The Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project 
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BACH Project News

Below are articles containing news items relating to the BACH Project. Click on a heading to view further information.

16th-17th January 2015

Forthcoming BACH Conference. Wolfson College, University of Oxford 16th-17th January 2015. Conference programme in pdf format. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

June 16th 2014

BACH team member, Paul Wordsworth, talks about road networks and the city of Balkh at the Oriental Institute, Oxford.

March 21st 2014

Four papers by BACH team members will present aspects of our research at the forthcoming 9ICAANE conference 9-13th June, 2014. (More details here)

June 12th 2014

The 9th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (ICAANE) is currently underway, at which five BACH members will be delivering papers. For more details please see here

March 19th 2014

On the 19th March 2014 Edmund Herzig presented "The Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project: New Research in the Urban History and Archaeology of Afghanistan and Central Asia" at the Institute for Research in Humanities, Kyoto University.

May 23rd 2014

Project member Paul Wordsworth in an online interview for the Centre for Advance Spatial Analysis, UCL, talking about BACH work in Afghanistan and the use of GIS in Central Asian archaeology. Click here to listen to the podcast.

March 4th 2014

Professor Stefan Heidemann will present aspects of the BACH numismatic research, at ISAW, New York

May 21st 2014

BACH member presents at the Edgar Wind Society, Oxford

9ICAANE conference 9-13th June, 2014

Four papers by BACH team members will present aspects of our research at the forthcoming 9ICAANE conference 9-13th June, 2014:

Azad, Arezou: 'The Landscape of Early Islamic Balkh'
Bessard, Fanny and Kennedy, Hugh: 'Patterns of Urbanism in Early Islamic Iran and Central Asia I & II'
Heidemann, Stefan and Naue, Matthias: 'Balkh. Lessons on Urban Growth from the Coin Finds'
Siméon, Pierre: 'New Data on Islamic Material Culture from the Central-Asian margins: Dehistan and Balkh ceramic studies'

The full provisional programme for the congress can be found here
For further details about the congress and registration please see the organiser's website

May 17th-18th 2014

BACH member chairs panel at conference on "Connecting the Silk Road. Trade, People & Social Networks (400-1300 AD)"

7 Feb 2014

Stuart Gillespie profiles the Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project in this week's Blueprint, the Oxford University staff magazine. Read the article here.

April 14th 2014

Forthcoming workshop on Bactria and the transition to Islam - a workshop on 'Bactria and the transition to Islam' will be held on the 10th-11th of May, organised by The Ancient India and Iran Trust, Cambridge, and the BACH Project. Please note that numbers are strictly limited so if you are interested in attending then please register as soon as possible. See this PDF for details

30 Jan 2014

Book launch for Sacred Landscape of Medieval Afghanistan - Revisiting the Fada'il-i Balkh by BACH member Arezou Azad at Blackwell's Bookshop Oxford

  • Brief Timeline
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دری ]

Bactra—the Greek name under which pre-Islamic Balkh was known—encapsulated Bronze Age settlements around 2,000 BC when its ancient water systems were built.

It was a province of the Achaemenid Empire (sixth century BC), the capital of the Hellenistic kingdom of Bactria and a part of the Kushan Empire that flourished in the first to the third centuries AD.

The first surviving textual mention of ancient Bactria is in the Vendidad section of the Avesta, the Zoroastrian Holy Book. Bactria (Baxtri) is mentioned in the trilingual inscription of the Emperor Darius I (r. 522-486 BC) at Bisutun and Persepolis as one of the Achaemenid satrapies (provinces). According to varying traditions, Balkh was founded by the mythical Iranian kings Gusthasp, his father Luhrasp, or the first man, Gayumarth. The Zoroastrian Prophet Zoroaster is rumoured to have died in Balkh.

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September 2011 - Launch of the BACH project

5-6 January 2012 - First BACH workshop in Oxford. Participants on the first day were limited to team members and special advisors to discuss the parameters of the BACH project, its training agenda, and practicalities, logistics and context. Day 2 included a wider audience of key experts on Afghan art, archaeology, documentary and narrative history of Balkh and comparable cities. Participants included Philippe Marquis, Roland Besenval, Edmund Bosworth, Nicholas Sims-Wiliams, Geoffrey Khan, Deborah Klimburg-Salter, James Howard-Johnston, Étienne de la Vaissière, Frantz Grenet, and Chahriyar Adle (by video link). Presentations were made on the basic topography of Balkh, the Nuh Gunbad (Hajji Piyada) site, and Zadiyan in the northern confines of the Balkh oasis, on coins, and Chinese and Arabic sources on historical Balkh. Comparanda from cities like Samarqand and Dehistan (Turkmenistan) were also considered.

April 2012 - First visit by BACH Oxford to Kabul conducted by Michael Jackson Bonner, aimed principally at working out the key elements and modalities for BACH cooperation on the ground, together with the Ministry of Information and Culture and the Délégation Archéologique Française en Afghanistan (DAFA).

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The Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage project (BACH) is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and is housed at the Oriental Insititute, University of Oxford.

This project focuses on the site of Balkh in the north of Afghanistan, south of the Oxus (Amu Darya) River. It analyses a selection of archaeological artefacts and unexplored texts against which hypotheses concerning the development of early Islamic cities can be tested. Balkh was in existence (as 'Bactra') since at least the fifth century BC, becoming a major economic centre and flourishing from the third century BC before being significantly reduced (but not abandoned) in the thirteenth century through the Mongol invasions.

The BACH project is not just about research. An essential element concerns training. Each of BACH's scholarly experts acts as a mentor and trainer to an Afghan trainee to analyse the material culture from, or textual finds on, Balkh. Trainees obtain daily on-the-job training during focussed visits to Kabul by BACH team members. The training follows a pre-determined curriculum, and includes reading lists of books and articles to be discussed during training. Trainees obtain stipends, and have the opportunity to engage with an international network through their mentors.

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Journal articles

Shaked, Shaul, "Early Persian Documents from Khorasan" Journal of Persianate Studies 6 (2013): pp 153-162

Azad, Arezou, "The Faḍāʾil-i Balkh and its place in Islamic historiography" IRANJournal of the British Institute of Persian Studies 50 (2012): pp 79-102

Azad, Arezou, "Female Mystics in Mediaeval Islam: the quiet legacy", Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient 56 (2013): pp 53-88

Siméon P., 2012."Hulbuk: Architecture and Material Culture of the Capital of the Banijurids in Central Asia (ninth–eleventh centuries)", Muqarnas, An Annual on the Visual Cultures of the Islamic World, vol. 29, pp. 385-421.

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