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Afghanistan History



Early man in Afghanistan lived on river terraces and inhabited caves and rock shelters. Countless stone tools scattered about the countryside attest to this and each year archaeological excavations add substance to the picture of life in the Afghan area during the distant past.

Lower Palaeolithic tools made more than 100,000 years ago were collected from terraces to the east of the perennial brackish lake called Dasht-i-Nawur west of Ghazni (L. Dupree, 1974). They consist mainly of quartzite tools of the following types: large flake cores, cleavers, side scrapers, choppers, adzes, hand axes and "proto-hand axes". These are the first Lower Palaeolithic tools to be identified in Afghanistan.


Earlier, in 1966, a team of American archaeologists searching for evidence to support the theory that "Neanderthaloids possibly developed out of the East Asian strains of Java and Peking Man, and, during the lush Third Interglacial Period, spread along the foothills of the Eurasian mountains into Europe," excavated hundreds of stone tools of classic Middle Palaeolithic types from a rock shelter called Darra-i-Kur near the village of Baba Darwesh not far from Kishm, in Badakhshan. (L. Dupree, director) These represent the first tools of this early period to be scientifically excavated in Afghanistan. They date ca. 50,000 years ago.

Continuing their search, the team moved west during the sum-mer of 1969 and found additional evidence in the foothills near Gurziwan, southeast of Maimana. The tools from Ghar-i-Gusfand Mordeh (Cave of the Dead Sheep) may be even older than those from Darra-i-Kur. During the 1974 season Middle Palaeolithic tool types closely resembling those found at Darra-i-Kur were also recovered from terraces north of Dasht-i-Nawur. They in-clude Levallois flakes, side and round scrapers, points and possible burins.

What manner of man made these tools? Ordinarily, skeletons of Neanderthal Man are found in association with the type of tools found at Darra-i-Kur. Indeed, less than 150 miles to the north, at Teshik Tash in Uzbakistan, Soviet archaeologists found the skeleton of a Neanderthal child with such tools. At Darra-i-Kur, however, a massive temporal bone has been pronounced by experts to be essentially modern with certain Neanderthaloid char-acteristics. Additional evidence is needed and continued excavations are planned, but it may be that Darra-i-Kur will necessitate a reappraisal of the development of contemporary man. "North Afghanistan may well be the zone where modern Homo sapiens, or at least a variety of modern man, developed physically and began to revolutionize Stone Age technology," says Dupree.

As man ceased to be an animal chasing other animals, he began to manufacture a greater variety of more sophisticated stone tools. Upper Palaeolithic sites in Afghanistan dating from about 34,000 to 12,000 years ago illustrate this. Kara Kamar, a rock shelter 23 kin; 14 mi. north of Samangan, the first Stone Age site to be scientifically excavated in Afghanistan, produced tools dating ca. 30,000 B.c. (C. Coon, 1954).

Evidence of Upper Palaeolithic man was subsequently expanded when other American archaeologists excavated over 20,000 stone tools from several rock shelters beside the Balkh River at Aq Kupruk in the hills some 120 kin; 75 mi. south of Balkh (Dupree, 1962, 1965). The tools in this assemblage are so beautifully worked that one eminent specialist in palaeolithic technology has dubbed the tool makers of Aq Kupruk "the Michelangelos of the Upper Palaeolithic." They represent a cultural phase which endured for about 5000 years at Aq Kupruk, from ca. 20,000 to 15,000 years ago, during which someone, a man or a woman, carved the face of a man, or is it a woman?, on a small limestone pebble. This work of art is one of the earliest representations of man by man. Other representations made from bone and pottery found in Czechoslovakia are of comparable age or even older; a carved stone piece found in France is possibly comparable in age. The face from Aq Kupruk smugly retains the secret of why it was carved. Does it perhaps represent an early ritual object? It was found in a hearth. (On display, National Museum, Kabul).

North of Balkh, Russian archaeologists found an extremely rich concentration of high quality Mesolithic implements on the sand dunes south of the Amu Darya (classical Oxus River) dating Ca. 10,000 B.C. (A. Vinegradov, 1969-present). Here the basic in-dustry is microlithic with geometrics. From dunes north of Khulm, a French archaeologist collected flints including microburins char-acteristic of the Epipalaeolithic, Ca. 7-6500 B.C. (Ph. Gouin, 1968).

The great revolution which launched man onto the path of civilization-and eventually into the Atomic Age-took place dur-ing the Neolithic period when he learned to plant crops and domesticate animals and thus began to control his food supply.


Sculptured Head from
Aq Kupruk, circa 20,000 B.C.


This revolution took place at Aq Kupruk about 9000 years ago which indicates that northern Afghanistan may indeed have been one of the early centers for the domestication of plants and animals. The evidence also supports another Dupree theory that the revolutionary ideas of agriculture and herding germinated within a zone bordered by the 34th and 40th parallels of north latitude, at an altitude of about 750 m; 2461 ft. extending from Central Afghani-stan through Anatolia to mainland Greece. Most Middle East Neolithic sites are found within this zone and Aq Kupruk is now added to the list.

A much later Neolithic at Darra-i-Kur, dating about 4000 years ago, ties in with sites in South Siberia and Kashmir, rather than with the much earlier Middle East sites to which Aq Kupruk relates. The Dupree Line, following the 76th longitude through Afghanistan, divides the mixed farming-herding Neolithic of the Middle East from the highland semi-nomadic Neolithic of South Siberia and Northeast Afghanistan, and emphasizes again the pre-historic significance of northern Afghanistan.

Another extremely interesting phenomenon was encountered in the Darra-i-Kur Neolithic. Three intentional burials of domesticated goats, one in association with fragments from two or three children's skulls, were uncovered. Here must be evidence of ritual; of a concern for the mysteries of death and what follows. It was not a unique find for Darra-i-Kur. The Neanderthal child of Teshik Tash in the Soviet Union only 150 miles to the north was encircled by seven pairs of goat horns. Nor is it a phenomenon related solely to the prehistoric. Countless shrines and graves in Afghanistan today are adorned with goat horns, symbols of strength, virility and grace.

As man gained proficiency in agriculture, he moved down from mountain caves onto the plains where planting was easier and water more plentiful. Villages emerged; cities followed.

Early peasant farming villages came into existence in Afghanistan ca. 5000 B.c., or 7000 years ago. Deh Morasi Ghundai, the first prehistoric site to be excavated in Afghanistan, lies 27km; 17 mi. southwest of Kandahar (Dupree, 1951). Another Bronze Age vil-lage mound site with multiroomed mud-brick buildings dating from the same period sits nearby at Said Qala (I. Shaffer, 1970). Second millennium B.C. Bronze Age pottery, copper and bronze horse trappings and stone seals were found in the lowermost levels in the nearby cave called Shamshir Ghar (Dupree, 1950). In the Seistan, southwest of these Kandahar sites, two teams of American archaeologists discovered sites relating to the 2nd millennium B.C. (G. Dales, University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, 1969, 1971; W. Trousdale, Smithsonian Institution, 1971-76).

Stylistically the finds from Deh Morasi and Said Qala tie in with those of pre-Indus Valley sites and with those of com-parable age on the Iranian Plateau and in Central Asia, indicating cultural contacts during this very early age. Striking correlations also indicate the parallel development of Deh Morasi with Mun-digak, 51 kin; 32 mi. to the north of Deh Morasi, which was excavated by French archaeologists under the direction of Jean-Marie Casal, from 1951-1958. Mundigak is a huge mound 9 m; 30 ft. high; an urban center compared to the seminomadic villages of Deh Morasi and Said Qala.

As the great cities of the Indus Valley, such as Mohenjo-daro and Harrapa, grew, specialization necessitated the develop-ment of a complex economic base to supply them. The villages supplied the towns and the towns supplied the cities. The ex-cavations at Deh Morasi, Said Qala and Mundigak provide much needed information regarding early economic supply networks and the beginnings of an urban civilization in the Afghan area.

Evidence that trade was not limited regionally, but extended as far afield as Ur (in modern Iraq), was recovered accidently in 1966 from the valley of Sai Hazara in northern Afghanistan. The Khosh Tapa (Happy Mound) Hoard consists of several gold and silver goblets, now broken into 19 fragments weighing a total of almost eight pounds, stunningly ornamented with raised geomet-rical designs and vigorous figures of bulls, boars and snakes. These animal motifs bear tantalizing similarities stylistically with domin-ant Mesopotamian, Iranian, Indus Valley and Central Asian styles. Khosh Tapa lies in Baghlan Province, north of the Khawak Pass, on a once popular route linking the Middle East with Central Asia and Central Asia with the southern provinces in India. One of the more popular luxury items carried along this route was lapis lazuli from the mines of Badakhshan which are still being worked today. The two main periods of intensive lapis trade date from ca. 2300 B.c. and 1350 B.c.; the probable date of the hoard is ca. 2300 B.c. (on display, National Museum, Kabul).

Three small mounds near Daulatabad in Faryab Province ex-cavated by Soviet archaeologists produced fine, well-fired Bronze Age clay vases and footed vessels dating ca. 2000 B.c. (V. Sarianidi, 1969). A series of Bronze Age mounds given the general designa-tion of (D)ashli greatly expanded the picture of Bronze Age life ca. 1500 B.c. north-west of Balkh. Dl is a large plastered mud-brick fort-qala surrounded by farming settlements.


Mother goddess figurines, right, from Mundigak, left, from Deh Morasi Ghundai, 3rd Millennium B.C. (h. 5cm)


Here utilitaiian pottery, fine ceramics and imported wares from Iran were found together with jewelry and stone and bronze compartmented seals. Weaponry included sling balls as well as bronze and copper weapons. In an intrusive burial during the end of this period goat skeletons were found surrounded by many delicate ceramic vessels of high quality.

D3 was a much larger complex in two sections. A circular temple building 150 m; 492 ft. in diameter had an inner wall and an outer wall with nine projecting towers. Across from this temple there was a monumental palace with stepped pilasters on its outer façade surrounded by massive walls and a moat 10 m; 33 ft. wide and 3 m; 10 ft. deep. Not far away several extensive Bronze Age graveyards are being systematically looted by illegal diggers. Bronze seals, pins, mirrors, weaponry, unguent jars and various styles of jewelry grace the sidewalks of Kabul; graceful paper-thin pottery of elegant shapes bespeaking great sophistication lie abandoned by the ravished pits.

Another three-period farming settlement (ca. 1300-500 n.c.) was excavated at Till Tepe near Shibarghan (V. Sarianidi, 1969, 1971). Fortifications are conspicuous and numerous clay missiles and bronze projectile points were found.

Deh Morasi and Mundigak also provide tantalizing evidence regarding early religious developments. Casal suggests a religious use for a large white-washed, pillared building, its doorway out-lined with red, dating from the 3rd Millennium B.C. at Mundigak. At Deh Morasi there is evidence of a possible altar. Built of fire-burned bricks, the shrine complex contained several objects sug-gesting religious ritual: goat horns, goat scapula, a goblet, a copper seal, hollow copper tubing, a small alabaster cup, and a pottery figurine of classic Zhob Valley style. These pottery figurines are generally considered to represent the mother-goddess, being at once voluptous in form, to symbolize her power over life and fertility, and, terrifyingly ugly, to symbolize equal power over death and the horrors of the dark, mysterious unknown. (On display, National Museum, Kabul)

Deh Morasi was abandoned about 1500 B.C., perhaps because of the westward shift of the river. Mundigak continued to survive and to suffer two invasions before it was abandoned about 500 years later after an existence of 2000 years. The caves of Aq Kupruk and Darra-i-Kur, however, contain evidence of continuous occupation. Indeed, retaining walls and hearths belonging to modern nomadic groups occupy the attention of the excavators as each prehistoric cave site is opened. Some men never took to a sedentary life, and still don't. Nomads have always been a part of the Afghan scene.