spacer arrow 


  • In 1977 I was invited to be the honorary Site Archiect in the latest season of archaeological excavations of Old Kandahar, Afghanistan.

  • The 'dig' was sponsored and funded by the Institute of Afghan Studies, the Institute of Archaeology, London University. The 'dig' leader was Svend Helms.

  • The photographs in this portfolio were taken by me during the excavation period of September through to December 1977.

  • All photographs were recorded using a Minolta SRT-101 SLR and Ektachrome 35mm slide film. Further picture details and annotations remain to be added (as at 08 August 2016).

  • The current presentation is divided into 14 chapters and are generally chronologically presented.

  • The size of the photographs is set initially to LARGE, so please use the '+' and '-' discs to resize the images to fit your screen.

  • This is 3.2 edit: 03 June 2016. First edit, 01 March 2016. Len



This is the Site Plan that I drew for the Excavation - with some additions by Sven Helms.

Some notable architectural aspects that feature in my photographic portfolio:

  • The Qaitul Ridge - at the top of the Site Plan is an eastern leg of the Himalayan mountain range.

  • The Buddhist Stupa - circled and designated 'Q Area Excavations' on the Site Plan.

  • The Citadel - includes the circled 'C Area Excavations' on the Site Plan.

  • The 'NE Excavations 1977'- circled on the Site Plan

  • The Old Kandahar Walls - notably looking NW at the 'East Gate'

  • The Cisterns - the old water supply tanks for the city - top left on the Site Plan

  • The 'W Area Excavations' - cicled at the top right.



Seriously Unedited Historical Notes & Quotes

(Ref: Malhoutra)

Afghanistan's epic history starts when it was an important region of ancient India called 'Gandhara'. One of its most frequently mentioned cities in the world today is 'Kandahar', made infamous by the Taliban. The earlier name of the city was 'Quandhar', derived from the name of the region of Gandhara.

Erstwhile home to Al-Qaeda today, it was always a strategic site, being on main Persian routes to Central Asia and India. Hence, it has a long history of conquests. Kandahar was taken by Alexander in 329 B.C.E., was surrendered by the Greek to Chandragupta in 305 B.C.E., and is dignified by a rock inscription of Asoka.

It fell under Arab rule in the 7th century C.E., and under the Ghaznavids in the 10th. Kandahar was destroyed by Genghis Khan and again by the Turkic conqueror Timur, after which it was held by the Mughals. Mughal Emperor Babur built 40 giant steps up a hill, cut out of the solid limestone, leading to inscriptions recording details of his proud conquests.

In 1747 it became the first capital of a unified Afghanistan.

(From the Preface to Helms)

The excavations at Kandahar were carried out under the auspices of the Society for Afghan Studies. Work at the site was carried out between 1974 1nd 1978.

The tragedies that have overtaken Afghanistan in subsequent years have destroyed much of the ancient cultural heritage of that country. The Kabul Museum has been ransacked and its collection dispersed, old buildings have been damaged and ancient mounds pillaged to feed a voracious international art market. The scale of the destruction is not yet fully known, but it seems likely that the old Kandahar documented in this [work] has disappeared forever.

(From the Introduction to Helms - Ref Helms)

Old Kandahar has always been considered to be one of the great cities of ancient Central Asia, and mosty western scholars have taken it to be an Alexandria (or Alexandroplois) founded by Alexander himself in about 329/30 BC.

A more or less unbroken chronology can be established on the basis of coins, pottery and stratigraphy (the analysis of the order and position of layers of the archaeological remains) from the beginning of Epoch II to the beginning of Epoch IV. Evidence for intemittent occupation of the site ... can be established up to the 11th century AD, the Ghaznavid period. Dating evidence from Epoch I rests entirely on stratigraphy, the relative dating of pottery parallels, and the chance find of inscribed clay tablet fragments (Elamite of the 6th/5th century BC. This long chronology can be extended, apperently with many gaps, up to the 18th century and the final destruction and abandonment of Old Kandahar. (the city was finally destroyed by the Persians under Nadir Shah in 1738 and has been abandoned up until the present day) (Helms)



Ralph was the Head of the Institute in Kabul and as such was our host on arriving in Afghanistan. A seriously interesting person was kind, hospitable and helpful.

Seriously Unedited Historical Notes & Quotes

Ralph Pinder-Wilson (17 January 1919 - 6 October 2008)[1] was a British historian of Islamic art. He is most noteworthy for his studies of Afghan architecture while Director of the British Institute of Afghan Studies in Kabul (1976-82) which included his study of the Minaret of Jam which is today a UNESCO World Heritage site. He graduated from Christ Church Oxford and then joined the Indian Army where he learnt Persian.[2]

An overview of the 'Pinder-Wilson years' at the British Institute of Afghan Studies in Kabul, where he was Director from 1976 until its closure in 1982 following the Soviet invasion. During this time a number of major field operations were carried out which Ralph Pinder-Wilson oversaw and guided. Chief of these were three seasons of the Institute's excavations at the major urban site of Kandahar, that were directed in the field by Svend Helms.

From: ITV NEWS 18.7.1982 - 'DR RALPH PINDER-WILSON: British Archaeologist arrives back in Britain from Afghanistan where he had been sentenced to death for smuggling and subversion; flashback to statement he made while on trial in Afghanistan; interview on the methods used by his interrogators.'



Svend was the leader of the xpeditions to Old Kandahar from 1996 to 1998.
According to this 2011 page:

"News has reached Salon of the recent death of Svend Helms, who, having completed his PhD on the 'Urban fortifications of Early Bronze Age Palestine' at the London Institute of Archaeology in 1976, went on to carry out pioneering archaeological work at Old Kandahar, in Afghanistan, and later in Jordan; most recently he was on the staff of the University of Sydney, Australia."


Dr Svend Helms (1942-2010)
Dr Svend Helms was formerly a Research Associate in the department of Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Sydney. He was a key founder of the Karakalpak-Australian Expedition. He had extensive archaeological field experience in the Middle East and has directed projects in Turkey, Jordan and Afghanistan. His main research interests included military architecture and the Hellenistic period in Central Asia. Dr Helms published widely on a broad range of subjects in the areas of Middle Eastern and Central Asian studies

Excavations at Old Kandahar in Afghanistan, 1976-1978: Stratigraphy, Pottery and Other Finds (British Archaeological Reports (BAR) International) Paperback - 30 Nov 1997 by Svend Helms (Author)

The ravages of war in Afghanistan have destroyed much of that country's precious archaeological heritage, so that reports such as this may be the only record of the sites they describe. This report on Old Kandahar, a 6th century BC site occupied in some measure to the 18th century AD, contains reports and analyses on stratigraphy, pottery, and relative and absolute chronology, with appendices on coins, inscriptions, figurines, and correlation with previous excavations. Substantial textual and illustrated sections are devoted to the catalogue of pottery finds.

See also:

Our Indiana Joneses and their temple of tombs

By Deborah Smith, Science Writer Sydney Morning Herald, May 4 2002

Fire father ... the prophet, Zoroaster. When terrorists flew into the World Trade Centre last September a team of Sydney researchers and volunteers were on an archaeological dig in remote Uzbekistan, to the north west of Afghanistan. "We sat down, had a vodka and discussed whether we should evacuate," recalls Svend Helms. They stayed on, exploring the ancient ruins of a region thought to be the homeland of Zoroaster, the prophet of one of the oldest world religions, Zoroastrianism, a monotheistic faith, which venerates fire. It was a good decision. As American bombers flew high overhead, the University of Sydney team carried on excavating a fire temple they had discovered which was built 2400 years ago - the oldest one found associated with the Zoroastrian faith. They also came to the conclusion they had uncovered a mausoleum, where kings and queens of this ancient land south of the Aral Sea, known as Chorasmia, may have been buried....etc Other refs: Svend W. Helms, “Kandahar of the Arab Conquest,” World Archaeology 14/3, 1982, pp. 342-54. Pinder-Wilson etc


6   SITE PERSONALITIES: Dame Margaret ("Kim") Wheeler

Kim was the site pottery archaeologist. She was an Australian and married to the late Sir Mortimer Wheeler, (a major and significant figure in British Archaeology). A delightful person with wonderful stories of her archaeological experiences.

She was a young archeologist when she worked on the exciting discoveries at the excavations at Jerico, lead by the famous archaeologist, Dame Kathleen Kenyon in 1952 to 1958. Her delightful story of her discovery of the 'decending stairs' was just extraordinary. See also: 'Margaret Collingridge Wheeler' in Wikipedia.


6   FURTHER NOTES: Len Breen

Previously 'Site Architect' on the Institute of Archaeology excavations, run by Dr Bivar, at Kerman, Iran in 1976. More later.

I am in the process of researching, editing and rewriting all these notes and documenting the photographs.

The editing of the slides, over 300 of them, has take a great deal of time and has only been a 'first edit'. Some of the best slides will get a more rigourous cleaning.

If you get this far please send me your thoughts. It's all from a long time ago so I am unsure as to how far I take it!?

I will add a section including some more of my formal drawings from the excavation soon.

If I can access the diaries of one, IBB, my the assistant site architect archaeologists at the time, I may hopefully be able to ad considerably more social details.

spacer arrow