Prehistory and early history of Afghanistan


Paleolithic (Old Stone Age) peoples possibly roamed Afghanistan as early as 100,000 years ago. The earliest definitive evidence of human occupation was found in the cave of Darra-i-Kur in Badakhshān. Transitional Neanderthal skull fragment dating back to about 30000 years ago from middle paleolithic period was discovered along with Mousterian-type tools. Evidence of an early Neolithic (New Stone Age) culture (c. 9000–6000 BCE) based on domesticated animals came to the fore at Caves near Āq Kupruk. Archaeological research post World War II has brought to the fore Bronze Age sites, dating both prior and later to the Indus civilization of the 3rd to the 2nd millennium BCE. There was definite trade with Bronze Age Mesopotamia and Egypt, main export being lapis lazuli from the mines of Badakhshān. In addition, a site with certain links to the Indus civilization has been unearthed at Shortughai near the Amu Darya, northeast of Kondoz.

Historical beginnings (to the 7th century CE)

The Achaemenids and the Greeks

Achaemenian ruler Cyrus II (the Great) established his authority over the region in the 6th century BCE the. Darius I (the Great) consolidated Achaemenian rule of the area through the provinces, or satrapies, of Arachosia (Kandahār), Aria (in the region of modern Herāt), Sattagydia (modern Ghaznī to the Indus River), Bactria (Balkh) and Drangiana (Sīstān).

Alexander the Great deposed the Achaemenids and subjugated most of the Afghan satrapies before leaving for India in 327 BCE. At the confluence of Kowkcheh River and the Amu Darya at Ay Khānom, ruins of an outpost Greek city founded about 325 BCE were discovered. Excavations there yielded inscriptions and transcriptions of Delphic precepts written in a script influenced by cursive Greek. Architecture is dominated by Greek decorative elements, including a huge administrative centre, a theatre, and a gymnasium. Endgame for Greek era at Ay Khānom was a nomadic raid about 130 BCE.

The Seleucid dynasty, which ruled from Babylon, received the eastern satrapies, after the death of Alexander in 323 BCE. The territory south of the Hindu Kush was ceded to the north Indian Mauryan dynasty about 304 BCE.

The Kushans

Bactria was wrested from the Bactrian Greeks by a loose confederation of five Central Asian nomadic tribes known as the Yuezhi in about 135 BCE. These tribes united under the banner of the Kushān (Kuṣāṇa), one of the five tribes, and conquered the Afghan area.

The Sāsānids and Hephthalite

The Kushān empire did not survive after Kaniṣka for too long, however for centuries Kushān princes continued to rule in various provinces. Persian Sāsānids established authority over parts of Afghanistan, including Bagrām, in 241 CE. In 400 a fresh wave of Central Asian nomads under the Hephthalites took control, only to be defeated in 565 by a coalition of Sāsānids and Western Turks. From the 5th through the 7th century many Chinese Buddhist pilgrims continued to travel through Afghanistan. The pilgrim Xüanzang wrote a significant account of his travels, and several of the religious centres he visited, including Hadda, Kondoz, Bamiyan, Ghazna (Ghaznī), Shotorak, and Bagrām, have been excavated.

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