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Asia Society
Homeland Afghanistan

Geography and Destiny For centuries, scarce resources and difficult terrain have required people in the Hindu Kush region to develop unique solutions to survive. But while geography has brought challenges, it has also offered opportunities. In Afghanistan, geography is a multi-sided destiny.

Identity and Perception Local, tribal, and religious identities in the Hindu Kush region have always shifted depending on one’s point of view. As Afghanistan decides what it means to be Afghan, it faces a kaleidoscope of moving perspectives.

Tradition and Modernization Afghans have always had to be flexible. At times, this flexibility has brought people together, and at other times it has torn them apart. Reconciling tradition and modernization means making sense of what’s at stake when people change--and when they don’t.

Traces and Narratives History is not always written. Much of what we know about Afghanistan comes from scattered artifacts, symbols, and oral traditions. Understanding these traces means piecing together the narratives that history leaves behind.

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Age of Settlement

Reveal Source

Bolwidt, Erwin. King vs. Lion. October 9, 2009. Persepolis, Iran. Accessed October 25, 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/erwinb/4084052020/.
Creative Commons license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Costume Fitting. 4th c. BCE. The British Museum, London, UK. Accessed October 25, 2010. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectId=434391&partId=1.
Gold sew-on clothing applique; in the form of two Scythian archers back to back, probably blood-brothers. Found in Kuloba.

Dupree, Nancy. 61-114-C. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Dupree, Nancy. 76-1430. Dupree Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Elishk. Persepolis. August 24, 2006. Persepolis, Iran. Accessed April 22, 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/elishka/236874317/.
Creative Commons license: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Lapis Figure or Amulet. The British Museum, London, UK. Accessed April 27, 2010. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectId=130033&partId=1.
This object was found in Egypt, but the lapis stone likely came from Afghanistan.

Lapis Fragments. The British Museum, London, UK. Accessed October 25, 2010. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_database/search_object_details.aspx?objectId=1422274&partId=1.

Malang. "Zerbaphali Solo." In Music of Afghanistan. Radio Kabul , 1961.
Distributed and managed by Smithsonian Folkways.

Mallard, Jonathan. Logar Sunset 2. January 21, 2009. Logar Province, Afghanistan. Accessed October 25, 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/mallard10/3352402714/.
Creative Commons license: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Powell, Josephine. Photograph: Great Mother Goddess. Special Collections Library, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

Q-00500-26. AMRC Collection, Williams Afghan Media Project, Williams College, Williamstown, MA.

Seated Male Figure from Mundigak. 3rd millennia, BCE. Kabul Museum, Kabul, Afghanistan. In Ancient Art from Afghanistan. New York: Asia House, NY.
Probably a toy rather than a cult image. This object resembles others of the type unearthed at Chanhu Daro in the Indus Valley.

Step Cups 1 and 2. 3rd millennia, BCE. Kabul Museum, Kabul, Afghanistan. In Ancient Art from Afghanistan. New York: Asia House, NY.
The "brandy balloon" goblets or stem cups from Mundigak have counterparts in vessels found at sites of roughly the same period in the Indus Valley. The antelope design on the present example resembles similar long-horned beasts on the pottery of Susa II.

The Hindu Kush region—what is today Afghanistan—had a terrain that seemed to determine the destiny of many who lived there. But with time, humans began changing that destiny. With agriculture came settlements and eventually a vast trade network, which led to the mightiest empire of the ancient world. The world was growing more complex—and there was no turning back.


Explore the ancient world.

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