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The Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project 

About us

Ceramic finds from DAFA archaeological excavations, with DAFA Director Philippe Marquis (middle). Photo by Arezou Azad.Ceramic finds from DAFA archaeological excavations, with DAFA Director Philippe Marquis (middle). Photo by Arezou Azad.Oxford University's 'Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project,' funded by the Leverhulme Trust has a dual aim of undertaking new research on Afghanistan's early Islamic history, and in building the capacity of Afghan colleagues in cultural heritage research.

Since September 2011, a team of scholars in the UK and abroad has been studying the textual and material culture of Balkh in northern Afghanistan. Historical Balkh (near modern-day Mazar-i Sharif) was one of the oldest, largest and most important cities of Afghanistan until late medieval times. The study opens up exciting new areas of knowledge on Afghanistan's pre-Islamic past, and the way in which Islam was incorporated into historical memory. The project will go on until September 2014.

The project involves a team of experts with specialist knowledge on Afghan archaeology, coins, ceramics, and Persian and Arabic texts. The project partners with several research and cultural heritage organisations in Afghanistan, including the Ministry of Information and Culture, the Kabul National Museum and the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (DAFA).

Management of the project is the responsibility of Edmund Herzig who organises the logistics of fieldwork, ensures budget planning and implementation, oversees the collation of results, and undertakes analyses subsequent to field work. James Allan, an experienced architectural historian, advises Edmund for the duration of the project.

Arezou Azad, co-manages the project, and oversees the textual survey and critical edition and translation of the Fada'il-i Balkh. She works closely with Ali Mir-Ansari. Paul Wordsworth is Research officer on the team, and is investigating the wider landscape of Balkh, analysing trade routes and regional hydrological networks. Both he and Michael Athanson are working on the digital cartography of the city. Other team members include Pierre Simeon, and Stefan Heidemann, who take responsibility for artefact analysis. Hugh Kennedy and Tasha Vorderstrasse work with textual sources in Arabic and Chinese respectively. Robert Hoyland has held a seminar series in Kabul on the early Islamic history Afghanistan and Central Asia. Each international team member has partnered with Afghan scholars for training and communication purposes. Nicholas Evans, a doctoral student in Oxford, worked through dozens of reports by Soviet archaeologists on Bactria; an intern Zeinab Alsadat Azarbadegan carried out London-based research in the India Office Records to support the mapping team, and helping in the planned Dari version of the BACH website.

Banner Image: Tepe Rustam of Balkh, thought to be the old Buddhist temple site of Naw Bahar. Photo by Arezou Azad