Ancient cities discovered in Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, despite the complexity of the military-political situation, scientists continue to work. The Afghans try not only to preserve and tell the world about the past achievements of their science, but also conduct research and even make new discoveries.

Strange as it may seem, it was thanks to the war, or more precisely to the foreign military presence, that archaeologists got a new opportunity to explore Afghanistan. Unknown earlier ancient settlements, architectural monuments and other important objects of historical heritage are found with the help of data from spy satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) belonging to the US Army. Thus, more than 4,500 similar objects have been discovered, one of the leading English-language scientific publications, the journal Science, recently reported. The US military, which receives enough detailed information about the most inaccessible territories thanks to its reconnaissance vehicles, began to share it with scientists from Afghanistan and the United States.

From orbit – into the depths of centuries

Because of intensive hostilities, the most difficult for scientists are the mountain and desert regions of Afghanistan. However, they are the most interesting from the point of view of history: the routes of the Great Silk Road ran in these regions, once the rich settlements of the empire and kingdoms that had ceased to exist were located. And then the researchers came to help the drones.

With the financial support of the US State Department, archaeologists are analyzing data from US spy satellites, UAVs, and commercial satellites that take pictures of objects with maximum approximation. In November, a team of researchers reported on the discovery of 119 caravanserais, which were not previously known. They were built around the XVI-XVII centuries and served as trans-shipment points for merchants who were traveling with their goods along the silk route. Caravan-sarai are located 20 km from each other – at a distance that, on average, the travelers of the time overcame during the day. They ensured a stable and safe movement of goods between East and West. Each caravanserai has dimensions with a football field. It could accommodate hundreds of people and camels carrying cargo. This find makes it possible to specify the information on the part of the Great Silk Road that passed through Afghanistan and connected India with Persia.

Archaeologist David Thomas of the University of La Trobe in Melbourne, Australia, believes that tens of thousands of new historical and cultural sites can be found on the Afghan territory with the help of pictures. “When they are fixed, it will be possible to study them and put them under protection,” he told Science magazine.
Joint work on mapping Afghanistan based on information received from the military began in 2015. She was led by archaeologist Jill Stein from the University of Chicago. In the first year, scientists received a grant from the US government of $ 2 million.

Near the border with Uzbekistan, in the area of ​​the Balkh Oasis, thousands of previously unknown ancient settlements appeared before our era. This was done thanks to aerial photographs from UAV drillers of engineering units. Such images allow us to distinguish between objects 50 cm high and 10 cm across. Scientists analyzed about 15 thousand images.

Ancient settlements were located along the Balkhab River. They appeared during the millennium: the earliest – BC, the late – in the Middle Ages. Soviet scientists at one time managed to find only 77 ancient settlements in the area. Now it is clear that the area was much more populated than previously thought. An important role for the growth of settlements and the number of their inhabitants was played by the same Great Silk Road.

Among the objects that were supposedly built during the Parthian Kingdom period (it flourished simultaneously with the Roman Empire in the last centuries BC), irrigation canal systems and religious buildings were identified. Buddhist stupas (structures symbolizing the nature of mind and enlightenment in Buddhism – note “Ferghana”), shrines with inscriptions in Ancient Greek and Aramaic languages, Zoroastrian temples of fire worship. The border of Parthia in those days passed through the north of present-day Afghanistan and the southern regions of Uzbekistan. The findings show that the Parthians, who professed in the mass of their Zoroastrianism, were quite supportive of other religions.

Based on the findings, the team of the University of Chicago, led by Jill Stein, makes a geographic information system for the Kabul Institute of Archeology and the Kabul Polytechnic Institute, which will allow later local and foreign scientists to do detailed scientific research, and also help researchers from neighboring regions in their work.

Science and War

Given the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan between the government and various anti-government groups, it is extremely difficult to make fundamental discoveries, but it is possible to systematize and preserve the knowledge that has already been obtained. One of the most important institutions in this work is the National Museum in Kabul.

In the late 1990s, when the government in Afghanistan seized the Taliban movement, the museum was robbed. Except for a rich collection of coins (in it coins were issued from the middle of the first millennium BC to the end of the Islamic period), the remaining important exhibits disappeared. Among them there are many Buddha statues of the 1st-3rd centuries AD, “Begur” items from carved ivory in Indian style, metal products of the Ghaznavid dynasty (the capital of their state in the X-XI centuries was 90 kilometers south-west of the modern Kabul) and other valuable monuments of the country’s history and culture. Later, many of them were found in the antique markets of Islamabad, New York, London and Tokyo.

Yet some of the most valuable artifacts were saved, thanks to timely evacuation. According to researcher Olga Tkachenko, after the overthrow of the Taliban regime by the US Army and the forces of the Northern Alliance, Hamid Karzai, who was acting head of the transitional government of Afghanistan, in 2003 announced the exhibits preserved in the Central Bank shelters. At the same time, a number of states collected $ 350,000 to restore the main Kabul museum. In September 2004, the repair work was completed, and the museum opened again.

“One of the greatest successes was the rescue of” Bactrian gold, “secretly placed in the repository of the Central Bank under the decree of President Mohammad Najibullah. By the time of the opening of safes in Afghanistan, archaeologist Victor Sarianidi was invited, the discoverer of the treasure, which confirmed the authenticity of the treasure. Gold, however, was not returned to the museum funds because of a poor security situation. The Afghan government has agreed with the US on temporary storage of the treasure until the situation in Afghanistan stabilizes, “Tkachenko said.

Subsequently, various artifacts “surfaced” abroad were returned to the museum. Several exhibits in 2007 were returned from Germany. In the same year, Switzerland handed over the finds collected by the so-called “Museum of Afghan Culture in Exile”. In 2012, 843 artifacts were returned from England.

In 2011, the restoration of the main building of the museum and its archive was over. The sponsor of the reconstruction was the German government. It allotted about a million dollars. Two years later the work on the new entrance was finished, the wall around the territory of the monastery territory and the tower were completed. The US government allocated a grant for these works. Now the museum can be visited by anyone – he works as a museum in any peaceful country.


Difficulties in the work of the museum create a neighborhood with the famous Palace of Dar-ul-Aman and the building of the Afghan parliament, where terrorist attacks periodically occur. The keepers of the museum are amazing people who remained sincerely devoted to science (in which the author of the material was convinced personally), in spite of the experienced and continuing troubles of his native country.

The situation in Afghanistan does not allow for large-scale excavations in rural areas, especially in areas that are poorly controlled by government forces. Nevertheless, archaeologists manage to carry out limited work. For example, in 2012-2013, with the support of the French Embassy, ​​excavations were carried out in the Narinj Tapa district of Kabul. The finds were transferred to the National Museum exposition.

Wandering gold

Since 2006, the world’s leading museums host an exhibition “Afghanistan: Hidden Treasures of the National Museum of Kabul”. The exhibition presents more than 230 exhibits, some of which are over 2 thousand years old. Today, according to scientists, the exhibition of treasures of the National Museum of Kabul is one of the most important reasons for attracting scientific attention to the history of the country torn by the military conflict and the ancient culture of the peoples inhabiting it. It is within the framework of this exhibition that the famous collection of Bactrian gold is exhibited.

The first place of the exhibition was Paris, where the most valuable artifacts of Afghan history were exhibited from December 2006 to April 2007. Further the exhibition has visited Italy, Holland, USA, Canada, Great Britain, Sweden and Norway. In 2013, the treasures of Afghanistan reached the Australian Melbourne. Revenues from the exposition for these years have supplemented the Afghan budget by $ 3 million.

“Bactrian gold” refers to a unique collection of gold products found by the Soviet archaeological expedition led by the famous scientist Victor Sarianidi in 1978 in the vicinity of the city of Shibirgan, in the northern Afghan province of Dzauzdzhan. It was under the layers of hill soil, which the locals called Tillya-Tepe (“golden hill”), because they sometimes found there gold items. First, archaeologists dug up the ruins of the Zoroastrian temple, whose age was estimated at 2 thousand years. In its walls found a bookmark of gold coins. Next, we succeeded in discovering seven royal tombs from the period of the Kushan kingdom, the heyday of which occurred in the 1st-2nd centuries AD. There were about 20 thousand gold objects in them. “Bactrian gold” has become the largest and richest treasure ever discovered in the world.

It is noteworthy that the exhibition has not yet been in Afghanistan and Russia itself. But if in the case of Afghanistan the reason is obvious – the lack of security guarantees, then why Bactrian gold does not get to Moscow, it remains to be only guess. In an interview with National Geographic in 2014, the French historian of nomadic art, Veronica Schiltz, said: “I’m sorry that Russia is so far away. Items from Tillya-Tepe deserve serious research at the international level and with the obligatory participation of Russia, where the tradition of studying the culture of nomads is strong. And the exhibition in your country [in Russia] would also be a wonderful occasion to present the archives of Sarianidi to the public. ”