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archaeological site in Kandahar province in Afghanistan

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A visit to discoveries from Mundigak, a little-known Bronze Age and earlier [c. 4500-2000 BCE] site in southern Afghanistan. The objects are now at the Guimet, the French National Museum of Asian Art in Paris. Their similarity to objects and motifs in the ancient Indus Valley is remarkable. Examples include the pipal leaf, a rat trap, the humped bull, a bird whistle and classic goblets the Mundigak excavators called “brandy balloons.” There is even a stone sculpture which resembles the “priest-king.”

This 33 slide section is accompanied with excerpts from the writings of Jean-Marie Casal, who led the excavations at Mundigak in the 1950s, and the writings of other major scholars and archaeologists of the region. There are quotes from the lively on-scene memoir Time Off to Dig by the journalist Sylvia Matheson (1961), historic photographs from the site, and two dozen objects that remain largely unseen except when one visits the Guimet. Best of all, there are new more secure dates for Mundigak Periods I-IV . Finally, exciting new speculations by Massimo Vidale on the “Priest King” and the Mundigak head, and connections between Mundigak Palace and the “hut” motif of the recently discovered Halil Rud Civilization in Iran, are among the 7 new articles added by the world’s leading archaeologists filling in recent discoveries.

In the new The Archaeology of Afghanistan authors F. R. Allchin, Warwick Ball and Normand Hammond write: “The Helmand [river] is actually the only major perennial river located between Mesopotamia and the Indus River, and its importance in prehistoric cultural developments throughout this vast area between the Euphrates and the Indus cannot be over-emphasised. The location of Mundigak within the drainage of one of the main tributaries of this system is a major factor in understanding the cultural processes and phenomena which are reflected at this site.” (2019, p. 163)

Aerial View of Mundigak 1
“Jean-Marie [Casal] pointed. ‘There in front you see Siah Sang Pass—that is, Black Stone Pass.’
“We had turned north towards a line of low, black mountains spla­shed with one white patch. As we drove into the black hills, a feeling of foreboding seemed to sweep across us. The range was probably little more than a thousand feet above the plain, but so dark, so grim and completely barren, with such menacing black rocks, that it seemed the made-to-measure setting for a Shakespearian tragedy. It was a relief to emerge on the other side of the gloomy, winding track to see a large valley rimmed with grey-blue peaks.
“‘Mundigak,’ announced Jean-Marie, pointing across the valley.”
– Sylvia Matheson, Time off to Dig Archaeology and Adventure in Remote Afghanistan, London, 1961, p. 51
Mundigak is a site in southern Afghanistan near Kandahar, dated from about 3500 BCE to about 2400 BCE in its first four periods; afterwards there remains a lot of uncertainty. The quote above is from Jean-Marie Casal, in a memoir of accompanying the scrappy expedition in 1956 by Sylvia Matheson, an archaeological journalist in London who had tried for many years to make it to Afghanistan herself. “The results of these excavations still represent the major research effort concerned with the later periods of prehistory in southern Afghanistan,” write Cameron A. Petrie and Jim G. Shaffer in their lengthy piece on Mundigak in the The Archaeology of Afghanistan (2019, p. 161), an up-to-date synthesis of the available knowledge about the site and larger region, much expanded since it first appeared in 1978.
The story of Mundigak starts more than a thousand years before the mature Harappan civilization [c. 2450-2200 BCE]. By this time Mundigak IV, as Casal called it, had probably ended. The so-called “Palace” and “Temple” seen in the next images was built before this time, when Mundigak’s own development and importance, from the evidence of these buildings, would have peaked.
In The Rise of Civilization in India and Pakistan, archaeologists Bridget and Raymond Allchin write about “the relations between the upland valleys and the floodplains of the neighbouring Indus system, . . . an artery through which long-distance trade flowed. . .. It is probably this trade which provided stimuli for the development of an incipient urbanism in one part of the region, in southern Afghanistan and Seistan, leading to the growth of such sites as Shar-i Sokhta or Mundigak into towns or even ‘caravan cities’. One result of this interaction must have been that the many parallels between the material culture of this region and that of Central Asia, witnessed at sites of the Namazga I and II period [4500-3200 BCE in southern Turkenistan] continued to be a prominent features. The links between Central Asia, the Indo-Iranian borderlands and the Indus Valley seem to have been particularly strong and enduring, and must lead us to enquire whether they may not have involved more than mere trade. In the light of later history, and of the continuing movement of peoples down into South Asia from the north, one may legitimately expect movements of people to have been a major, if nowadays unfashionable, factor. We must also recall that – on the evidence of Mehrgarh – the beginnings of such contacts were already at this time at least fifteen centuries old.” (1982, p. 133)
Although very dry today, it ancient times the region might have been greener with seasonal rivers flowing south into Balochistan and Sindh. During Casal’s first visit in 1951, sudden thunderstorms flooded the valley and old river beds, nearly drowning animals at 1,800 meters (5,500 feet) in altitude. But the climate may not have been much different either, just a less denuded natural landscape in which the mounds of Mundigak once sat, and perhaps greater river flow.
Image: Satellite view of Mundigak from Google Earth and (inset): The Mound Before Excavation, early 1950s, from Jean-Marie Casal, La Civilisation d l’Indus et ses enigmes [The Indus Civilization and its Puzzles] 1969, p. 26 and photograph of him from a biographical website, and Sylvia Matheson onsite from her book.


Mundigak Mound and Tent 2
“The whole district was known as Kar Karez and the track eventually took us through a village called Mundigak, the name Jean-Marie had borrowed for the mound. High mud-brick walls, square, flat-roofed houses, all skirting the grey gravel of the river-bed, this was Mundigak village, but not our ultimate destination. The track still ran for several miles across the river bed and on to the next range of hills, but suddenly we turned off by a small cairn of white-washed mud-pise erected by the side of the road. This was the signpost to the dig.
“We turned towards the west across hard, dry, hilly ground split by crevasses and the stream beds through which no water flowed. We rocked and bumped, guided by the ancient tracks left by the vehicles last year and the year before that. Gradually the country resolved itself into a series of shallow mounds rising like air bubbles on freshly-beaten batter until we topped one of the bubbles to see the excavations crowning the highest mound of all.”
– Sylvia Matheson, Time off to Dig, p. 52
Jean-Marie Casal (above, 1905-77), the French archaeologist who excavated the site between 1951 and 1958 wrote: “The site is located in the valley of Kishk-i-Nakhod Rud, now a dry tributary of the Arghandab [River], which sometimes is transformed for a few hours into a clear river when thunderstorms fall in the neighboring mountains. At the height of the site, this valley is almost parallel to that of the Arghandab. It is by a narrow road winding on the side of an arid and parched mountain, all of black stone, that one reaches it from the valley of the Arghandab to where the site of Mundigak rises. Only a few kilometers wide, the plateau extends to 1,400 meters above sea level between two bare chains. A few green islands mark the location of villages where water comes from the foot of the mountain through underground canals (karez),. Debris cones mark the ungrateful plain like lines of molehills. several hundred meters from the river and about two kilometers from the few houses in the hamlet of Mundigak which gave it its name. It is from this hamlet, as well as from other villages in the valley, some of which are distant from a ten kilometers, from which comes the labor force employed in the excavations. Local resources are scarce, and it is from Kandahar that the main source of supply and potable water for the [French Archaeological] Mission must come. Despite the short distance [55 km], it takes no less than two and a half hours for each journey.
“Isolated as it seems to be now, the Mundigak site surprises by its onetime importance. At first sight, the eye is struck by this head, shaped by the cone-shaped erosion, about twenty meters high above the plain, and wide at the base of about one hundred and fifty meters, extended towards the West and the South mainly by larger but less tall tepes [mounds] which indicate the extension that this establishment once took. The scattered pottery on the surface which approximates the extent of the ancient occupations hardly covers less than twenty hectares.” (Jean-Marie Casal, L’Afghanistan et les problèmes de l’archéologie indienne, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 19, No. 3/4 (1956), from the French by Google Translate.)
Image 2, from Matheson’s Time off to Dig: “The camp at Mundigak, seen from the top of Mound A. The huts, our living quarters, are built of mud-pise [mud reinforced with straw]. In the foreground are remains of the earliest prehistoric dwellings, which had been buried under thirteen other habitation levels. The small oblongs with circles in the middle are the fireplaces. The photograph was taken on the last day of the dig when the workmen had gathered outside the mess hut to select their baksheesh.”


Monumental Terrace and Carved Head, Mundigak 3
One of the most exciting developments in recent times has been new chronologies of Mundigak, interesting because they put the palace and head in this picture before the height of the ancient Indus civilization. Here are the dates from radiocarbon analysis, with Mundigak V being the most imprecise. After Mundigak V, there were two more periods but the site seems to have been abandoned and archaeologists surmise that Kandahar became the major urban center in southern Afghanistan.
Mundigak Periods Recast
Period Casal 1961 Besenval/Didier 2004 Schaffer 2019
Mundigak I 4500-4000 BCE 3750-3500 BCE 4000-3500 BCE
Mundigak II 3500-3750 BCE 3500-3250 BCE 3500-3400 BCE
Mundigak III 3000-2500 BCE 3250-2750 BCE 3400-2900 BCE
Mundigak IV 2500-2000 BCE 2750-2500 BCE 2900-2400 BCE
Mundigak V 1900-1750 BCE 2500-2250 BCE unknown
Mundigak I [4000-3500 BCE, we will use Shaffer’s chronology throughout] seems to have been built on virgin soil, and perhaps had tents in the initial periods. Towards 3500 BCE the first mud-brick structures were found by Casal, single rooms made of brick with doorways, and interior ovens. Stronger foundations appear, with mud-bricks and some ovens and foundations made of paksha, or rammed earth, “compacting a damp mixture of sub soil that has suitable proportions of sand, gravel, clay, and stabilizer, if any” (see Wikipedia).
Mundigak II [3500-3400 BCE] had an increased number of structures, a possible cattle pen and feed trough, and exterior wall buttresses. “A very marked characteristic of Period II was a much greater density in the disposition of structures” write Shaffer and Petrie in their chapter on Mundigak in The Archaeology of Afghanistan (2019, p. 169). Central ovens appear and the likelihood of specialized manufacturing areas. “The overall picture is one of continuous rebuilding, reflecting internal population growth and shifts within a village settlement pattern. A significant development for Period II, however, is the possible existence of functionally distinct areas and structures within the settlement” (Ibid., p. 170).
Mundigak III [3400-2900 BCE] saw the construction of a retaining wall to expand habitation, wells, multi-chambered mud-brick ovens possibly used as potter’s kilns, small windows and more. Burials were found on Mound C, including one belonging to a lamb. “From Period I through IIIc the general impression has been one of structures and debris associated with multi-purpose activities necessitated by a sedentary agricultural way of life. After Period III, however, a very different picture emerges” write Shaffer and Petrie (Ibid., p. 172).
“Mundigak IV [2900-2400 BCE],” write Bridget and Raymond Allchin, “saw the transformation of the settlement into a town with massive defensive walls and square bastions of sun-dried bricks. The main mound was capped with an extensive building identified as a palace, and another smaller mound with a large ‘temple’ complex. The brick walls of the palace had a colonnade of pilasters. The city was destroyed and twice rebuilt during the period. An increasing quantity of pottery was decorated with a red slip and black paint, and there was a growing use of naturalistic decoration showing birds, ibex, bulls and pipal trees. Female figurines of the ‘Zhob mother goddess’ type are found, and these have their closest parallels in Mehrgarh VII, Damb Sadaat III and Rana Ghundai IIIC. This suggests that Mundigak IV corresponds with these periods in its earlier phase, while in its later phase it is contemporary with the Mature Harappan period. Further support for this may be found in the male head with hair bound in a fillet, made of white limestone, assigned to Mundigak IV.3. This piece has a certain relationship to the celebrated priest-king of Mohenjo-daro even if the relationship is not a direct one” (The Rise of Civilization in India and Pakistan, 1982, p. 133-34).
Mundigak V follows a period of abandonment after Period IV, and is “extremely problematic”, because is likely well after 2000 BCE. There was another large structure built on top of Mound A, but there is a pronounced dissimilarity between the material culture of Period V and “any other prehistoric culture yet defined in the area,” write Shaffer and Petrie (p. 186-7). There are also undated Mundigak VI and VII periods.
The “palace” and head shown above, however, is from the start of Period IV. “There is little evidence to definitely indicate that this structure represents a ‘palace’, but there can be no doubt that it was monumental,” write Shaffer and Petrie, “significantly different from previous and contemporary structures, and culturally important. However, to designate it as a ‘palace’ implies a degree and level of political organisation, which cannot be presently confirmed. The façade was embellished with a line of engaged semi-columns (henceforth ‘colonnade’). This distinctive architectural device is seen elsewhere in the Bronze Age such as at the ‘temple’ on Mound G at Mundigak (see below, where the engaged ‘semi-columns’ are projecting triangles) and at the ‘palace’ at Dashli, with its rows of external repeated projecting buttresses. It is possible that the device originated in fourth millennium BC at Uruk/Warka in Mesopotamia, in the cone-decorated engaged semi-columns at the ‘White Temple’, although such features might have originated locally in Afghanistan and subsequently have a long later history in Central Asia” (p. 173-4).
Jean-Francois Jarrige, a French colleague of Casal and the excavator of Mehrgarh, an even earlier (c. 7000 BCE) site roughly 400 kilometers southeast of Mundigak in northern Balochistan, argued for an influence from the south and east: “Work at Mehrgarh is enough to make obsolete the current interpretations development of sedentary life in the Indo-Iranian borderlands and more particularly in the greater Indus system. Evidence of a well-developed agricultural settlement, with very substantial mud-brick architectural features in the course of the seventh millennium B.C. at Mehrgarh, preceding no less impressive Chalcolithic and Bronze Age occupations, has helped us to underline the importance of the role played by the whole socio-cultural substrata of the early communities of Baluchistan and Sind in the genesis of the Indus civilization. It is no longer possible to believe, as had been the case, that the first occurrence of farming communities in Baluchistan and in the Indus valley resulted fro migrations from the Iranian plateau and southern Central Asia at about 4000 B.C. It is no longer tenable to attribute to these allegedly early colonizers from the West the foundation of Mundigak, a site excavated by J. M. Casal in southern Afghanistan in the 1950s. . . . This diffusionist theory has, in fact, prevented scholars not familiar with the data from perceiving the degree of urbanism reached by sites such as Shar-i-Sokhta and Mundigak expanded over more than fifty hectares, with a few monumental buildings surrounded by impressive defensive walls. Work conducted at Mehrgarh has clearly shown the the cultural assemblage of the preurban phases of Mundigak (Period IV) is closely linked to Baluchistan. The foundation of Mundigak can even be interpreted as the settling of people from Baluchistan who were probably aware of the importance of such a location for the control of nearby mineral resources” (The Early Architectural Traditions of Greater Indus as seen from Mehrgarh, Baluchistan, in Studies in the History of Art, Vol. 31, 1993, p. 25-26).
Clearly Mundigak fits into the cultural puzzle of formative influences around it, but it also could have been the source of innovations and motifs carried elsewhere.
Mundigak Palace 4
A decade later, after excavating the pre-Indus site of Amri in Sindh, Jean-Marie Casal published the book La Civilisation d l’Indus et ses enigmes [The Indus Civilization and its Puzzles] (1969). In the section Mundigak becomes a small town he wrote: “At this point in its evolution, Mundigak undergoes a profound and sudden change. The beginning of Period IV [2900-2400 BCE] was marked by the breakup of the village into a city. The inhabitants abandon the already high mound of ten meters, formed by the successive reconstructions of their houses, and they rebuild their homes at its foot. The abandoned mound is then leveled to serve as a pedestal for a unique monument. Its northern facade, the only one still standing over a length of 35 meters, was adorned with engaging columns and a frieze of merlons [solid upright section of a battlement in architecture or fortifications]. This large building in which we call ‘the Palace’ was made of raw bricks, as was the custom already for a long time for all constructions, but special care had been devoted to it. This entire facade was covered with a white plaster many times redone, and the door frame was painted red.
“Not far from the Palace, to the east [Mound G], stood another monument enclosed in a wall plated with buttresses of triangular section, at the same time the city surrounded itself with a double enclosure reinforced outside powerful quadrangular buttresses , and flanked along its length and at the angles of rectangular bastions. Although the erosion of the soil did not make it possible to find this outer enclosure over its entire length, the city, judging by the distribution of the remains of pottery from this period, should then have the shape of a square whose each side was about a kilometer long.
“This sudden transformation of Mundigak supposes a certain number of factors which were seeded during preceding periods. First, the economic factors. These major projects imply a community rich enough to have a sufficient workforce, freed from the imperative concern of producing their daily food. The political factor is the appearance of an authority capable of imposing itself on all others and of coordinating these available forces.
“The study of the material of this period and its comparison with that of better known sites suggests that this transformation takes place appreciably during the period which in Mesopotamia is the Archaic Dynastic, that is to say in the second quarter of the third millennium BC, around 2600. If Mundigak then becomes a small town, does this change respond to what Gordon Childe called “the urban revolution”? It does not seem to. The size of the city is still very modest and does not approach that of the large cities of the Near East or that of Mohenjo-Daro. However, the economic and social level reached must have allowed full-time workers: this is undoubtedly the case for potters, it is certainly also that of coppersmiths if we judge by the many objects and weapons of copper.
“The labour force was abundant enough to erect the Palace and ramparts as well as this monument whose enclosure was rimmed with triangular projections. The large size of what remains and existence, at the foot of the main building, of a small elevated room which housed an altar and offering tables, a pottery drain intended for draining liquid, the presence in the adjacent courtyard of another oval altar where the ashes were present, all prompted us to see a temple there. The name perhaps is too pompous, but there is little doubt that this building had a religious use” (La Civilisation d l’Indus et ses enigmes [The Indus Civilization and its Puzzles] (1969) pp. 65-68).
1. Mound A, Period IV, The Palace.
2. Door in the Colonnade, giving access to Passage I.
3. Large North-South Wall (all images from Jean-Marie Casal, Fouilles De Mundigak [Excavations at Mundigak], 1961).


Mundigak Palace II 5
“We must therefore consider the ‘ramparts’ as monumental structures in much the same way as the ‘palace’ and ‘temple’ are, part of an overall monumentalisation of Mundigak that marks Period IV. The command of resources to build these structures, plus the need to make a major architectural statement, implies a renewed status for Mundigak, of more than just a major settlement. Just what this status might be must remain a matter of speculation, but it does lend support to Whitehouse’s initial suggestion that Mundigak anticipated Kandahar as the regional centre. In this connection it is worth observing that a village and site just 3 km to the south of Mundigak (albeit with no material earlier than Parthian) preserves the name ‘Arukh’, derived from the Achaemenid Harahuvatiš/Greek Arachosia/Early Islamic ar-Rukhaj, the ancient name for the region” write Jim Shaffer and Cameron Petrie in The Archaeology of Afghanistan (2019, pp. 184-85).
Sylvia Matheson writes of her time with the excavations: “We were standing on top of the mound overlooking the camp— a wonderfully strategic and imposing site with the whole valley spread before us. We walked to the edge of a wide terrace with a complex of small rooms opening into each other. There was a high but not very thick outer wall and a very narrow entrance in the middle. This opened out into what seemed to have been yet another terrace now eroded and crumbling down the hillside. Stepping through this narrow opening from the outside, I found myself in a corridor barely shoulder-width; to my left had once ascended a steep narrow staircase; to the right the corridor led to an even narrower exit on die very edge of the main terrace. This tiny corridor had been full of spent arrowheads, clay sling bullets, spear heads and traces of fire; there was little doubt that it had been hastily built as some kind of fortification and had been fairly easily taken after a sharp assault.
“Back on the main terrace, lining the southern side to the right, stretched the famous colonnade. The columns were about four and half feet high, standing on a small platform; many thick coats of whitewash still clung to the columns in places, even now after they bad been deprived o f their protective sand covering and re-exposed to (lie elements for the past twelve months. I was surprised by the brilliance ofthe red ochre paint on the doorway that cut the colonnade at its western end. Even today well-to-do villagers whitewash their houses every summer and one can fairly safely reckon a year’s occupation for every layer of chunam, a kind of natural lime. Ginette Casal had managed to count twenty-nine distinct layers of this chunam on the walls of one room attached to the colonnaded building! This was only one of many examples we were to find of the un­interrupted pattern of thought and social customs that had prevailed for so many thousands of years in this conservative yet by no means historically tranquil corner of Asia.
“Right along the bottom of the colonnade ran a small platform or bench, about two feet wide, and the tops of the half-columns backed by a mud-brick wall were decorated with mud-brick merlons at arranged in a battlemented design.
The whole structure was made of mud brick and mud pise, fashioned indeed of the very soil itself, mixed with water and in some cases a little chopped straw, and baked in the heat of the sun. It would take a very well trained and acute eye to mark the difference between walls and filling in the course of excavation, although like a good many other things, once the buildings had been revealed they were unmistakable. There was too much to absorb on a first visit and even at the end of the season it was uncertain what purpose the entire structure served; it may have been a temple, it may have been a palace or a public building, but so far there was no proof, although by the end of the dig, like everybody else, I had my own pet theories.” (Time off to Dig, London, 1961, p. 57-58)
Matheson also discusses the finds on top of the structure seen here, the layers excavated before it was exposed and which had been built later, during Mundigak V (2400-2000 BCE?]: “It was, rather naturally, the tenth and eleventh layers that interested me most. The monument massif was well named. The rooms and i(i races of the colonnaded monument had been filled in with mud- brick debris to take the weight of the new building, a structure that appeared to Jean-Marie and Jacques like some huge truncated half pyramid of masonry cubes piled on top of each other. There was no masonry here, however, but only huge blocks of sun-dried bricks with extensive terraces that had been repaired several times while in use. The northern side of the main bulk of the structure was over­ shadowed by an even higher massive structure of brickwork that adjoined it and appeared to have been used finally as the pedestal for several rectangular cells. All this part of the mound was badly damaged by earthquakes. So little of significance had been found in ibis building that it was mainly the absence of finds of a domestic nature that indicated its function as a public building of some kind. There were a bronze knife with a bone handle, a few shreds of red pottery with deep purple designs, and one small terracotta figurine possibly of a mother-goddess, with crudely-formed features and two spots of black paint for the eyes. By contrast the breasts were delicately moulded with a necklace and pendant fading between them. It was more like the figurines found in the Indus Valley than those of the much nearer Zhob Valley in Baluchistan.” (Ibid., p. 101)



Mundigak Head and the “Priest King” 6
What are the similarities between these this white limestone head found at Mundigak in southern Afghanistan and the so-called “Priest King” from Mohenjo-daro?
Massimo Vidale offers a fascinating conjectural yet evidence-based discussion in his article A “Priest-King” at Shahr-i Sokhta? “Mundigak IV, 3, the context of the head found near the terraced building of Mundigak,” writes Vidale, “is contemporary to Shahr-i Sokhta [in Iran] late Period III to Period IV (Phases 3 to 0, ca. 2200-1800 BC . . . [when] all the stone sculptures of the same model from Mohenjo-Daro were notoriously found in the uppermost and latest layers of the city’s settlement, i.e. to late horizons grossly belonging (following the chronology established at Harappa) to Harappa 3C period, ca. 2200-1900 BC (Kenoyer 19901, 1991b) ” (pp. 5-6).
In other words, there is temporal continuity among this type of bust, which may speak of elites from the Kandahar-Helmand region including Shahr-i Sokhta having presence or ideological affinities with Indus beliefs or elites. “For which reason part of the people of different civilizations made and circulated across such an enormous area, and in the context of completely different societies, the same statuettes?” asks Vidale. While may not yet know many of the answers, there to be inescapable continuities between Mundigak and the Indus civilization of which there are probably more to follow in the coming years that will complicate our picture of the Bronze Age in the Bactrian-Indo-Iranian region.
Read A “Priest-King” at Shahr-i Sokhta?
Another article looks at another stone sculpture in this possible tradition Stone Sculptures from the Protohistoric Helmand Civilization, Afghanistan by George F. Dales.
1. White limestone head, Period IV.3 [c. 2900-2400 BCE], and the “Priest-King” from Mohenjo-daro
2. White limestone head, Period IV.3 [c. 2900-2400 BCE], limestone head images from Jean-Marie Casal, Fouilles De Mundigak [Excavations at Mundigak], 1961).
Painted Bowl 7
This painted bowl at the Guimet is from the Mundigak IV period, 2900-2400 BCE and involves some elaborate and very finely painted designs that could be an abstraction of the pipal leaf, sacred or of great reverence to Mundigak and Indus cultures. Nonetheless, Mundigak objects have a distinctive style from Indus objects, and bear much in common with another so-called larger Helmand Civilization site now in Iran, Shar-i Sokhta. This is true even if one supposes that at the time of this bowl, Mundigak, like the more northern Afghan site of Shortugai, was part of the Indus culture and traditions.
There is also little doubt that Mundigak site precedes the height of Indus civilization. “The Early Harappan (c. 3200-2600 B.C.) is made up of four regional phases,” writes Gregory Possehl “that are thought to be generally contemporary: the Amri-Nal [Sindh-Balochistan], Kot Diji [Sindh], Damb Sadaat [Balochistan], and Sothi-Siswal [Gujarat]” (The Indus Civilization A Contemporary Perspective, 2002, p. 40).
The so-called Mundigak III period (3400-2900 BCE) corresponds with this most closely, and follows a Mundigak I [c. 4000-3500 BCE] and Mundigak II [c. 3500-3400 BCE] periods. There are many similarities both with these Early Harappan cultures to the east and south, and traditions in the north and west, putting Mundigak at the crossroads of different emerging regional pre-Bronze Age cultures.
See Image 3 on the post about the article Shahr-i Sokhta and the chronology of the Indo-Iranian regions by Jean-François Jarrige, A. Didier, and Gonzague Quivronfor for similar designs and a drawing of the center of this bowl.
Pipal Leaf Goblet 8
“These balloon glasses are characteristic of the urban period [Period IV]. Most often, their decor includes either rows of caprids with an elongated body and hatching in the Iranian style of Susa II, or leaves of the pipal tree so frequent in the decorative repertoire of the Indus civilization” wrote Casal (Archeologia, Nov.-Dec. 1966, p. 37).
“Copper and bronze did not appear at Mundigak before the sixth level, in the form of a long pin with a flattened head pierced by a hole. The layers that followed—still all dwelling houses—showed the continuation of a well-established way of life with the same type of buildings and very little modification. The painted pottery improved considerably at this level and became abundant from the eighth level upwards. From the very beginning the pottery had been buff, and in the seventh level, side by side with naturalistic designs of leaves and so on, appeared pottery with a stepped motif, distinctive of the Quetta-ware. In the eighth level came the first signs of a “brandy balloon”—buff or rose-tan goblets exactly the same shape as present- day brandy glasses, a type of pottery that developed in the next two layers till the goblets were found in all sizes, some painted with ibexes and some with the leaves of the wild fig tree.” (Matheson, Time off to Dig, London, 1961, p. 100)
“Other trees may have also been held as sacred,” writes Jonathan Mark Kenoyer, “but for over 6,000 years, different cultures of the region have used the pipal tree as an important symbol. Heart-shaped pipal leaves, often arranged in groups of three, were commonly painted on small jars during the Early Harappan period before the rise of Indus cities. We find elaborate paintings of the pipal tree and its wide, spreading branches on large storage jars as well as smaller domestic vessels from the Indus period. Depicted in the Indus script as well as oe faience ornaments and shell inlay, the heart-shaped pipal leaf was reproduced in many contexts and styles throughout the Indus cities.” (Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization, p. 105)
Casal also noted that while “the shape of the tasting glass is generally reserved for a decor of naturalist inspiration borrowed either from the animal kingdom, or from the vegetable kingdom, and each one marks their own affinities. While the treatment of caprids [goats] is reminiscent of that of oxen in Kulli ceramics, the plant motif first evokes the pipal leaves which appear on pottery in the Indus valley.” (Quatre campagnes de fouilles à Mundigak, 1951-1954, pp. 171-2)
Jean-Francois Jarrige, Aurore Didier and Gonzague Quivron write in Shahr-i Sokhta and the chronology of the Indo-Iranian regions (2011), “More recently the excavations carried out by S.M.S. Sajjadi in the graveyard of the Shahr-i Sokhta from 1997 to 2000 have revealed a series of tombs dated to Period IV [ 2300-2100 BCE]. Tomb 1705 has provided a bowl decorated inside with stylized pipal leaves arranged in large volumes in the same style as the bowl mentioned above (fig. 12:8), and very similar to the examples from Lal Shah and Nausharo IC [2700-2600 BCE]. Other pipal designs founds on bowls in tomb 1705 (fig. 12:10) are obviously very close to decorations characteristic of the same area in Balochistan (fig 12:9, 11). These significant and complex designs cannot be submitted to fortuitous comparison, unlike the simple geometric motifs” (p. 22).
“Under the staircase a long, narrow room about the size of a small walk-in larder was now appearing. From it we took, one after the other, a series of perfect, buff-ware drinking vessels and goblets, as good as the day they left the potter’s wheel, and I tried to imagine that a housewife of long ago, storing her precious drinking vessels so carefully that four or five thousand years later I could find them just as she had left them.” (Matheson, Time off to Dig, London, 1961, pp. 95-6)
Image 2: Top portion of Figures Ceramic from Period IV [2900-2400 BCE] from Casal, Fouilles De Mundigak [Excavations at Mundigak], 1961.
Pipal Leaf Goblet 9
A painted goblet from Mundigak IV, dated from approximately 2500-2000 BCE. Note the stylized design accompanying the pipal leaf, also seen on the painted bowl opening this series.
Bridget and Raymond Allchin describe “the emergence of a Baluchistan ‘province’ of ceramic decoration . . .. Stylized plant motifs, particularly the pipal leaf, occur as well as less obvious plant and bird motifs. The art of pottery painting seems to have reached its peak in these regions in the late fourth and early third millenia, with the graceful fish or animals of the polychrome Nal ware, the naturalistic friezes of animals or pipal leaves of Mundigak IV, the ‘Animals in the landscape’ motifs of Kulli ware, recalling the ‘Scarlet’ ware of Diyala and Susa in south-west Persia, and many more. The whole of this development shows strong Iranian parallels, and many of the patterns and motifs can – in a general, rather than a precise way – be paralleled in Iran. Indeed, in broadest terms, the Baluchi style of pottery appears as a regional development. It is also interesting to wonder whether any of the designs were shared in the decoration of textiles. It is often striking to find in modern carpets motifs recalling those used anciently in Baluchistan” (The Rise of Civilization in India and Pakistan, 1982, p. 140).
Sylvia Matheson writes: “The monument colonnade had been suddenly and violently destroyed by attackers, probably the builders of the monument massif [the Mundigak V structure built on top of the Mundigak IV monument colonnade] and the creators of the coarse pottery. They were obviously an entirely different people from those who hail made the graceful buff “brandy balloons” similar to the Kulli-ware of Baluchistan and that of the Indus Valley, pottery that was tentative­ly dated at the second half of the third millennium.
“Now supposing a considerable number of the buff sherds had been found among the later coarse red ones, this could imply a mingling of the two cultures and a gradual absorption of one into the other. Or it might mean that someone on the dig had been careless in labelling baskets just at the time of transition from one layer to the next, and had mixed the two levels. Supposing the red pottery had been found among the buff of the earlier layer? The confusion that this must arouse can best be visualized by imagining’ hat you were exploring the ruins of a bombed council house in London just after the war. If you found a seventeenth-century coin you might assume with good reason that (a), the victim of the air raid had been a numismatist, or (b) that the house had been built on the site of a much older one from whose foundations had come the coin, or (c) that it had even been dropped by a careless present-day passer-by.
“Supposing you were digging a Saxon burial mound and had gone through a foot or so of obviously undisturbed soil and there among the warrior’s bones and the weapons and sherds of funerary pottery in your finds basket, you discovered a piece of a Picasso dish! Know­ing your site you would assume that someone must have deliberately “planted” the twentieth-century sherd in the ground, or carelessly dropped it in the wrong basket. But imagine how confusing thu sort of thing can be when you are digging a completely unknown, undated site!
“As Sir Mortimer Wheeler once said, ‘Pottery is the alphabet of archaeology’ and, in order to read the language it spells, it is absolutely essential to keep the finds of each level completely separate.” (Time off to Dig, London, 1961, pp 91-92)


Painted Bowl 10
A Mundigak III (3400-2900 BCE) bowl.
J.F. Jarrige writes in The Early Architectural Traditions of Greater Indus as Seen from Mehrgarh, Baluchistan “Work conducted at Mehrgarh has clearly shown that the cultural assemblage of the preurban phases of Mundigak (period IV) is closely linked to Baluchistan. The foundation of Mundigak can even be interpreted as the settling of people from Baluch who were probably aware of the importance of such a location for the control of the nearby mineral resources. The remains from period I at Mundigak fit perfectly the cultural assemblage of period III at Mehrgarh, dated to the end of the fifth and the very beginning of the fourth millennium B.C. Now that we know that the Chalcolithic phase of Mehrgarh is directly llinked to more than two millennia of local Neolithic tradition, early Mundigak no longer appears as a seminomadic settlement of colonizers from Iran or Turkmenia.” (Studies in the History of Art, Vol. 31, Symposium Papers XV: Urban Form and Meaning in South Asia: The Shaping of Cities from Prehistoric to Precolonial Times (1993), p. 26)


Mundigak Stone Seals 11
The center stone button seal is from Period IV (2900-2400 BCE), while the right most stone button seal is similar to ones from Period II (3500-3400 BCE) and Period III (3400-2900 BCE).
“Stone seals appear in Mundigak in their most crude form of Period II [3500-3400 BCE]. They are flat and carry two perforations intended for a hanging cord. More elaborate, but still adorned with geometric designs, they multiplied in the following periods. Copper seals compartments, carrying on the reverse a perforated boss, will appear only when Mundigak is transformed into a small town.” (“Mundigak,” an article by Jean-Marie Casal, in Archaelogia Nov-Dec 1966, p. 32)
Casal further wrote: “Despite all these achievements, Mundigak lacks an important element of those that characterize an urban civilization: writing. We have never in fact discovered any document written in this point situated between the civilizations of the Middle East and that of the Indus which, at that time, had a fixed writing system. . .. It is also from Tepe-Hissar that come the compartmentalized copper seals with a small handle on the back. Appearing rarely from the first city levels, they will be found during its reconstructions in greater numbers side by side with the traditional stone seals.” (La Civilisation d l’Indus et ses enigmes [The Indus Civilization and its Puzzles] 1969, p. 68)
Asko Parpola in his overview Seals and Sealing in the Ancient World (2018, p. 130-131) discusses the Pre-Harappan Phase ca. 3500-3000 BCE in the evolution of Indus seals types and motifs: “For the Pre-Harappan and the first part of the Early Harappan Phase this sketch is based on Akinori Uesugi’s recent paper (2011). During the latter half of the fourth millennium BCE the regional cultures of the Greater Indus Valley reached a high level of development, and interregional interaction began. Round, square and rectangular button seals with geometric motifs and two holes in the middle for threading [see round seal above] are attested from Mehrgarh IV [3500-3000 BCE] and V [3000-2750 BCE] in Baluchistan. They have close parallels on the Iranian Plateau, especially at Shahr-i Sokhta II [2800-2500 BCE] in Seistan [Iran] and at Mundigak III in southern Afghanistan. One (broken) bone seal of this type (H-1521) comes from Harappa I.
“An ivory seal from Rahman Dheri IB [3000-2750 BCE] has two holes in the middle but figurative motifs (including a pair of scorpions). The early seals at Mehrgarh were found in compounds dedicated to crafts activities and possible storage (Frenez 2004); this is compatible with the evidence of the earliest seals from Harappa (Meadows and Kenoyer 2010).”
Image 2: Seals from different levels. A Stone seals. B Copper seals. (Casal, Fouilles De Mundigak, 1961)
Mundigak Stone Seals 12
The wide variety of seals found at Mundigak, mainly stone but also some copper, have deep material and stylistic connections with Central Asia (see two bronze Mundigak seals), and, towards the south-east, with sites recently found in Iran from between 4500 and 1900 BCE in the Jazmurian Valley, Iran. “In this period, the main ceramic comparisons concerning Eastern Jazmurian are with Shahr-i Sokhta III-IV and Mundigak IV.3 . . .” write authors Muhammad Heydari, Francois Desset and Massimo Vidale in the article Bronze Age Glyptics of Eastern Jazmurian, Iran. Similar motifs include “wavy lines” [Image 1, compare Image 5, above].
While similar design motifs do of course suggest interaction, the authors also say something about the specificity of Jazmurian seals that may hold for those from Mundigak as well; seals may have facilitated trade, but may also have had specific functions internal to a culture, town or city, perhaps more so in the earlier periods of seal manufacture: “Such apparent regional ‘seclusion’ of SEJ [Jazmurian] stamps contrasts with the general evidence of connectivity revealed by ceramics and the much-discussed trade in rare valuable commodities among various regions of Middle and South Asia in the Early Bronze Age. The picture of a local style and possibly local production—if confirmed by additional data—might suggest that these seals were involved in some form of elite economical or ceremonial activities, rather than in long-distance communication and exchange (but the fragmented, episodical nature of the record suggests that these hypotheses should be considered with caution)” (p. 150).
1. A stone button seal from Mundigak Period IV (2750-2500 BCE).
2. A stone button seal from Period IV (2750-2500 BCE). Note the possible pipal leaf motifs near the edge halfway down each side.
3. Among the earliest stone disc seals found at Mundigak, this is dated to Period II, 3250-2750 BCE.
4. Stone seal from an unknown period.
5. Copper stamp seals from Spidej, Chegerdak and Keshik. Drawings and photos by F. Desset.
Note: the crescents in images 1-4 are reflections from the glass.


The Mundigak Palace Facade and “Hut” Motif from Jiroft 13
“Two massive mud brick stepped buildings of the mid 3rd millennium BC were actually excavated, one at Tureng Tepe in the Gorgan plain (north-eastern Iran, Deshayes 1997) and a better preserved one at Mundigak in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan (Casal 1961; Dumarçay 1984),” writes Massimo Vidale in the superb article Protohistory of the vara. Exploring the Proto-Indo-Iranian Background of an Early Mytheme of the Iranian Plateau. “Both were badly eroded. The terraces of Tureng Tepe were probably embellished by semi-pillars, and in the main level at Mundigak (Image 1) rows of semi-columns painted red were crowned with an irregular frieze of stepped mudbricks creating chains of crosses or lozenges. Quite similar patterns (crosses or stepped triangles) feature, on the chlorite vessels, aside rows of possible semi- columns and hut designs (compare Images 2, 3 and 4 with Image 1; other illustrations in Hakemi 1990). That both the stone pots and the massive stepped building so far excavated took inspiration from similar architectural templates seems plausible” (pp. 9-10).
1. Graphic reconstruction of the façade of the stepped building of Mundigak (Kandahar, Afghanistan), very similar to the upper frieze of the chlorite vessels of 2 and 3. From Dumarçay 1984.
2. A cylindrical pot in chlorite decorated with the ‘hut’ motif at the Jiroft Museum. Photo M. Vidale.
3. An elaborated cylindrical vessel in chlorite with ‘hut’ designs combined with other geometrical motives, suggesting two and probably three superimposed storeys (or concentric ring-like sections). Graphic reconstruction by Sedijeh Piran; from Madjidzadeh 2003.
4. Another elaborated cylindrical vessel in chlorite with ‘hut’ and other geometrical motives arranged in two superimposed friezes, at the Jiroft Museum. Note the few surviving inlays in white shell and the geometrical pattern on the upper frieze, very similar to the façade of the stepped building of Mundigak. Photo M. Vidale.


Humped Bull Figurine 14
A humped bull figurine, similar to ones also found in Sohr Damb/Nal in Balochistan, with which Mundigak also shared burial customs in Period III [3400-2900 BCE].
Casal writes, after discussing the caprid [goat] types found on tasting glasses “Among the Iranian sites, those in the northeast are not the only ones with which Mundigak is in contact. . It is in the Susa region [western Iran] that we must look for inspiration, where the style of Susa II [c. 3900-3100 BCE] offered the same treatment of the body of animals to the period of the Archaic Dynastic II. If the style of Quetta [Balochistan], characteristic in Mundigak of the previous period and inspired by the style of Susa I [c. 4200–3900 BCE] is still maintained in the decoration of certain vessels, it is therefore new currents from the same region which now predominate, proof that the contacts with the Susa were a constant in Mundigak’s commercial life. The influence of Susa is not limited to Afghanistan. It extends to the north of Pakistan where American excavations have found, in the very region of Quetta, the same process of replacing the geometric style with a decoration in which animals with elongated bodies appear. But here the decor becomes Indian; it is no longer the caprids dear to Iranian art, but above all bovids which are represented and more specifically the humped bull.” (La Civilisation d l’Indus et ses enigmes [The Indus Civilization and its Puzzles], 1969, p. 68)

Bull’s head 15
Jean-Marie Casal writes “Note also that, during their occupation, the first occupants of Mundigak [which he thought were nomads around 4500 BCE, but now is dated more towards 4000 BCE] already how to make use of copper, the evidence for which was the discovery in the deepest layer of small hammered blades. They knew how to spin [cloth], for spindle whorls were found at the same levels. As for the bone needles, they were probably used to sew animal skins. Likewise, clay statues representing a humpback bull indicate that from the outset, a fertility cult with which the bull is generally associated was also present.”
Petrie and Shaffer add “Only four figurines, of humped bulls, were found in Sub-Periods I3–5 [4000-3500 BCE]. Casal stated that such figurines increased in frequency during Period II, but no quantification was given.” (The Archaeology of Afghanistan (2019, pp. 223).
For Casal this meant that “one can see distinct indications which link Mundigak to the Indian world in the significant number of figurines of bull which were found on all levels.” (La Civilisation d l’Indus et ses enigmes, 1969, p. 61, 65)
Tiger Goblet 16
“For analogies to the distinctive Kulli cattle we may turn northward to Mundigak,” writes Sir Mortimer Wheeler in The Indus Civilization “where Period IV (succeeding the ‘Quetta ware’ of Period III) is marked by elongated animals (oxen, goats or ibexes, felines) and birds, all with the distinctive dot-in-circle eyes and hatched bodies, buth with the environing ‘landscape’ which occurs at Kulli. Some measure of affinity nevertheless seems sufficiently certain. Far in the opposite direction, in the sheikhdom of Abu Dhabi on the coast of the Oman peninsula, the Danes have excavated on the tiny island of Umm an-Nar tumuli representing circular multiple tombs of masonry containing pottery of which one vessel bears elongated bulls separated by geometric panels, a pattern which, it is claimed ‘shows both in form and in style of decoration so great a resemblance’ to Kulli ware that ‘there appears to be no doubt’ that it belongs to the same period. This resemblance, it now appears, must be regarded as very uncertain; but some evidence of trade across the Persian Gulf is provided by a grey-ware canister of distinctive Kulli form, with forward-tumbling caprids, horned heads and triangles, found by the Danes at Buraimi, in the interior of Oman.” (1962, p. 17)
Image 2: Bottom portion of Figures Ceramic from Period IV [2750-2500 BCE] from Casal, Fouilles De Mundigak, Fig. 62, 1961.
Goblet Caprid 17
Casal writes: “Thus, on these tasting glasses then so fashionable, we see represented caprids, in particular, with the elongated body and covered with hatching, whose eye is represented by a point in the middle of a large circle, and drawn birds with the same style.” (La Civilisation d l’Indus et ses enigmes [The Indus Civilization and its Puzzles] p. 68, 1969).
Image 2: Top portion of Figures Ceramic from Period IV [2900-2400 BCE] (from Casal, Fouilles De Mundigak, Fig. 62, 1961).

Tiger Goblet 16
“For analogies to the distinctive Kulli cattle we may turn northward to Mundigak,” writes Sir Mortimer Wheeler in The Indus Civilization “where Period IV (succeeding the ‘Quetta ware’ of Period III) is marked by elongated animals (oxen, goats or ibexes, felines) and birds, all with the distinctive dot-in-circle eyes and hatched bodies, buth with the environing ‘landscape’ which occurs at Kulli. Some measure of affinity nevertheless seems sufficiently certain. Far in the opposite direction, in the sheikhdom of Abu Dhabi on the coast of the Oman peninsula, the Danes have excavated on the tiny island of Umm an-Nar tumuli representing circular multiple tombs of masonry containing pottery of which one vessel bears elongated bulls separated by geometric panels, a pattern which, it is claimed ‘shows both in form and in style of decoration so great a resemblance’ to Kulli ware that ‘there appears to be no doubt’ that it belongs to the same period. This resemblance, it now appears, must be regarded as very uncertain; but some evidence of trade across the Persian Gulf is provided by a grey-ware canister of distinctive Kulli form, with forward-tumbling caprids, horned heads and triangles, found by the Danes at Buraimi, in the interior of Oman.” (1962, p. 17)
Image 2: Bottom portion of Figures Ceramic from Period IV [2750-2500 BCE] from Casal, Fouilles De Mundigak, Fig. 62, 1961.


Mouse or Rat Trap 19
The caption at the Guimet identifies this as a rat trap, one of two similar ones found at the site. The sliding door on the left would have let a rat or perhaps another creature like a mouse in. Similar objects were found at Mohenjo-daro, also of terracotta; Mackay describes a similar one from there as “made on a wheel from the usual clay, with an admixture of lime and mica and it was cut off from it with a strong in the usual way, the edge of its open end showing clearly the marks left by the cord. The base was then flattened to prevent it from rolling; and holes were drilled in various parts of it after it had been baked” (E.J.H. Mackay, Further Excavations at Mohenjodaro: Being an Official Account of Archaeological Excavations at Mohenjo-daro, p. 427).
The holes seen here on the sides and top of the door were presumably used to lower a door, perhaps as part of a trap that drew the rat or mouse in (see Image 2 as Casal envisaged the trap working), as seen in other examples from ancient Iran and Egypt (D.C. Drummond, Pottery Rodent Traps A Preliminary List, 1980).
E. Cortesi, M. Tosi, A. Lazzari and M. Vidale see this in a similar light: “Two pottery mouse traps found at Mohenjo-Daro, in relatively recent occupation layers, can only be compared with two similar devices found at Mundigak, Period IV, 1 and one from Bampur. The technical principles of the traps found in the two protohistoric cities (Image 2) might have been different, perhaps involving the use of a knot at Mohenjo-Daro against a downward sliding pottery lid at Mundigak. Nonetheless, the overall similarity of the ceramic containers suggests a parallel adaptation, based upon shared know-how, for coping with common problems of rodent infestations in the “domestic universes” of the two civilizations. The specimens from Mundigak might be several centuries older than the Mohenjo-Daro ones, suggesting that such an adaptation was as widespread in time as in space.” (Cultural Relationships Beyond the Iranian Plateau: The Helmand Civilization, Baluchistan and the Indus Valley in the 3rd Millennium BCE, pp. 23-24).
Vase 20
Painted pottery from Mundigak IV, dated from approximately 2900-2400 BCE. Casal called it “pottery with geometric decoration.” The design is beautiful and alive, of a style current since Neolithic times in western Asia and South Asia, and might evoke the pipal tree motif (see the painted bowl).


Mundigak Houses 21
Sylvia Matheson captioned the above photograph: “Shade from the thick, mud-brick walls (which were on stone foundations) excavated in the residential quarter on Mound B provides welcomes relief from the sun’s heat during the midday meal. The large openings are doorways.” (Time off to Dig, facing p. 92)
Image 2 shows structures of dry stone and brick construction on Mound B at Mundigak.
Jean-Marie Casal wrote: “The structures consist of a network of small rectangular pieces oriented by their faces (left). Construction is made of raw bricks, plastered over and over and redone. The superimposition of the floors, the obduration of certain doors or windows, the hearths and traces of fire denote an active and continuous occupation there, as well as the great quantity of pottery, plain and painted, of daily use. The older of these two levels seems in any case to have preceded without interruption the one that follows it. Ceramics are distinguished by a higher proportion of the types of Quetta already noted on the 9th level of the main tepé. As for the structures (not yet entirely cleared), it seems that they have given the outline of the construction plan. The orientation is the same, as well as the geometric character of the plan. The most noticeable difference, for the walls, resides in the wider use of dry stones with earth mortar (right), covered with a coating of earth of which many traces remain. But, perhaps we have here only foundations; the continuation and deepening of this excavation therefore remains necessary.” (Quatre campagnes de fouilles à Mundigak 1951-1954 [Four Excavation Campaigns in Mundigak 1951-54], Arts Asiatiques, Vol. 1, No. 3 1954, pp. 163-178)
Pot Discovery 22
“Ebrahim uncovered a large storage jar on his side of the balk, set at the same level as mine, in the angle of a landing at the top of a little staircase. And what ajar! It was the only one of its size and shape found on the dig and it was decorated with the typically Quetta-ware “stepped” motif of the merlons over the colonnade, painted in diamond shapes, one inside the other, in black, white and a bright yellow that rubbed off as soon as it was touched. Only the rim was missing and even that was discovered later, fallen inside the jar. The only other fragment bearing this yellow paint had been a tiny scrap of sherd; here, it always seems to happen on digs, some of the most significant finds had been made within the last few days [near the end of the season], making it that much more disappointing when the time came to stop work.” (Matheson, Time off to Dig, London, 1961, pp. 143-44)
1. Matheson Caption: Using a paintbrush our Afghan colleague, Ebrahim, carefully removes the 5,000 years accumulation of sand which had hidden the black, bright yellow and white “stepped” diamond motif decoration of this unique vessel. Inside it were found the broken fragments of the rim, which enabled the jar later to be reconstructed” (facing p. 64).
2. Ceramic from Period IV, 2 [c. 2750-2500 BCE], from Casal, Fouilles de Mundigak, 1961.



Painted Pottery 23
Mundigak III (3400-2900 BCE) and IV (2900-2400 BCE) pottery with geometric designs.
Aurore Didier asks in his article The use of colour in the Protohistoric pottery from Pakistani Balochistan and from Mundigak (Afghanistan): Cultural Identities and Technical Traditions: “Distributed from southern Afghanistan to the Pakistani coast and from the Indus Valley to south-eastern Iran, the considered pottery productions show an important stylistical richness and a high craft skill. The attention paid to the polychrome pottery in the Indo-Iranian border-lands is relatively recent (Mugavero & Vidale 2003, Mugavero 2009), even more considering Pakistani Balochistan. The fragility of the pigments and their bad preservation might explain this situation. The considerable amount and the quality of the archaeological remains excavated by the French teams at Mundigak (Afghanistan) (Casal 1961), at Mehrgarh and Nausharo (Kachi-Bolan region, Pakistan) (C. Jarrige & al. 1995; Jarrige 1996) and in Pakistani Makran (Besenval 1997, Didier 2007) allow however to develop further studies (morpho-functional, stylistical and technical analyses) in order to better understand a specific craft tradition (the polychrome painting) developed during one millennium in one of the most dynamic pottery centre in Middle Asia. Can we assess the degree of innovation, development and complexity of the polychrome wares? Can we establish a relationship between the vessel forms, the decorative motifs and the coloured fillings? How can we explain the colour and material choices and the symbolism of cer- tain decorations? What is the role of these productions? On a larger scale, the matter is also to bring to light the outstanding dynamism of the cultural and material interactions in the Indo-Iranian borderlands (Pakistan, south-eastern Iran, north-western India, Afghanistan) and in southern Central Asia during the 4th and the 3rd millennia BC.” (p. 138)


Painted Bowl 24
Dated to Mundigak III (3400-2900 BCE).
In his article The use of colour in the Protohistoric pottery from Pakistani Balochistan and from Mundigak (Afghanistan): Cultural Identities and Technical Traditions, Aurore Didier writes: “The technological investment and the diversity of the polychrome wares in Balochistan and in adjacent areas raise the problem of their function in the studied societies. The development of this craft tradition might be linked with local tastes, functional needs or socio-economic reasons. In certain cases, polychrome wares might be socially valuable items for individuals or for the group, or integrated into the world of the social representation (for example, prestige goods manufactured to create power symbols or to strengthen an elitist picture of some groups). The increase of regional and extra-regional exchanges in the second half of the 4th millennium and in the first half of the 3rd millennium BC has obviously generated a period of emulation and a competitive social environment, which are physically expressed by these kinds of craft productions (Astruc et al. 2009). The occurrence of polychrome pigments in distinctive figurative systems may also witness a cultural or ethnic affiliation as it is the case for the decorated textiles used in and current past tribal groups from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Central Asia. However, the distribution of polychrome ceramics related to an identical decora- tive style does not suggest that they are produced in the same are. The morpho-stylistical and archaeometric analyses tend to show the existence of distinct local variants of the same pottery” (p. 147-8).


Mundigak Mound G “Temple” 25
The “Palace” was not the only monumental structure at Mundigak. There was also a “Temple” as Casal called it, on the adjacent Mound G and built along the same axis towards the latter part of Period IV [2900-2400 BCE]. It is another monumental building that we really do not know the purpose of.
“Only one construction phase could be determined, and it, like the last rebuilding phase of the ‘palace’, demonstrates a high degree of organisation. No entrance was located, but it might have been in the eroded south wall. A large rectangular structure with its eastern two-thirds divided into small rooms dominates the centre of the ‘temple’. The western part of this building consists of a large open area or courtyard. Centrally located at the north end of this courtyard was a large basin that was considerably elevated above the surrounding living surface. The immediate area was ash-covered and located directly behind the basin was a ceramic drain which extended east–west between the main wall and smaller L-shaped wall associated with the interior building. This smaller wall formed the western boundary of a little chamber interpreted as representing a shrine complex. In the south-east corner was a large square rectangular masonry structure with white plastered benches. A similar bench was found along the east wall. In the centre of the chamber was a large rectangular hearth painted red with a small step on the west side. The rooms to the east were of various sizes and a few of them had interior hearths and other small features. Although there is nothing to indicate that this was a religious structure, it was certainly not a habitation either. Whatever the function, it presents an interesting contrast with the rest of the site,” write Jim Shaffer and Cameron Petrie in The Archaeology of Afghanistan (2019 p. 182-83).
1. Mundigak G: view of the ‘temple’ from Mound A in 1966.
2. Plan and section of the Temple.
3. Mundigak G: view of the ‘temple’ showing triangular ‘buttresses (1. and 3. from Allchin, Ball, Hammond The Archaeology of Afghanistan (2019, pp. 183).


View of the Site Excavations 26
The expansion of Mundigak from Mound A to mounds B, D, E, F, G, H and I all seem to have happened in Period IV (2900-2400 BCE). “West of Mound A, Mounds B and D produced remains of an enclosing wall complete with square ‘bastions’. These structures were erected directly on virgin soil and consisted of two thick parallel walls of mud-brick resting on foundations of stone and clay. Regularly spaced rectangular projecting buttresses characterised the exterior wall, while the interior separating the two walls was divided into small rooms. The floors of these rooms had been raised significantly above the level of the exterior living surfaces. The frequency of stairways associated with these rooms indicates that access to either the roof or an upper storey was of some importance. This arrangement is seen in Oxus Civilisation architecture, and is also similar to the later Achaemenid ramparts at Kandahar, where the ‘rooms’ were interpreted as casemates,” write Allchin, Bell and Hammond (The Archaeology of Afghanistan, 2019, p. 179).
It is possible that much of Mundigak, at some point in Period IV, was surrounded by a mud-brick wall, possibly including the “temple” on Mound G.
Dr. Gregory Possehl, connects Mundigak to the Damb Sadaat Phase of Central Baluchistan [4500-2000 BCE]: “Contemporary with the Kot Diji and Amri-Nal Phases is a smaller, more localized cultural phase of the early Harappan, centered on the Quetta Valley. It rests on a long history of occupation in this fertile, well-watered valley. Quetta-Pishin is blessed with substantial subsurface water resources, available even to relatively primitive cultivators in the form of artesian wells. This valley is also the center of a natural corridor linking southern Afghanistan to the Indus Valley via the Bolan and Khojak Passes. . .. There are thirty-seven Dumb Sadaat sites, twenty-nine of which have data on size. They average 2.64 hectares. The largest site is the Quetta Miri (23 hectares), located at one spot in the Quetta Valley that has been occupied continuously from prehistoric to modern times. The next largest site, Mundigak, is 18.75 hectares and is in the Kushk-i Nakhud Valley of the Helmand River drainage, over 200 kilometers to the northwest of the Miri. Mundigak was a town during Early Harappan times” (The Indus Civilization A Contemporary Perspective, 2002, p. 44).
Mundigak, throughout its history, been affected by cultures to the west in the Helmand Valley and the Iranian plateau, to the north by cultures and traditions from Central Asia, and to the south and east, by Balochi and Indus valley cultures. Although there is nothing quite like Mundigak during the height of Period IV in Afghanistan, it was not independent of developments in a full circle around it.
Image: Aerial View of the Mounds, from Casal, Fouille de Mundigak, 1961.
Broken Round Object 27
A stone object of unknown purpose from Mundigak. There seem to have been two similar rounded open areas in the center of the circle.
Two Objects, one Unknown 28
Whetstones for sharpening copper copper blades. The grooved rock, Jonathan Mark Kenoyer suggests, might have been some kind of polisher.
Oil Lamps and Small Pots 29
A variety of oil lamps and small pots made of alabaster, as described in the Guimet’s caption, were discovered at Mundigak. Alabaster is a soft stone, typically light in color, translucent and easy to work with. According to Allchin, Ball and Hammond, this was the “predominant type of stone vessel” found at Mundigak, increasing in variety and from Period I through IV. (The Archaeology of Afghanistan, 2019 pp. 221-222)

Mound C Ossuary 31
This ossuary or collection of bones on Mound C is from the Mundigak Period III [3400-2900 BCE]. Towards the end of Period IV [2900-2400 BCE] , it seems as if the “palace” and “temple” were burned down, and not re-inhabited although other parts of the site were. Nonetheless, it is hard to draw too many conclusions since the definitions of the various sub-periods within Period IV remain open to reinterpretation and re-excavation. Sylvia Matheson writes here of the Period IV disjuncture:
“Had the conquerors set their surviving victims to work to level their own lovely buildings and raise up the coarse new ones, or perhaps the people of the Columns had been completely wiped out in the holocaust? Possibly the survivors had fled to the south or the west, escaping with their lives and their most precious belongings— perhaps the women and children fled before the enemy attacked, leaving only the menfolk to defend the settlement? Who could tell? For strangely enough, in spite of the slaughter that must have taken place, not a single human bone had been found among the ashes and the ruins of the houses and monument. The dead had all been removed perhaps to be given a mass burial. But if so, where? So far only one very shallow, communal grave had been found at the foot of Mound A, where seven bodies had been tumbled together as though in great haste and without ceremony. Could it possibly be that a mere handful of men was left to defend the temple palace in the narrow passageway, and that perhaps as a last gesture, they had made a concerted rush on the enemy at the foot of the slope, and seven of the handful had died, maybe one or two only managed to escape?
“Perhaps when the skulls of the seven corpses were examined (they were still in Kabul in their protective plaster), we would discover if they were indeed long-headed Caucasians.
“Perhaps, when the surrounding mounds have been excavated, some of the mystery surrounding Mundigak will be cleared up. I make no apology for letting my imagination run away with me in the meantime, for in Archaeology from the Earth Sir Mortimer Wheeler himself said, ‘we cannot properly understand the past unless we have a living sympathy with the human stuff which its relics represent…. We cannot understand for example, the structural mechanism of an ancient burial mound unless we can bring to bear upon its details a rational imagination capable of comprehending and vitalizing them . . . too often we dig up things, unrepentantly forgetful that our proper aim is to dig up people.” (Sylvia Matheson, Time off to Dig, London, 1961, pp. 108-109)
1.- 4. Mundigak Ossuary Period III [3400-2900 BCE], from Jean-Marie Casal, La civilisation de l’Indus et ses enigmes, Fayard, Paris, 1969, p. 64. These were the four images Casal included in his book Fouilles de Mundigak, Paris (1961) and identified as from the “necropolis” with Images 1 and 3 as Ossuary (C. 24), Image 2 described as an individual tomb (C. 21), and Image 4 as Ossuary (C. 27).
Pipal Tree Goblet 32
Jean-Marie Casal writes in his book on the enigma of the Indus civilization, in a section called The last days of Mundigak and the problem of Baluchistan: “In Mundigak, the destruction of the first city, roughly at the same time, is probably linked to the same cause. A heap of ashes near the rampart, sections of walls blackened by smoke and floors reddened by fire in the Palace bear witness to the violence and suddenness of the attack. It is likely that these events explain the the loosening of ties between Afghanistan and Turkmenistan and the already noted isolation in which the villages and towns of this latter region now appear to develop.
“Relieved for the first time from its ruins and soon again destroyed by an earthquake, the city of Mundigak will rebuild itself yet again but it will now decline. This decline, apparent in its constructions, in the abandonment where the ruins left of the Palace, is also apparent in the ceramics where we find old themes, impoverished and poorly executed, and where the preponderance of a bright red background, replacing the traditional cream background, indicates new links and influences from the south.
“Throughout this long gestation period of a culture, and through the vicissitudes that follow its development, we can only guess at the existence of forces still little known to us. If Mundigak gives us a general outline for the [history of] south Afghanistan, it unfortunately is not the same yet for neighboring regions. Balochistan, in particular, is so important because we can sense how events which took place there must have influenced civilization close to the Indus, but our understanding of its archeology is still too much fragmented.” (La Civilisation d l’Indus et ses enigmes [The Indus Civilization and its Puzzles] 1969, p. 74)
Image 2: bottom portion of Figures Ceramic from Period IV [2750-2500 BCE] from Casal, Fouilles De Mundigak, 1961.
General View of the Palace 33
It would have been an imposing site to stumble upon in 2500 BCE. It might have been even more imposing during Mundigak V [up to 1500 BCE?] when another monumental structure was built on top these colonnades, likely by a different culture or people who followed after a gap in habitation that lasted an unknown number of centuries.
“The function of this massive Period V monument is unknown,” write Allchin, Ball and Hammond, “but it is reasonably certain that it was not a habitation, as it was completely devoid of the usual habitation features such as interior hearths. Furthermore, there is no indication that these rooms possessed any sort of roof structure. The only indication as to the possible purpose of this structure was the location of a ‘human sacrifice’ just outside the foundation of the surrounding terrace, where several human bones including an infant’s jaw bone were found in association with the terrace wall foundation. The human ‘sacrifice’, combined with the stepped-pyramidal shape created by the terrace walls and the massiveness of the structure itself, is certainly suggestive, as Casal noted, of the Mesopotamian ‘ziggurats’, but other monumental structures are now known elsewhere, including Nad-i Ali in Sistan and Konar Sandal in south-east Iran (discussed below). Nonetheless, the exact function of this interesting building remains to be determined.” (The Archaeology of Afghanistan: From Earliest Times to the Timurid Period: New Edition, 2019 p. 188)
Sylvia Matheson writes about the end of her time with the excavation team: “That night the moon was full and yellow and shone with an in­ tense brilliance over the sleepy camp. Jacques and Achour took advantage of the light to go hunting for hares. The others went to bed, but I was restless. Putting on my striped quilted overcoat (for the nights were growing cold), I walked slowly up the side of Mound A to wander among the silent colonnades, the terraces, passageways, tiny rooms and spacious halls. What could this building have been? Who could have occupied it? What kind of people had they been and where had they come from? Where had they gone to, for that matter?
“I settled myself on a wall behind the columns and pictured the scene as it must have been so many thousands of years ago. Jean- Marie, like all good archaeologists, was too prudent to speak of his own theories at this stage, and unless something was found to pin- point the site, some form of datable writing for instance, it would probably be years before he could analyse all the finds, the plans, the photographs and notes, and say with any assurance who had built this great structure, what had been its purpose and who had caused its destruction. But I was no professional and nobody could stop me dreaming.
“What in fact did we actually know about Mundigak? First there had been the untouched mound as Jean-Marie had found it, rising like an upturned pudding basin some sixty feet from the soil and surrounded by its scattering of lower satellite mounds sprawling over twenty-five acres between it and the dried-up river. The river itself had probably disappeared even before the site had been aban­doned three thousand years ago.
“As we could see for ourselves, the mound was on the traditional caravan route from Herat and Girishk and the still fanatical Zamindawar country to the north-west, southwards to Kandahar, Quetta and the Indus Valley, north to Ghazni and Kabul. Jean-Marie and Ginette had begun their work in 1951 by cutting a trial trench right down the side of the main mound, but with the work of the intervening years this trench had been filled until today it was only a flattened track. It had shown them that there were at least thirteen construction levels roughly ranging from the end of the fourth millennium to the beginning of the first and it was more than likely that the actual occupation of these levels would have been by more than one set of people for each building. As we had been finding, the construction levels had in fact been altered and rebuilt several times by successive occupants over a long period.
“The Casals had begun then to concentrate on the excavation of Mound A. On the top level, just below the surface, the last occupants of Mundigak had built granaries and silos of mud-pise—earth mixed with water and chopped straw. Jean-Marie had concluded that these were granaries because, though much smaller, they were very similar in design to the great granary of Harappa in the Indus Valley, consisting of parallel rows of bench-high walls for ventilation.
“Near by had been the remains of coffer-like structures that might well have been grain silos and troughs for the feeding of the animals that brought the grain for storage. Three times these granaries and dins bad been rebuilt, one on top of the other with very little iteration of design, and that pointed to a fairly long and peaceful occupation, perhaps by generations of the same peoples. In the last occupation the silos had been replaced by half-buried jars. A large pillar made of debris and covered with a plaster of pise appeared to form a centre-piece from which branched tree trunks supporting a roof. The type of structure and of pottery found here seemed to point to a fairly primitive people whose quiet life came to an abrupt end about a thousand years before the birth of Christ. That they had some inkling of impending doom was obvious from the fact that the inhabitants built a small “guard-room” complete with a sentry-walk round the inside of the walls. Remnants of fire were found in the middle of the room, a large quantity of bullets of hard clay, used for slings, and of flint arrowheads. At the same time, the number of intact bowls and jars in the room indicated that the little- defensive post had been taken without much resistance. The victors, whoever they were, did not stay, and from that day to this Mundigak had been abandoned to the wind and the sand.” (Time off to Dig Archaeology and Adventure in Remote Afghanistan, London, 1961, pp. 96-98)
1. Mound A, Period IV, The Palace, Final Stage.
2. Model of the Ruins (from Casal, Fouilles De Mundigak, 1961)

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