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.