May 10, 2017

NB: Not all of the sites’ coordinates are published, and those that are are somewhat inaccurate, requiring the author to survey the landscape on Google Maps to find the sites. Dashly 3 is not visible on Google Maps.

Dashly 1 : 37°05’15.75″ N, 66°24’02.98″ E. Elevation: 286 meters.

Map Data: Google, US Dept of State Geographer, Image Landsat, Copernicus 2017

Dashly 1 from elevation of 2.47 kilometers. Map Data: Google 2016, Image 2017, copyright CNES/Airbus


Dashly (Dashlyji, Dashli, Dašlī, Dashlydzhi, Dashlin Oasis, Russian: дашлы, Dari (Afghan Persian): داشلى , داشلي) is a collection of 41 archaeological sites comprising an ancient urban set of settlements located in Jowzjan and Balkh Provinces, Northern Afghanistan (Amiet 1994). These are not to be confused with the sites called ‘Dashlyji-depe’ in Turkmenistan. The data on other Dashly sites is often difficult to find, even online. Thus, only Dashly-1 and Dashly-3 will be discussed in detail. There were no images of the grave goods or other findings online or in books, so images of the sites will be shown.

The Dashlyji sites date from the Eneolithic Age, also known as the Chalcolithic or the Copper Age. The nearest town is Faruk Qala, approximately 8 kilometers south-southwest of Dashly-1. The coordinates for Faruk Qala are 37°01’30.49″ N, 66°21’24.51″ E and at an elevation of 287 meters. The nearest large city, Aqcha, is 27.3 kilometers southwest of Dashly-1, and its coordinates are 36°54’47.20″ N, 66° 11’12.94″ E and at an elevation of 293 meters. The area is located in an arid area characterized by vast deserts, the Amu Darya River, formerly known as the Oxus River, towns and villages, and sand dunes. Roads, paths, and game trails course through this landscape. Sand dunes and other geological formations obscure the ruins on mapping technologies. The Dashly sites contain architectural ruins, human and animal burials, and artifacts such as ceramics, metal objects. The Amu Darya river is 30 kilometers to the north. 75 kilometers to the south is the city of Sheberghan, which is the site of a potential natural gas development project (See Ministry of Mines, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for the Asian Development Bank 2009). While natural gas was presumably not used during the Dashly sites’ occupation, the natural gas project could introduce an economic stimulus that would provide impetus for further investigation.

Site Summaries and Finds

The settlements also include burials of both people (Livinsky and P’yankova, 1993:380) and sheep sacrifices (Masson and Sarianidi, 1969; Joglekar 2006:234). Some of the other findings include jewelry and ceramics similar to those of the Andronovo assemblages (Kuz’mina, 1996: 286; Sarianidi, 1977, fig.6). The presence of fortifications and sheep indicates that settlement was intentional and extensive. The ceramics found were dated to multiple stages: around 1400-1200 BCE, and the Namazga, V and VI periods, around 2100-c.1800 BCE (Kuz’mina 2007:286 ;Shaw and Jameson 2008:416). Kuzmina posits that Dashly was occupied on-and-off for a long time. The ruined buildings were re-used as burial grounds at a later date (Litvinsky and P’yankova, n.d.:371), possibly indicating this intermittent use.

Sarianidi argued that the people who who inhabited the Dashly sites were Indo-Iranians (Sarianidi, 1976; Lamberg-Karlovsky 2002:70). There were 87 graves discovered, and excavations revealed that Sarianidi specifically compared Dashly-3 to temples from Mesopotamia (Lamberg-Karlovsky 2002:70). He did this to present the possibility of influence from Mesopotamian cultures on Dashly’s inhabitants, indicating contact with multifarious peoples.

Dashly 3 Temple, (Kohl 1983:21, fig. 2.3)

An image of the Dashly-3 ‘palace’ (Kohl 1983:22, fig.2.4).

According to radiocarbon dating, these sites have been dated as follows: Dashly-1 has been dated to 1250 BCE  and 1570 BCE, while Dashly-3 has been dated to 1490 BCE (Dulukhanov et al. 1976). Dashly-1 is the remains of a fortified building and associated burials. Dashly-1 and Dashly-3 both have buildings often termed ‘palaces’ (see Salvatori, 2000:98). The buildings’ constructions typically involve the use of square or rectilinear forms, multiple small rooms, and walls. Dashly-3, however, has a circular building as part of the temple. The buildings’ actual uses and the cultural attributes of their occupants and/or users, however, is still a matter of conjecture. However, Dashly-3 is the only site with a supposed ‘temple’ complex. Sarianidi’s assertion that the ruins at Dashly-3 were once those of a temple, particularly a proto-Zoroastrian temple, is contested (Amiet 1994). Sarianidi argues that the rituals involving fire, which are rituals associated with Zoroastrianism, happened at temples throughout the BMAC (Sarianidi and Puschnigg 2002; Sarianidi 1994). According to Pilipko, the Dashly sites’ location along the river and away from the mountains was ideal for defense (Pilipko 2015:82). The ruins and burials have been subject to unauthorized excavations, further obfuscating the sites’ histories (Amiet 1994).

Dashly in Historical Context

Central Asia has been peopled since the paleolithic, its people migrating to find resources and avoid the harsh weather. The complex is located in the Bactria-Margiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC), which spans parts of Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The BMAC consists of the remains of the Oxus civilization, which is dated from approximately 2200-1700 BCE (Lamberg-Karlovsky 2013:1). Sarianidi argues that Indo-Iranians peopled the BMAC, linking the ancient Persian civilizations with those of the Indus Valley. Bactria was at one point part of the Persian and Greek empires. This area’s centralized location means that a multitude of people could of passed through or traded goods amongst the locals.

(Kaniuth, 2007:27)

The Dashly sites are as much a part of Afghanistan’s contemporary and future cultural heritage landscape as they are an anchor to Afghanistan’s past. The Dashly sites’ current situation is typical of many cultural heritage sites around the world in that they are situated in the midst of a protracted and destructive conflict. Tragically, many artifacts taken from Dashly and housed in the National Museum of Afghanistan have been destroyed during the wars. Currently, the United States is engaged in a war with the Taliban, an insurgent group in Afghanistan. this war threatens multiple archaeological sites, including the Dashly sites. The United States Central Command (USCENTCOM) requires military personnel and contractors to abide by Afghan cultural property law and to help protect these sites from harm United States Department of Defense – United States Central Command, 2004).

Important Investigators

Viktor Sarianidi (1929-2013), a Russian archaeologist born in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, discovered the sites. His works are famous, but somewhat difficult to find in English. He, along with his collaborators from the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow, excavated the sites from 1969-1979, halting work when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan (Salvatori, 2000:97). He also discovered a large amount of golden objects in Tillya Tepe, which drew much attention to the region.

Bactrian treasure – ram figurine. Not from Dashly, but a cool thing from the BMAC! (Kjullver, 2007)

Until his death, he was the foremost expert on the Dashlyji sites and is lauded for his discoveries, which elucidated Bactria’s and Margiana’s history and cultural connections between this region and its neighbors. Other investigators included V.M. Masson (1929-1910), who taught Sarianidi at the Central Asian State University.

Challenges and Lessons

Because of these sites’ location within a conflict zone, studying them and learning from their artifacts is jeopardized. The human and animal burials, ceramics, and metal artifacts gesture towards a long history of occupation and development of this currently arid location. Preserving the ruins and artifacts can provide Afghanistan with a wealth of knowledge that will empower future generations for years to come.



Amiet, Pierre. “Dašlī.” Encyclopæedia Iranica. Encyclopædia Iranica Foundation, Columbia University, December 15, 1994. http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/dasli.
Dulukhanov, P. M., A. A. Semyontsov, Yu. S. Svezhentsev, V. I. Timofeyev, Ye. N. Romanova, and N. S. Malanova. “Radiocarbon Dates of the Institute of Archaeology III.” Radiocarbon 18, no. 2 (1976): 190–201.
Hiebert, Fredrik T. 1994. Origins of the Brongze Age Oasis Civilization in Central Asia. Peabody Museum Press.
Kaniuth, Kai. (2007, January). [Bactria with major late-third and early-second-millennium sites mentioned in the text. Encircled is the area covered by the LBA Sapalli Culture.]. Retrieved May 9, 2017, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/240790708_The_Metallurgy_of_the_Late_Bronze_Age_Sapalli_Culture_Southern_Uzbekistan_and_its_implications_for_the_%27tin_question%27/figures
Khlopina, L.I. “Namazga-Depe and the Late Bronze Age.” In The Bronze Age Civilization of Central Asia: Recent Soviet Discoveris, edited by Philip Kohl. Routledge, 2015.
Kluijver, Robert. (2007.). [Digital image]. Retrieved May 8, 2017, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bactrian_treasure_-_ram_figurine.jpg
Kohl, Philip. “The Bronze Age World-System.” In Centre and Periphery in the Ancient World, edited by Michael J. Rowlands, Morgens Larsen, and Kristian Kristiansen. Cambridge University Press, 1983. https://books.google.com/books?id=YDs9AAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=centre+and+periphery&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwje7Ont–TTAhWLOyYKHR71DyoQuwUIKDAA#v=onepage&q=Dashly&f=false.
Kuz’mina, Elena. The Origin of the Indo-Iranians, 2007. https://books.google.com/books?id=juivCQAAQBAJ&dq=dashly+ceramic+2000+bce&source=gbs_navlinks_s.
Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C. “Archaeology and Language: The Indo-Iranians.” Current Anthropology 43, no. 1 (2002). https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/260f/240e22913c536f64e1689d11650b73156802.pdf.
———. “The Oxus Cvilization/La Civilización del Oxus.” CuPAUAM, 2013. https://www.uam.es/otros/cupauam/pdf/Cupauam39/3902.pdf.
Litvinsky, B.A., and L.T. P’yankova. “Pastoral Tribes of the Bronze Age in the Oxus Valley (Bactria).” UNESCO, n.d. http://en.unesco.org/silkroad/sites/silkroad/files/knowledge-bank-article/PASTORAL%20TRIBES%20OF%20THE%20BRONZE%20AGE.pdf.
Ministry of Mines, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for the Asian Development Bank. “Proposed Multitrance Fincncing Facility and Admininistration of Grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction Islamic Republic of Afghanistan: Energy Sector Development Investment Program: Rehabilitation of Sheberghan Gas Fields (Jowzjan Province).” Asian Development Bank, September 2009. https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/project-document/64092/42094-02-afg-iee.pdf.
Pilipko, V.N. “Archaeological Landscape of the Dashlin Oasis and Its Historical Interpretation.” Edited by M.G. Abramzon, V.A. Gaibov, V.D. Kuznetsov, S.V. Mokrousov, I.V. Oktabrskaya, S.G. Shulezhkova, and I.E. Surikov. Journal of Historical, Philological, and Cultural Studies 1, no. 47 (2015): 80–98.
Salvatori, Sandro. “Bactria and Margiana Seals: A New Assessment of Their Chronological Position and a Typological Survey.” East and West 50, no. 1/4 (2000): 97–145.
Sarianidi, V., and Gabriele Puschnigg. “The Fortification and Palace of Northern Gonur.” Iran 40 (2002): 75–87. doi:10.2307/4300619.
Sarianidi, Viktor. “Temples of Bronze Age Margiana: Traditions of Ritual Architecture.” Antiquity 68, no. 259 (1994): 388–97. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00046731.
Shaw, Ian, and Robert Jameson, eds. “Namazga.” A Dictionary of Archaeology. John Wley & Sons, April 15, 2008.

Further Reading

Griffith, Ralph T.H., trans. The Rig Veda, 1896. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Rig_Veda.
 Sarianidi, V.I. The Early Agriculturalists of Afghanistan. Moscow, 1977.

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