Pre-Islamic Art of Afghanistan and Pakistan

A Survey of Research Interest

  • Piotr Balcerowicz (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Art is a part and a manifestation of culture, and, accordingly, research on the art of a given region is necessarily related to the research on its culture and history, and it cannot be separated from archaeology and history, on the one hand, that provide research material, and, on the other, from anthropology and cultural studies that reveal the ‘language’ of cultural symbols through which given objects of material culture can be ‘read’ and interpreted. The research area outlined in the title is a rather unspecified territorial patchwork, in the case of which it is impossible to talk about a uniform culture or a historical and cultural continuity. It is a vast region, which, throughout history, provided an environment in various segments of which various cultures developed and separate political entities were formed. It was an area of intense migration of various peoples, of which the two most important were associated with the nomadic Indo-Iranian, or Āryan, tribes that reached the territories of present Afghanistan and Pakistan in the middle of the third millennium BCE, and the Turkish people of the first millennium CE. The Indus River and the Sarasvatī River, no longer existent, from the east, the basin of the Amū Daryā River, including the so-called Transoxania, to the north, and the desert belt between Herat and Kandahar to the west could be accepted as the customary natural geographical boundaries of this region. The paper presents a survey highlighting certain aspects relating to the research conducted on the pre-Islamic art of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The region as such is enormous enough, both in its territorial and historicalcultural dimensions; therefore, understandably, the literature on this subject is correspondingly extensive, which in itself calls for a separate bibliographic volume, making it impossible to adequately discuss even the most important topics. Consequently, the present essay must necessarily be fragmentary and arbitrary when it comes to the choice of topics and is far from even approximating a systematic review.