Saturday, August 13, 2005

Crossroads

Due to its geographic location, Afghanistan occupied a critical junction in the Asian trade routes, in particular the ancient Silk Road system. The Khyber Pass is one of the few roads through the mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush region. The name, Hindu Kush, may have originated from the phrase, 'killer of Indians' due the high mortality rate of slaves who died en route to auction. At one point, the pass bottlenecks to less than 10 feet wide, creating an important strategic position for an invading army. The mountains range from 11,000 to 23,000 ft., making them almost impenetrable, particularly in antiquity. In comparison, Mt. Everest is 29,035 ft. Despite the rugged environment, archaeologic evidence shows that Afghanistan has been inhabited for approximately 100,000 years by humans and neanderthals. At Aq Kupruk in northern Afghanistan, there is evidence for domestication of plants and animals dating back many millennia. Remains of early villages date to 7000 B.C. Unfortunately, due to the decades of war, scientific investigation has been severely curtailed. To the west lies present-day Iran. By approximately 6000 B.C, the Iranian plateau, encompassing eastern Iran and Western Afghanistan, was widely settled by small farming villages. Southwest of the plateau was the Proto-Elamite civilization, lasting 3200 B.C. to 2700 B.C. , but with origins several millennia earlier, and the city of Susa, dating to 7000 B.C. To the west lay the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. South of Afghanistan lies the Pakistani province of Balochistan and the Mehrgarh archaeological site, 1, 2, which was settled approximately 7000 B.C. The inhabitants were eventually able to farm wheat and barley, raise domesticated animals, and make pottery, jewelry, and figurines. From the Balochistan settlements, the Indus Valley civilization was founded, 1, 2. The Indus River Valley civilization, 2800 B.C. to 1800 B.C., is also known as the Harappan Civilization of the Indus Valley. Its earliest settlements date to 3500 B.C. Over 1,000 villages and cities have been discovered, encompassing Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan and India. This highly developed civilization had a huge trading network with Afghanistan, Persia, Mesopotamia and India. Since approximately 7000 B.C. and the birth of civilization, Afghanistan has occupied a strategic position for trade routes, invading armies, the spread of Islam, etc. Even today, Afghanistan is a geopolitical keystone. In the 1990s, Unocal was interested in building a natural gas pipeline beginning in Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, and ending in Pakistan. In the next few days, I'll be hitting the high points of the last nine millennia. Tomorrow: Alexander the Great nearly bites it at the Khyber Pass.

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