The Pre-Historic Period in Afghanistan


Abdul Hai Habibi



Pre-historic excavations in Afghanistan were started by European archaeologists in 1936. Stone implements dating to the Third Stone Period, and pottery and iron implements of Chalcolithic period were found during these investigations. From these scientific finds it has been deduced that human civilization existed in Afghanistan and adjoining lands as early as 6000 years BP because in the Anu region near Merv copper finds have been found. Pre-historic relics in regions neighboring Afghanistan have been found at the following sites:

1. Harapa in Punjab. These are the plains east of the Hindu Kush mountains where a city and development has been discovered.

2. Mohenjodaro. This site is situated in Sind where a city has been excavated. The contour of a city, streets and shops are evident. The streets include a drainage system and bins for the disposal of rubbish.

In the city statues of the Goddess of Creation, pottery, cotton, gold and silver jewelry, other metals together with industrial implements and metal statues have been found. All these objects are preserved in a museum of the ancient city. Among the delicate finds small statues of elephants and the drawings of hefty oxen have been discovered also. Some carry an inscription but the writing has not been interpreted as yet.

The Mohenjodaro civilization, spread between Harapa and Mohenjodaro, in the Indus (Sind) valley for a distance of one thousand miles without interruption to the east of Afghanistan. It was four times as large as the Babylon and twice the size of the Egyptian civilization. It is famous for its buildings, clay pottery and working instruments. It has been concluded that this civilization spread throughout the Indus valley and the cities of Harapa and Mohenjodaro were its northern and southern capitals. It had relations with western civilizations that spread as far as Babylon and about 4000 years BP a quarter for Indian traders existed in the city.

Archaeological finds of the Mediterranean shows that the people of the Indus valley made counting instruments and balances. Excavations at Harapa indicate that the majority of people lived in two story houses and most houses had a well, bathroom and an underground reservoir. The common people, workers and artisans, lived in small double room houses that were separate from each other. The cities of these pre-historic people had numerous citadels that were most probably used for grain storage.

The ruins of the latest civilization of Harapa show the misery which the people encountered. Most of the houses have been destroyed and the city, which was well designed and structured, has been laid to waste. From this state of affairs it has been concluded that the people came under the attack of western Aryans who destroyed their civilization. Even though the Harapa scriptures have not been read it is clear that the inscriptions belong to the period before the migration of the Aryans. The wheels which were pulled by horses were made by a people who spoke in the Indian and European languages but those of the Mohenjodaro and Harapa were pulled by sturdy bullocks as is evident from drawings of the time.

Similar civilizations have been found in the southern parts of Afghanistan in Nal wa Jalawan, Lorlayee of Baluchistan, Nad Ali of Seistan and some parts of southern Iran. The civilization stretches up to the Mediterranean and is related to people who resided there before the arrival of the Aryans. In the archeological finds of these areas statues of the Goddess of Creation have been found which resemble those of the Indus civilization. It is therefore possible that their religion, beliefs and culture were similar.

The archeological finds of Qala-e Gul Mohammad, a mound situated a few miles northwest of the city of Quetta, shows that the ancient residents of this land did not know the art of making earthenware pottery. They used stone knives, bone needles and implements resembling pointed spears. They were a nomadic people among whom the making of houses and buildings was not prevalent. In later times they started making earthenware pottery and buildings. Archeologists consider it the pottery of Zhobe valley. Pictures of gazelles and cattle are seen on the pottery. Large quantities of bones have been found in their homes indicating that these people were meat eaters and used stone mortars to grind grain. Iron implements are missing among the finds and some of the earthenware is shaped in the form of the letters T-A-W-V. Such shapes have not been seen elsewhere, therefore archeologists have not come to any conclusion regarding these finds. The civilization is estimated to be 6000 years old.

The borders of the pre-historic civilization of Harapa have been extended to the Rann of Kutch of India. Between the years 1954 to 1965 relics were found from various mounds in the area. These finds are similar to the Harapa civilization. This areas lies south of the city of Rajkot.

In Afghanistan pre-historic sites have been discovered in several locations.

1- Sir Mark Aurel Stein, Roman Ghirshman and Thomas Hocken conducted excavations in Nad Ali, Zaranj of Seistan, Qala Kang and Sarotar before the Second World War. They found stoneware, various kinds of weapons, arrows, decorated bows, silver earrings and bone implements. Scholars consider these to be similar to the finds of Anu of Merv, the archeological excavations in the west and those of the Indus valley. They have come to the conclusion that a large civilization extended from the Indus to the Nile valley, including Afghanistan, during this time.

In Tapa-e Dagh, Ghirshman dug 12 m deep pits in a 30 m high mound. He was successful in finding relics that date back 3000 BP. He stated that if we dig another 21 meters it is possible to find relics dating back 6000 BP which could be related to the Indus valley, Mediterranean and Egyptian civilizations. In this area there are numerous mounds which may contain remnants of ancient civilizations.

2- Pre-historic relics have been found in excavations conducted in the Arghandab valley and Panjwayee, west of the city of Kandahar. Similarly pre-historic finds have also been discovered at the Badawan cave and Deh Morasai. These civilizations are related to those of the Indus valley, Punjab and Baluchistan. Statues of the Goddess of Creation have been discovered at these sites.

Ancient relics dating back five thousand years, excavated in 1966 at the Mundigak mound, 66 km southwest of Kandahar, represent a pre-historic civilization in the Arghandab valley. This civilization shows that the barren Keshk-e Nakhud valley, which lies west of Kandahar, was fertile three thousand years ago. The land was under irrigation with water from the Keshk-e Nakhud river which is dry at the present time. The last civilization in the valley dates back three millenniums and the area became dry due to inclement climatic conditions. This area was the crossroad of the people living in Herat, Farah and Helmand to the Rakhd valley (Arghandab), Psheen and Indus valleys. It extended all the way to the Tarnak valley and Ghazni up to the outskirts of the southern Hindu Kush mountains.

The Mandigak mound represents 15 stages of development from 6000 to 3000 BP. At its last and uppermost strata grain storages have been found. The depots are rectangular in shape and the walls are made of mud mixed with straw. Despite their smaller size they are totally similar to the storage facilities of the Harapa excavations. In the lower level bedsteads were kept. Since the edifices of the storages have been found at three levels it is believed that the repository was used during different eras.

The upper level has guard rooms. From these rooms earthenware, stone arrowheads, slingshots and earthen sling balls have been excavated. This shows that the guards used these implements to protect the grain. These implements date back 3000 years. In front of the storage rooms square stones in the ceilings are present and the northern side of the structure contains bricks. The front area has a huge opening which is surrounded by a large number of smaller rooms. Relics of a large palace can also be seen. It includes huge pillars made of semi-circular uncooked bricks embellished with artwork and white paint. Even up to the present time the majesty and size of the structure is evident in the pillars. Implements found in the palace include a brass knife with a bone handle, intricate pieces of pottery, weapons and a statue of Aditi, goddess of prosperity. It has close resemblance to the idols found in Baluchistan and Sind.

In other mounds, which were built prior to the one discussed above, living quarters for people have been discovered. A kitchen, together with kitchenware, has been excavated including a large number of mortars and their pounding handles. It is possible that the place was used as a pharmaceutical storage. In other rooms an oven with brick tiles and incomplete spears can be seen. The roofs of most of the rooms are inclined and the outer walls have spears and spear heads embedded in them. Seven human skeletons were discovered in the graveyard.

From bottom to the top the different strata of Mundigak mound vary. From the ground up to the ninth level remnants of nomadic life have been found. It can be said that the original dwellers were a nomadic and pastoralist people. The walls of the buildings were made of mud mixed with straw. After this uncooked mud bricks have been used in the following three levels. The earthenware at the lower level is simple but that at the upper level becomes sophisticated in workmanship. As the level of sophistication increases we come across china with artwork which contains the pictures of mammals, birds and floral designs. There are sketches of ibex with large horns, partridge, turkey and the leaves of morning glory. Embellished pottery is seen after the eighth strata upward and resemble the pottery excavated near Quetta. Brass and copper metals can be seen from the sixth layer onward. Carbon dating of the coal found there shows that it dates back to 4625 BP. According to Jean-Marie Casal, an authority on pre-historic era, the mound dates back to 5000 years. Therefore this civilization was probably older than the Mohenjodaro civilization of Sind.

3- Pre-historic finds have also been discovered in northwestern Afghanistan. Similarly pre-historic finds have been excavated in the northeastern section of the country also. These finds were discovered in October of 1962 by a team of Italian archaeologists. The Hazar Sum plain lies at the northern foothills of the Hindu Kush at an elevation of about 1000 m. This plain stretches 16 km northwest of Samangan and in the old times it was part of the great silk route and was used by people traveling from India via Kabul, Baghlan and Kunduz to China. There are numerous natural caves in the mountainside which were used as human dwellings where flint stones and stone burins have been discovered. Some of the structures date back to the time when man left caves and started to live in dwellings. Some of the blocks are 20 to 37 m long encompassing an area of 335 ha. Remnants of an irrigation canal from the Hazar Sum river with a wall extending 125 m along the canal have also been excavated.

The caves have triangular rooms with large niches in the walls which contain stone chairs. The walls are covered with stone slabs and the caves have fireplaces. The implements and drawings found in these caves resemble those seen in west European caves. The implements found at Hazar Sum are human figures; drawings of hands, animals and an assortment of lines and figures whose meaning is not clear.

Archaeologists compare the sketches of Hazar Sum with those found in Spain, Italy, Switzerland and Ireland. They have come to the conclusion that such drawings were common among pre-historic people. For example one drawing at Hazar Sum is in the form of a mushroom with a semicircle and a perpendicular line cutting through it. This drawing reflects the portrait of a human form showing its spinal chord and hands. It resembles similar figures which have been found in pre-historic relics of Spain, Italy and Ireland.

The use of lapis lazuli stone from Badakhshan in pre-historic Chalcolithic and stone implements period is prevalent. Artifacts found in the Sialk Kashan mound, Sumar, Mesopotamia, the tomb of Tutankhamun, the Egyptian pharaoh, and the Elam civilization contain lapis stones. This shows that this semi-precious stone from Badakhshan was famous six thousand years ago and it was used in lands as far away as Egypt.