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.

12-13 Jan 2014

IMG 4467Professor Oliver Watson and Dr Pierre Siméon discuss ceramic finds from Balkh. Over the coming months these sherds will be analysed in the archaeometric lab at Oxford.On the 12th-13th January 2014 the Balkh Art and Cultural and Heritage Project organised a meeting of international specialists, focussing on the history and archaeology of early Islamic cities in Central Asia. Discussions centred on the current state of research and critical research questions for future work in the field. Through the round table it was possible to draw comparisons between our work on Balkh and the results of current projects at other historic urban landscapes in the region, in particular the cities of Merv (Turkmenistan) and Bukhara (Uzbekistan).

12 Dec 2013

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2-6 Sep 2013

A panel of BACH team members entitled, "Balkh: Transformation of a Sacred City in the Early Islamic era" held at the ASPS convention, 2-6 September 2013

3 Dec 2013

Afghan colleagues visit to Oxford and Birmingham

photo 4

On Wednesday 20th November, the Balkh Art and Cultural Heritage Project were pleased to host two visitors from Afghanistan, Mr Hamed Reza Qarizada (National Archives, Kabul) and Mr Faridullah Farahmand (Kabul University) who are currently on an internship with the International Dunhuang Project (tag link at the British Library. During the day we had the opportunity to discuss at length the progress of the BACH Project, and introduce our guests to some of the Persian manuscripts currently held in the Bodleian Library, courtesy of Mr Alasdair Watson. We also managed a brief tour to see the extensive collections of the Ashmolean Museum.

As well as thanking the Bodleian Library and Mr Watson for their hospitality, we would like to extend our thanks to Dr Llewelyn Morgan for helping us host our visitors here in Oxford and to team-member Aslisho Qurboniev for his help organising the visit.

On Tuesday, 3rd December, BACH was pleased to host the visitors again in Birmingham. We are grateful to Professor David Parker, Director of The Institute for Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing, and his team for their hospitality, and the Cadbury Research Library Special Collections for presenting some of the Mingana Collection's illuminated Persian manuscripts.


28 Aug 2013

BACH completes its first cycle of training at National Archives of Afghanistan, with much praise from the local media

21 Nov 2013

New CESS blog entry about the BACH project.

11 Aug 2013

BACH website launches online map of archaeological sites.

7 Nov 2013

Four papers on the history and archaeology of Balkh will be presented by BACH team members at the forthcoming 9th International Congress on the Archaeology of the Ancient Near East (9ICAANE), to be held in Basel from the 9th-13th June 2014.

17 Jun 2013

William Dalrymple delivers a lecture on his recent book, "The Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan" at the Paul Bergne Memorial Lecture in the Nissan Lecture Theatre of St Antony's College, Oxford.

30 Oct 2013

Recent BBC article on the historic monuments of the Balkh region - see here

31 May 2013

Dr Arezou Azad talk at the University of Cambridge's Ancient India and Iran Trust.

7 Oct 2013

Publication of a new assessment of the modern economy of Balkh, by the AREU. See here for further information.

26 Mar 2013

Dupree opens Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University - see here for further information.

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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