The early human occupation in ancient Gandhāra started about three million years back when the prehistoric cultural activities were noticed at the different archaeological sites in the region. Artefacts of Palaeolithic culture were discovered in Sanghao Cave, located in district Mardan, while those from the Mesolithic culture were found at Jamalgarhi cave shelter site (Mardan) and Khanpur valley cave in District Haripur. Aartefacts, such as potteries and terracotta female figurines of the Neolithic period, dating from about 4500-2900 B.C., were discovered in the borderland of Gandhāra at the different sites such as Sheri Khan Tarakai archaeological site located in Bannu area. These discoveries suggest that human occupation in the region had long begun before the invasion of the region by the Aryans.

Due to its strategic position and being located on a crossroad, Gandhāra went through many of the inter-regional political, economic and cultural interactions.  Such interactions and political upheavals in the region may have started from the Vedic period which is followed by the successive foreign invasions including the Indo-Aryan, Achaemenid, Bactrian-Greeks, Indo-Greeks, Scytho-Parthians, Kuṣān, Kuṣāno-Sasanians, Sasanians, Huns, the Śāhis and the Muslims. The many archaeological discoveries and written records are witnesses to the continuity of Gandhāran history which starts from the Palaeolithic period until the arrival of Muslims in the region.

Therefore, Gandhāra is regarded one of the most compelling historic locales in South Asia, a great centre of ancient cultures, which has been the focus of archaeological interest for almost 150 years. Formal archaeological investigation began in the early 20th century when the area was the centre of extensive and long-term excavations by the British archaeologists. Since then significant research developments have been made in the history of Gandhāra which show that for many centuries this area remained a meeting place and conduit of civilizations. It is also well recognized as a great and ancient centre of learning, particularly for the Buddhists and Hindus.

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