Afghanistan Archaeological Research – Prehistory

By | December 16, 2021

Afghan archeology is still very little known due to the vastness of the territories still imperfectly known and the complexity of the problems it presents. The most valid contribution to his knowledge was brought by the French archaeological mission which began its work under the guidance of the great Alfred Foucher, in 1922, which was then joined, on various occasions, by some American missions and from 1957 the Italian archaeological mission..

Since ancient times Afghanistan has been exposed to different and contrasting solicitations: from the west the great Iranian civilization and then the Hellenistic one, from the east the Indian one, from the north the pressure of the barbaric peoples of the Central Asian steppes. These different worlds have inevitably come to meet and more often to clash on Afghan soil. The north was touched by the great silk road, which carried on one side the products of the far east and on the other those of the Mediterranean basin, through Iranian mediation; a branch of this silk road descended through the passes of the Hindu Kush to India after having picked up another road, that of the South, historically important for having always constituted the line of march followed by the armies that by the Īrān aimed to conquer the Indus valley. The geographical configuration of the country and the three worlds that press it closely, the Iranian, the Indian and that of the steppes and the continuous variation of the balances between the three have therefore naturally conditioned all the cultural manifestations of the Afghanistan giving rise to artistic civilizations of extreme interest, composite and complex and often hybrid, since the most remote times. For Afghanistan 1999, please check

By briefly reviewing the archaeological research in the country, we will silence the now famous ones of Haddha and Bāmiyān, while we will include those conducted between 1933 and 1940, having only recently been disclosed the results of most of them since the scholars who conducted them, Joseph Hackin, Ria Hackin and Jean Carl tragically disappeared during the Second World War.

Prehistory and protohistory. – They are still very poorly known. Some more or less extensive researches have been conducted at various times especially in the SO of the Afghanistan in the province of Qandahār in the areas corresponding to ancient Sakastān (today’s Sistān) and western Aracosia.

The most important of these researches were carried out by JM Casal in Mundigak, about 70 km north of Qandahār where two large mounds were excavated, of which Tepe A has made it possible to ascertain the succession of 13 layers ranging from the end of the 4th millennium up to the 3rd century, showing us the process of transformation from a semi-nomadic station to a sedentary settlement, with the erection in later times of buildings of a monumental nature, which in the early stages are linked to the Iranian environment while in the last, datable to the beginning of the first millennium, there are forms typical of the Harappan civilization. The materials found, although not abundant, are of the highest interest because they testify to us, since ancient times, the particular position of passage and transit of the region between the Iranian-Mesopotamian cultures and those of India. Pottery offers us particularly eloquent indices for which, for example, that of the VII layer belongs to a production strongly influenced by that of the Quetta culture and in the VIII layer the decorative motifs of the cultures of the Indus valley are superimposed on forms that have contacts with the Iranian ones of Tepe Hissar II B.

In 1949, surveys were carried out by the American mission of WA Fairservis Jr., at the village of Deh Mohrasi Gonde in the Argand-āb basin, which confirm that we are in a transit zone between the Iranian-Mesopotamian civilizations and those of the Indus valley. Interesting is the presence of a figurine of the “Magna Mater” very similar to one of Mundigak and those of the Zob valley.

For a more recent period, cultures with a mystique character have been ascertained by the essays performed by R. Ghirshman in the Sistān at Nad-i ‛Ali, where in the exploration of two mounds, two periods of occupation, the most recent is perhaps attributable to an Achaemenid settlement, while the oldest (9th-8th century BC) attests contacts both with the Īrā? n (gray-black pottery type B necropolis of Sialk) and with the Scythian world (arrowheads with laurel leaves and trefoil).

Afghanistan Archaeological Research - Prehistory