. It was there that he stumbled across a few pottery pieces that looked similar to the pot he had been using as a toothbrush holder. He stated –

I suspected it might be very old but forgot all about it. The painting style looked the same, and it had similar crudely painted animal figures. I rescued the pot from my bathroom and asked him [Brenchley] to examine it for me.

Later, Brenchley himself inspected the jar, confirming that it originated in Afghanistan circa 1900 BC. Last month, the item was auctioned for around $100 (80 pounds). Martin added –

That means it’s around 4,000 years old — made 2,000 years before Christ was born. It’s amazing, really. How it ended up at a South Derbyshire car-boot sale, I’ll never know. I like the pot but decided to sell it at Hansons’ November antiquities auction just to see how it would do. There was interest straight away with advance bids placed and it eventually sold for £80 – not a fortune but a decent profit. Perhaps I should have held on to it. I feel a bit guilty about keeping my toothbrush in it now.

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Encompassing most of the northwestern region of South Asia, the Indus Valley civilization was a Bronze Age civilization that – along with ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia – formed the three early cradles of civilization of the Old World. Spread across present-day India, most of Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan, it boasted a population of more than five million people at its peak.

The inhabitants of the fertile Indus River valley are credited with the invention of new technologies and techniques pertaining to metallurgy, architecture, urban planning and handicraft. Cities across the settlement featured baked brick houses, intricate drainage systems as well as well-planned water supply systems.

The ancient civilization is also known as the Harappan civilization after Harappa, one of the first archaeological sites in the region to be discovered back in the 1920s. This was followed by the uncovering of other major sites of the Indus Valley civilization, including Mohenjo-daro located in the Sindh province of Pakistan.

Source/Image Credits: Hansons Auctioneers

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About the Author

Sukanya Mukherjee
With a master's degree in English Literature and several years of writing experience under her belt, Sukanya specializes in creating content particularly related to history, science, and technology. In the past, she worked as a business journalist at a reputable digital media company. Apart from being an avid fan of Victorian literature, she can found spending her free time baking and exploring the Great Himalayas!
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