An Asian Bestiary | Camel
Catalog No: 70 /10878
This toy, collected in China in the early 20th century, represents Camelus bactrianus or two-humped camel. Wild Bactrian camels inhabit the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts, which arc across Mongolia and northwestern China. One-humped Dromedary camels are found primarily in the Middle East and the African Sahara. Bactrian camels were so common a form of transport in northernmost China that camel images are often found among the votive offerings placed in 5th to 8th century tombs to serve the deceased in the afterlife. They seem to have been popular toys in Beijing around 1900.
Catalog No: 70.2/ 2590 AB
A pack animal that can carry large and heavy loads across vast distances, the domesticated camel has a long history within Asia, enabling overland trade across desert terrain. The two-humped Bactrian camel was domesticated by 2,500 BCE in northern Iran and northeast Afghanistan, while the one-humped or Dromedary camel was domesticated about 2000–1300 BCE in Arabia. Camels remained a primary means of trans-desert transportation in Asia until well into the 20th century. Storing fat in its humps, the camel resists heat, dehydration, and undernourishment and can carry large loads up to 40 kilometers a day. Camels enabled the Silk Road journey – from Xi’an in north China, west to Turfan, Samarkand and Baghdad through the desert steppes of Central Asia and northern Iran.
Catalog No: 70.2/ 3321
In addition to carrying heavy loads, camels are used for human transport. They are a source of milk and their wool becomes clothing, carpets or even shelter. In some regions, old camels are killed for meat. Nomadic people have relied on the camel for mobility and swift resettlement. This terracotta figurine comes from the Sindhi region of Pakistan, a province famous for its handicraft work that includes pottery, leatherwork, carpets and textiles.
Catalog No: 70.2/ 6788
Used to direct the camel while riding it, these reins from the Rann of Kutch – a salt marsh located in the North West part of India – were not only functional, but also visually rich in their different, often bright colors. Traditionally the camel-breeders of Rajasthan, the Rabari, are expert at making camel girths from ply-split braiding. Rabari garb their camels with decorated girths, knee bands, and bridles.

A Rabari creation myth describes how an incarnation of Shiva created the first camel for his consort, Parvati’s amusement. At the same time, he created the first Rabari in order to take care of the animal. Camels are still very important animals in northern and western India. The annual Pushkar fair in in Rajasthan begins with a camel race and camels, brought from great distances, are cleaned and then richly decorated with colorful ornaments and jewelry before they are traded.
Catalog No: 70.3/ 1114
This camel saddle, from Saudi Arabia, would have been fastened to the back of a Dromedary camel to support a rider or other load. Although saddles were primarily developed for horses, specialized saddles were created for camels as well, and varied according to the mobility needs of local and regional cultures. For instance, the South Arabian saddle is good for riding and luggage support, but inefficient in warfare when compared to the relatively lightweight southern Saharan saddle. Historically, camels were important in warfare and military conquest, used to transport troops and materials.
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