ISLAMABAD: Excavating artifacts without reporting them is causing loss to Pakistan’s natural heritage.
This was highlighted when the Directorate General of Intelligence and Investigation Karachi recently shared a report with Dawn regarding a bid to smuggle 1,050 antiquities abroad by sea in February this year.
This could have been one of the biggest attempts to smuggle genuine artifacts out of Pakistan which was foiled by the customs office, a senior official in the Ministry of National Heritage told Dawn.
A team of archaeologists from Islamabad later examined the 1,155 artifacts which had been confiscated. The archeologists declared 1,050 artifacts as antiquities while the remaining 105 came under the purview of counterfeiting as defined under the relevant sections of the Antiquities Act 1975.
The confiscated artifacts ranged from the prehistoric ages dating back to 2000BC to the Islamic period.
“But a lot of work needs to be done to determine the exact dates since we do not know where these artifacts were found and in what condition.
“When archaeologists excavate, they usually do so in a sequence, layer by layer, which helps them determine the exact period of the items,” the official in the Ministry of National Heritage said while elaborating the relative chronological method of dating artifacts.
“The ministry has asked customs officials to confiscate the artifacts declared as antiquities and hand them over to the Department of Archaeology and Museums (DOAM) for custody, preservation and protection under the Antiquities Act 1975,” the official added.
Furthermore, he maintained that Pakistan lacked scientific methods of dating and a laboratory test could cost somewhere between $45 and $500. “Usually, less than 25 to 30 per cent of the historical items being smuggled are genuine artifacts,” he said.
However, this time the majority of items in the 28 boxes stuffed into a container from Islamabad to Karachi through a courier service were found full of genuine relics.
This consignment was then confiscated by Customs authority in Sukkur in February 2013.
“The owners of these items declared them as decoration pieces commonly made and sold in Taxila,” said Superintendent Customs Walayat Shah.
He said the matter did not surface because the case was then taken to Sindh High Court (SHC) where the party claiming ownership of the items demanded that the confiscated shipment be returned.
Walayat Shah said the items had initially been examined by a team of experts from the National Museum Karachi.
“Later, SHC ordered a second examination to be carried out by DOAM which verified, photographed and measured the 1,100 plus items,” he said.
“The matter is still in court, but most of the artifacts have been identified as genuine heritage items. These will be handed over to the DOAM as it is the custodian of historical treasures of the country,” said Walayat Shah.
The collection is full of surprises ranging from rare artifacts to popularly known works from the Gandhara period, especially from 200 to 400 AD.
The items included statues of Buddha carved in schist stone, stucco, bronze and terracotta. Buddha Head as well as other Gandhara period objects such as friezes, panels, stupa models, stupa relic caskets and caskets dating from 100AD to 500AD were also found.
Furthermore, painted pottery from Balochistan dating back to 2000-3000BC was also discovered. Similarly, the Islamic period pottery, glazed tiles and other materials being smuggled belonged to the 11th – 15th century AD.