The Importance of Afghanistan in Light of

Central Asian Archaeology


Abdul Hai Habibi


The mountainous country of Afghanistan lies in the heart of Asia under the Pamir mountains, known as the roof of the world. It is located on the eastern and western route adjacent to the Indian sub-continent in the pastures of Central Asia.

Afghanistan is a mountainous country with high, rugged mountains. The Pamir mountains adjoin the great Himalayan and Karakoram ranges. These mountains have permanent and seasonal glaciers which are the main source of water for its small ad large rivers in all directions.

From the geographic and historical perspective Afghanistan is a huge rocky monolith with vast plains and rivers. It weather is Mediterranean and it lies at a crossroad where eastern, western, northern and southern Asia meet. As a result of this it has served as a home to mankind from the time of cave dwellers to the present day. It is a country where different groups of people and civilizations have lived and thrived in succession one after the other.

Accordingly archaeological finds reveal that the land of Afghanistan and adjacent countries like Iran and the Central Asian republics, the lands of Trans Oxiana, the Indian sub-continent and parts of China have all gone through the eras of the stone age, Neolithic periods, pre-historic and historic periods. Since Afghanistan is a land which was at the crossroad and the birth place of these periods therefore it plays a vital role in historical research of these eras.

In recent years the Qara Qamar cave of Samangan, in the Hindu Kush mountains, reveals that cave dwellers lived in this area during the Paleolithic period dating back from 10,000 to 32,000  BC during period of the first cave dwellers in Afghanistan. Archeological excavations conducted in Mandigak mound, 50 km. north-west of Kandahar, between the Helmand and Arghabdab rivers, reveals the last stages of the Neolithic period and the initial stages of the bronze age about 3000 to 5000 years ago. From this we can estimate that between the early Paleolithic and Neolithic periods a span of 20 to 30 thousand years exist in Afghanistan and about 10,000 BC waves of Indo-European dwellers existed between the Syr and Oxus rivers. With the passing of time the center of this civilization moved from Syr Darya toward the Oxus. These people lived in the area for several thousand years rearing their livestock, especially horses, which is a symbol of this region. The people made Balkh and Bakhtar the cradle of their civilization and later spread to other river valleys of Afghanistan.

Archaeological excavations conducted by Sir John Marshal in Harappa and Mohenjodaro of the Indus Valley shows that six thousand years ago the Sind region had a grand civilization with cities which had roads, public baths and waste water management system. Agriculture was prevalent among the people and they cultivated wheat and barley. They were in possession of horses, cattle, camels and herds of sheep. They used strong bulls for the transportation of goods, were capable of making exquisite jewelry from gold, silver and copper, made weapons and tools from copper and used calligraphy. This civilization spread from the Indus Valley to Afghanistan, Iran and as far as Egypt. Archaeological finds from this civilization have been discovered in Naal wa Jalawan, Qala-e Gul Mohammad of Baluchistan, Anu near Merv and Sesitan, Mandigak, Deh Murasi of Kandahar, southern Iran, Iraq and Egypt. The finds include colored bowls, bricks, pottery, jewelry, seals, lapis lazuli figures, and idols of mother goddess. Artifacts found in different locations resemble each other. Based on these finds John Marshal declared that similar human civilization existed 6000 years ago in the Nile Valley, Euphrates and Tigris, Helmand and the Indus Valley.[1] According to Sir Aurel Stein, the Helmand and Seistan valleys, based on their geographical locations, played a vital role in the development of the pre-historic Chalcolithic civilization.

The preponderance of the idols of mother goddess found from the Indus Valley to the Nile is an indicator that the mode of worshipping of that period resembled each other throughout these regions.

Since similar figurines and idols have been found in Bactria, Kandahar and Seistan in Afghanistan. We can say that religion, thought and civilizations between the nations and people were transferred from the Indus Valley as far as the Nile in ancient times. The people of Afghanistan, not only had a strong bond with this ancient civilization, but were also instrumental in the transmission and fostering of the civilization.

The Aryan Period:

As mentioned above human habitations has taken place in Afghanistan since pre-historic times and the people who lived during that era had a specific civilization, culture and thoughts and they shared these affinities with the people of Indus Valley, Iran and Trans-Oxiana.

After the pre-historic period, about which we have little information but may be able to obtain further information regarding the language and culture of the time, a period of extensive migration of the Aryans started with Afghanistan being once again the center of the movement of different groups of people. We have at our disposal old literary relics from which all the people of India and Europe benefited. In particular this land served as the cradle and center of civilization for the people of Afghanistan or the ancient Aryans during historical times.


About four thousand years ago the Arya (noble ones) people lived in a land known as Aryana-Vaego.[2] This word means the land of noble and bona fide people.[3]

It needs to be mentioned that the term Aryana-Vaego existed among the Indian Aryan migrants also but instead they called their ancient land Arya, Arya-Varsha or Arya-Varta.[4] During the second or third century BC this name has been mentioned in Manu-Samhita.[5]

The migration routes of the Aryans:

According to Avesta the white Arya, who lived in Aryana-Vaego or Ariana-Varsha, as a result of climatic changes and lack of food, spread across the banks of the Oxus river, in Bactria of Bakhdi as far as the foothills of the Hindu Kush mountains. Old Avesta and Vedic ballads relate to their life in the realm of Afghanistan. According to P. Giles, professor of comparative philology at Cambridge University, the people domesticated some animal species and were able to recognize certain plants. Around 2500 BC they lived in Bactria in the north of Afghanistan making use of hand made tools.

As a result of an increase in population and other natural factors these pure Aryans left their central homestead and moved to present day Afghanistan (Bakhdi and the northern valleys of Afghanistan), after which they migrated to the east and west. By means of the eastern routes of the Spinghar Mountain they went to the Indus Valleys of Punjab. Similarly by way of the northern mountain tracts of Khorasan and Herat they migrated to Iran and even Minor Asia. As a result they disseminated their Bactrian language, culture, religion, thoughts, folklore and tall tales of bravery to the east and the west. Similarities of their traits can be found in both hemispheres and as a result we see that both Aryan religious books, Avesta and Veda, are similar to each other. A stone tablet dating to 1400 BC, found in their capital near Boghaz-Koi of Asia Minor, shows that a group of people by the name of Maitani, who were of Aryan descent lived there. The names of their princes, gods and mythology are similar to the Vedic and Avestan Aryans. From this we can conclude that around 1500 BC the Aryans had a common civilization, culture and religion which spread from India to Asia Minor.[6]

The Bakhdi or Central Aryans:

After the migration of the Aryans from the center of Bakhdi some tribes stayed in Bakhdi or Bakhtar and the foothills of the Hindu Kush. They called themselves Bakhdi (Bakhdi-Pakhat-Pusht-Pashtun). These people are known to have participated in the great battle of the ten Aryan tribes along the banks of the Parushni (Ravi) river and they have been recorded as the Paktha people.[7] Similarly in the oldest Aryan book, Veda, the name Pakhat (the Pashtun people), their princes and other prominent figures have been mentioned repeatedly.[8] From this we see that around 1400 BC Pashtun tribes and culture existed along the banks of the Ravi river and old Pashtun tribal names from that time such as Turayana, the name of a Pakhat king,[9] exist among the Pashtun tribes up to this day. In present day Pashto it is used as tura-wahunie meaning a swordsman.

Similarly the names of Dasa, Brisaya, Pani and Paravata tribes, who lived along the banks of the Sarasvati river, which flows between Dehrawud and Arghandab and   according to Hillebrandt they were among the people of Arakozi (present day Kandahar)[10] who until this day are known as the Dasu, Pani, Parvat and Barech among the Pashtuns of Zabul and Zhobe.[11]

According to Vedic ballads and later literature, until the writing of Mahabaharta, we see that Aryan tribes migrated from the Oxus region and northern Hindu Kush to the south. They followed the Kabul (Kubha), Karam (Karomo), Gomal (Gomati), and Swat (Swasato) rivers to the banks of the Indus (Sindhu) river and from there went to Punjab (Sapta Sindhu) or (Hapta Hindu) meaning seven rivers. Later they journeyed to the heart of India and drove the local people to the south.

Indian scholars, who have studied Sanskrit texts, know where the original abode of Indra was, their northern domicile or the cradle of the Baharta tribes?

Based on the research of European scholars we can deduce that the cradle of the Baharta tribes was Balkh from where they spread to the east and west. In Vedic literature this cradle was known as Balhika which has been mentioned in Atharva-Veda. In Mahabaharta it has been recorded as Bahlika. Panini, the writer of Sanskrit grammar, during the 4th century of the Christian era has mentioned the Bahlika tribes as Balkhis.[12] In Avesta, among the 16 Aryan nations, the 4th was Bakhdi.[13] The Bakhdi people were said to live in Bakhdim Sariram (Beautiful Balkh). According to Avestan scholars the the letters associated with this name were (bae-khe-zal-yae). In Pahlavi literature it was Bakhl and Bakhli, which is considered to the the root of the name Bakhtar.[14] According to Jackson, in the Pahlavi copy of Avesta (written in the 8th century AD), which was discovered in Samarkand, the name was Bakhl Bamik. In Dari literature it has been recorded as Balkh Bami.[15] The European scholar, Vale De Poussin, also corroborates this name. As mentioned earlier the Vedic Pakhat and Paktus of Herodotus stem from the Avestan root Bakhdi and Bakhti which later became Bakht, Pasht and Pashtun, which now comprise a large nation in the middle of Asia.

There are indirect indications in Mahabaharta, relating a number of migrant Indian tribes to Balkh and Bactria. The legendary ancestress Bhadra of the Madra tribe was the wife of a person by the name of Vyushit-Acva, who is associated to some degree with historical and Bactrian dignitaries. The use of the word Aswa, whose Pashto form is Aspa, was common in the names of Balkhi dignitaries.

Panini, the great scholar and the writer of Vedic grammar Asht-Adhyaya (meaning the eight lectures), lived during the 4th century BC, near the confluence of the Kabul and Indus rivers near Attak. He refined and organized the grammar of the Vedic language and named it Sanskrit meaning The Perfected language.[16]

Since Panini was raised among Pashtun tribes residing west of the Indus river his statements are more reliable than those of the Balhika tribes. Vale De Poussin is also of the opinion that the Balhika are the people of Balkh who were famous among the Aryan- Indian migrants and tribes.

Beside Sanskrit documents the father of Greek history, Herodotus, who was a contemporary of Panini during the 4th century BC, has mentioned several tribes from Afghanistan as Paktiuke, Gandarioi, Sattagudoi, Dadikai and Aparutai.[17] According to scholars of Herodotus, these tribes are Pasht and Pashgtun and Gandahari (the Gadara of the Darius inscription), Skitak (the Hepthalite Thatagush), Tajik, and Afridi, who are to this day considered the honorable people of Afghanistan and have stayed in their historical abodes since the time of the Aryan migration. The name of a central city of these tribes, Peshawar, has been written in Hecataeus’s writings around 500 BC as Kaspapuros in Gandara. In the Shapurwal Parthian-Greek tablet of Rustam in Fars, discovered by a team of archaeologists from the University of Chicago dating to 260 AD, Peshawar has been mentioned as Pashkiboura.[18] Later it has been written as Barshapur in Sanskrit, Pu-lu-sha-bu-lu-hiun by Hsuan-Tsang, the Chinese traveller, and as Parshapur, Farshabur, Farshawar and Peshawar during the Islamic period. From this it can be deduced that these people lived in this land from ancient times to the first century AD and if they were among the Aryan people who participated in the battle of ten tribes along the Ravi river, their descendants have stayed in the ancient land of Afghanistan.

The expression five tribes which is Pank-Jana in Sanskrit included the Druhus, Yadus, Turvashas, Anus, and Pourus tribes. Chandra Das, professor of ancient history of India at Calcutta University is of the opinion that all the famed Baharta tribes should be included in this conglomerate. The famous personality of the five tribes was Paurus and his progeny Pouravas had kinship with the Baharta conglomerate. These five tribes followed the same migratory path which the Baharta has used. That is they started their journey from northern Hindu Kush in Balkh and Bactria and went south spreading in Punjab and the flatlands of India.

Professor Das considers the main Indus valley in Gandahara as the abode of the Pourus tribe. It is true that among the various migrations of the Aryans they also settled in Punjab. However, a look at older migrations of the Aryans of similar race and origin we need to look at Afghanistan as their original abode. If we are to study Mahabahrta, Purana, Vedic and Avestan heroic verses and the Shahnama, analyze  them on the basis of comparative literature and folklore, we will see that the original migration of the ancient Aryans to Iran and India took place from northern Hindu Kush and the Oxus river basin. This statement is based on Vedic verses, Sanskrit and Greek literary resources.

We do not have the original Avesta in our possession but based on later Avestan texts and Pahlavi books we can extract important events about Balkh as the original abode of the sixteen Arya tribes. For further information the reader can refer to the first Fergard (Vendidad), a part of Avesta and Yashta.

The study of Avesta, on the basis of history, geography, Aryan tribes and their social, cultural, literary and religious traits is more inclusive than Vedic texts about our history. A comparison of Vedic and Avestan texts in the rationale of geography, history and valor ballads reveal the fundamental elements of our history together with its relation to adjacent countries in the north, east and west.

The striking similarity between the Avesta and Veda languages reveals that these two languages can be considered as two dialects of an older language. This similarity shows that the followers of Veda and Avesta at one time lived in the same place. Their habitation was along the banks of the Oxus river. The oldest of these Arya routes were along the Oxus river and Balkh Gazin, Bakhdim Sariram, Balkika, Bakhtar, Bakhl Bamik, Balkh Bami and Balkh-al-Hasna are all placed in this vast region. Old Indian and Iranian fables reveal the oldest epitome of Arian life in this region.

Just as the archeological finds of Mohenjodaro, the Anu mounds, Mandigak, the Salik mounds, and Jian in Afghanistan, Trans-Oxiana, India and Iran shed light on the presence of life before the Aryans, Sanskrit and Avestan literature introduces us to the homelandposterity, movement and waves of the white Aryans.

Afghanistan has a central location between India, Iran and Central Asia where the offsprings of the old Aryans can be found in the Hindu Kush valleys. These people have managed to maintain their culture, civilization and old dialects to a large extent. The inhabitants of central and eastern Hindu Kush and the tribal people of Safed Koh are salient examples of such people who have survived there. Beside Pashtu these people speak about 20 other languages among the crags of the valleys of these mountain ranges until this day. 






[1]Mohenjodaro and the Sind Civilization by Sir John Marshal, p. 8.

[2]Avesta-Vendidad-Fargard 1.

[3]The civilization of eastern Iranians, W. Geiger and Cambridge History of India, Vol 1, p. 73.

[4]Here we are not concerned about the differences of opinion between eastern and western scholars. Kama Ara and Aryan, also mentioned in Rig Veda, according to W. Geiger, are derived from Ara which in Sanskrit means pure, origin, and foundation. The word Arya means pure and noble. This word is in use in Pashto until the present time with the same meaning. Similarly the words vejo and veja are used in the Kandahari dialect of Pashto today meaning land and homestead (Rig Veda, Vol. 1, p. 207 and Ancient India of Panika, Vol. 1, p. 4).

[5]Cambridge History of India, Vol. 1, p. 15, with reference to Mano Samhita, para 6, poem 22. This word is in use in present Pashto meaning a productive pasture.

[6]Cambridge History of India, Vol. 6, p. 26.

[7]Cambridge History of India, Vol. 1, p. 86.

[8]Veda, Vol. 2, p. 18, ballad 17 part 2; Vol. 2, p. 15, ballad 22, part 8; Vol. 2,  p. 260, ballad 1, part 8; Vol. 2, p. 465,  ballad 61,   part 1.

[9] Veda Vol. 2, p. 65, ballad 641, part 10.

[10]Cambridge history of India, Vol. 1, p. 87.

[11]Hayat-e Afghani, pp. 118, 156, 241, 258.

[12]Refer to India in View of Panini.

[13]Vendidat, Fergard One.

[14]Avesta’s Dictionary, p. 14.

[15]Avesta’s translation, Vol. 1, p. 8 and Zorastrian p. 271.

[16]Vedic India, p. 80 and Encyclopedia Britanica Vol. 19, p. 954. The word (sum) in Pashto means one who is refined.

[17]History of Herodotus, book 3 pp. 91, 93, 94, 102; book 7 p. 66; book 1 pp. 75, 127. 

[18]The Pathans by Sir Olaf Caroe, p. 33.