The stucco sculpture of Buddha, before and after repair by the Archaeological Conservation and Research Laboratory. — Photo by Dawn.
ISLAMABAD, June 5: Research and restoration laboratories are integral to good museums all over the world to preserve the archaeological finds in their area, but the one in our world-famous Taxila Museum itself needs to be saved from human neglect.
“Not the vagaries of time, but rather human neglect has turned the Archaeological Conservation and Research Laboratory (ACRL) at the Taxila Museum into a store room rather than a place where workers and researchers connect the dots into history,” said an officer of the Department of Archaeology and Museum in Islamabad.
Set up in the late 1990s with Japanese technical assistance, the Rs30 million ACRL has been lying shut down since the federal Ministry of Culture was devolved two years ago and the museum transferred to the Punjab government.
Even before the lock down, the facility had reportedly been “functioning haphazardly” for want of proper staff.
According to the museum’s management the ACRL was shut down “until necessary posts were created” to run it.
“The lab never had a proper Archaeology Chemist required to manage the new facility. Instead of creating the position for an expert, the federal government brought one from the conservation lab in the Karachi Museum,” said the Department of Archaeology and Museums officer.
That chemist stayed with the new lab of Taxila Museum for only about two years. With his departure the laboratory was left without a head.
The officer noted creating a new post involved a lengthy process and approvals from various departments including the Ministry of Finance, which ensures the funds that go with the position.
Consequently conservation efforts at the Taxila Museum suffered. Archaeological chemists from Karachi or Lahore museum were occasionally called to save hundreds of years old metal from rusting, repair crockery and preserve other artifacts.
“Worse, the cleaning staff, which had picked bits and pieces of conservation techniques by sticking around over time, were pressed into posts of experts,” said the officer.
While the devolution may have triggered the lab’s shut down, the Taxila Museum management hold the federal government’s failure to create the positions of a Grade 17 Archaeological Chemist, an assistant conservator and about five other technical positions as the major cause of the indefinite shut down of the ACRL.
Despite this, the conservation laboratory succeeded in treating and preserving several remains of historical importance - such as the stucco sculptures at the Dharma Rajika Stupa, the rare wall painting of Lord Buddha, coins and pottery etc.
“The laboratory needs to be operational at all times. The materials we are dealing with are thousands of years old and sensitive to hostile temperatures. That, without a doubt, need continuous attention and caring,” said the official in DOAM.
Deputy Director Taxila Museum Irshad Hussain, in charge of the entire facility now the responsibility of Punjab government, complains that the federal government did little to bring the laboratory at par with other such facilities in the country.
“It is not operational today because we did not inherit much when we inherited the laboratory after devolution two years ago,” he told Dawn.
“The laboratory was bereft of its most important element – trained experts.”
He said there were other critical matters needing attention before attending to the Archaeological Conservation and Research Laboratory - such as cracks in the walls of the museum.
He said “insufficient funds” prevented him from undertaking important works.
“I will take up the issue with my superiors,” he said, adding that creating new positions would be difficult for the provincial government “that has not just reduced the numbers of archaeological projects but also cut staff due to shortage of funds”.