PESHAWAR: The latest Sri Lankan maritime exploration and an ongoing search for rare sculptures collected by Sir Alexander Cunningham that got lost in a shipwreck in 1885 have revived the hopes about recovery of some of the antiquities from Jamal Garhi, an archaeological site of Gandhara.

However, it is unfortunate that unlike Sri Lanka and India, Pakistan has not shown any interest in taking part in this search for the lost archaeological treasure so far.

“It would be a great gesture from a friendly country like Sri Lanka if its Maritime Archaeology Unit let us become part of this exploration and excavation,” says archaeologist and newly appointed director of archaeology and museums Dr Abdus Samad, who intends to write to the Sri Lankan archaeologists involved in the search.

Although Peshawar valley has a world heritage site, monasteries and archaeological sites of Gandhara Civilisation, yet many rare antiquities, excavated at various sites in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, are now in British and Indian museums. Jamal Garhi is one such historical site in the province.


Sri Lankan maritime exploration revives hope about recovery of coins and sculptures excavated from Jamal Garhi


“SS Indus ran aground in 1885 somewhere in the north east coast of Sri Lanka when she was sailing from Calcutta or Kolkata to London via Colombo. At the time she possessed valuable cargo, a fine collection of sculptures from Bharhut, a third century BC Buddhist monastery in India.

They were masterpieces of a collection of Sir Alexander Cunningham, the first Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India and they were being transported for exhibition in the London Museum. For the last one century, Indian and Sri Lankan archaeologists and historians were interested in finding this shipwreck, yet no one knew the exact location of the wreck,” writes. SM Nandadasa, an archaeologist at Central Cultural Fund, Maritime Archaeology Unit, Galle, of Sri Lanka.

“However the recent maritime exploration in August, 2013 by the Maritime Archaeology Unit, Sri Lanka has traced the possible remains of the SS Indus off Muliative Field Study in the north of Sri Lanka .The Maritime Archaeology Unit is planning to start a test excavation on the shipwreck towards the end of 2014,” writes the archaeologist.

Although there is no mention of some rare collection excavated for the then government of India in Yousafzai district, which also got lost in SS Indus wreckage, Dr Samad says that there is enough evidence that some coins and sculptures excavated from Jamal Garhi were also on that ship.

It is pertinent to mention that Buddhist monastery dates back to second and fifth century. The ruins of Jamal Garhi, the area which was part of the then Yousafzai district, were discovered by Alexander Cunningham in January 1848.

During the excavation of Lieutenant Cromten RE, a large number of Buddhist sculptures were unearthed which are now part of the collection of the British Museum and Indian Museum, Calcutta.

There are references in different books authored by the then archaeologists and a director general of the Archaeological Survey of India that indicates that some fine masterpieces collected by Sir Cunningham which were on that ship on that fateful day belong to Jamal Garhi. On the page 83 of “Buddhist Art in India”, translated from the ‘handbuch’ of Prof Albert Grunwedel revised and enlarged by JAS Burgess, late director general of Archaeological Survey of India, it is written that in November, 1885, General Cunningham shipped a large and important collection to England, which was lost in steamer ‘Indus’ off Ceylon.

“A Large number were excavated for the government of India in the Yousafzai district, and were distributed among the various museums in India much to detriment of their proper study. The largest collections are in the Museum of Lahore and Calcutta,” the book says.

In “The Buddhist Architecture of Gandhara” by Kurt A Behrendt and J Burgess’ book “The Gandhara Sculptures: A selection of illustrations in 25-plates from British and Lahore museums” there is also a reference to the incident. “The first two collections of Gandharan art sent to Europe were lost. One consisting of pieces from Jamal Garhi, assembled by Sir Clive Bayley, was destroyed when the Crystal Palace in London burned down in 1866.

In 1885, Cunningham sent to England a large collection that must have contained material from Jamal Garhi. It was lost at sea when the steamer Indus sank off the coast of Sri Lanka. It seems probable that some of the sculptures photographed by Caddy and Senart were on the Indus, thus, these early photographs are all the more valuable,” the book says.

“I hope Sri Lankan archaeologists would accept our request,” says Dr Samad, who wants to be part of this search.

Published in Dawn, July 8th , 2014

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