The unexplained act of Mortimer Wheeler, the famous archaeologist has raised many eyebrows in India and Pakistan. A mysterious necklace coupled with the superstition of his wife, Margaret, has bestowed upon an Indian family one of the priceless finds of the Indus Valley civilisation.
In 1950, five years after Brigadier Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler married (for the third time) Margaret Norfolk, he gifted his wife a unique seven-stranded bronze metal necklace of great antiquity. The couple was on a visit to Simla then. This being the beautiful hill-station in North India where they had been married five years ago. Margaret proudly showed the necklace to a close Indian lady friend explaining that Mortimer believed the necklace would bring him luck. “Third time lucky!” was what Mortimer had said when he gave her the necklace referring to his two earlier marriages to Tessa who died in 1936, and Mavis de Vere Cole, whom he had divorced in 1942 for cheating on him. Later in 1954, Mavis also served a prison sentence, having attained notoriety for shooting Lord Vivian in the abdomen with a revolver.
Two years later in 1952, after Mortimer was knighted, Margaret (for reasons not known) gifted the necklace to her Indian lady friend. The Indian lady believed Margaret nursed a superstition that the artifact should not leave the subcontinent. “It has been lucky for both him and Leslie. I think it has served its purpose,” was all that Margaret explained. Leslie Alcock was Mortimer’s assistant at the Mohenjo-Daro excavation site (Moen-jo-daro being Sindhi for “the mound of the dead”) when the necklace was discovered.
Had Mortimer declared this discovery, the necklace should have been the property of the Archaeological Department of Pakistan along with the figures of the Dancing Girl and the King Priest (Brahmana priest), pottery, toys, seals, tools, weapons and many other such artifacts unearthed at Mohenjo-Daro. Today it is a private possession of a family in Simla.
What is unique about this necklace is that it is at least 4,500 years old, Mortimer Wheeler having discovered it in an earthen pot in the REM 1 “granary” area of the Mohenjo-Daro excavation site of the Indus Valley Civilisation, now in Pakistan.
The ancient city of Mohenjo-Daro was built around 2600 BCE and believed to have been abandoned around 1900 BCE. Even by modest estimation the age of the necklace would be over 3,900 years old, but according to Mortimer more likely to be about 4,500 years old, based on the pottery fragments and the level of the dig-site it was discovered from. This places it among the oldest necklaces in the world. The necklace has an S-shaped clasp with seven strands, each over 4ft long, of bronze-metal bead-like nuggets connecting each arm of the “S” in filigree. Each bead is less than the size of a pepper seed and has many facets. Each strand has between 220 to 230 nuggets and there are about 1,600 nuggets in total. The necklace weighs about 250 gms. An article about this necklace was reported in The Hindu newspaper, dated January 13, 1996. In 2002, a price of 80,000 British pounds was offered for the necklace by a private UK collector. Since its ownership had so far not been claimed by Pakistan, he had hoped to purchase the antique necklace for his personal collection, but the old Indian lady refused to part with it.
The Mohenjo-Daro necklace was exhibited during the Dubai festival in 2006, and recently at an antique exhibition in New Delhi raising speculation once again that it might be available for purchase. For reasons of propriety the name of the owner was withheld.