PhD Giulia Forgione, University of Naples "L’Orientale", Department of Asia, Africa and Mediterranean

Post-doctoral Research Fellowship (2021-2023)

Il recupero dell’effimero nel patrimonio archeologico e artistico afghano: studio sugli aspetti materiali e immateriali della produzione scultorea in terra cruda di epoca medievale

[The recovery of the ephemeral in Afghan archaeological and artistic heritage: A study of the tangible and intangible aspects of the clay sculptural production in the medieval times]


The research deals with a vast and fragile cultural heritage represented by the clay-based sculptural production, which was the predominant feature of the majority of the Buddhist sacred areas in Afghanistan in the period between the 3rd/4th  century CE and the 10th/11th century CE, fully corresponding to the Huna and the Shahi periods.

Notwithstanding the large number of decorative apparatuses documented so far, polychrome and/or gilded and often of gigantic scale, very little is known about their original aspect, symbolic meaning, cultural and physical context, also due to the fragmentary condition in which they are often retrieved.

However, the accurate archaeological and scientific documentation collected by the Italian Archaeological Mission in Afghanistan (IAMA) allows us to draw new research lines, also on the basis of recent studies that are revealing much about the artistic, social, cultural and economic aspects of these productions.

The starting point of this study is the Buddhist archaeological site of Tapa Sardar, in the Ghazni area, excavated by the IAMA between the 1960s and 1970s. In addition, the recent excavations of the Buddhist sites of Tepe Narenj and Qol-e-Tut, in the Kabul area, conducted by the Archaeology Institute of Afghanistan (AIA) since 2004, and with the assistance of the IAMA since 2014, have considerably expanded the amount of information available. Of course, cross-comparisons will also be extended to analogous but more scarcely documented productions.

Attention will focus on each single sculptural fragment in order to systematically reconstruct and analyse the iconographic repertoires, identify common features and recurring typologies of cultic images. Furthermore, a programme of chemical and physical analyses will provide significant information for the study of materials, pigments and production processes, in order to better grasp the aesthetic codes and symbolic values which we believe to have left a permanent imprint on artistic languages far distant in time and space, such as the Himalayan art.