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Precious artefacts get damaged, others face risk of theft during shifting

July 05, 2015

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Artefacts lie uncovered in boxes at the archaeology department’s exploration and excavation branch on Saturday.—White Star
Artefacts lie uncovered in boxes at the archaeology department’s exploration and excavation branch on Saturday.—White Star

KARACHI: Some extremely precious artefacts dating back to as ancient times as Moenjodaro and Mehergarh civilisations were found damaged at the archaeology department’s exploration and excavation branch on Saturday.

As the artefacts are being removed and packed in an unprofessional manner to shift them from the existing rented place on Sharea Faisal to the National Museum of Pakistan, there is also a danger that many of the objects may get disappeared.

Ever since archaeologists got wind of the news that the Sindh government intended to shift the material and the library from the first floor of Hafeez Plaza on Sharea Faisal to some other place, they have been voicing their concern about the non-professional approach to the issue. And a visit to the branch on Saturday afternoon vindicated their worry.

There were boxes lying on the dusty floor. It looked like as if someone had packed them in haste. If there were artefacts in the cartons in which products of daily use are normally kept, it’s a terrible mistake because experts believe that the department is in possession of objet d’art and other articles dating back to ancient times.

The boxes were lying in the middle of a large room that looked like a badly kept library. It is not. The books are no less valuable than the artefacts. According to the person who was at the branch at the time and did not wish to be named, the books belonged to the federal government.

In one corner, one could see broken pieces of pottery. It seems they are part of the materials found by local and foreign archaeologists over the course of their excavations and got damaged while being removed to be transferred to another site. If they do not have any historical value, one may heave a sigh of relief.

Responding to Dawn queries, Sindh Archaeology Department Director Qasim Ali Qasim, who being the official in charge of the shifting is overseeing the process, said that packaging and shifting of the artefacts were being done by technical staff.

He said a deputy director of the department and two curators of the National Museum along with their support staff from the museum as well as the exploration branch of the department — all of whom being fully technically qualified in handling the artefacts and other such important material — were involved in packaging and shifting of the artefacts.

Most of the artefacts were pieces of terracotta, stones, pottery, etc, he said.

He said there were over 35,000 artefacts — many of them dating back up to over 9,000 years including those from Mahergarh, Moenjodaro, Aamri and Mansoora periods / sites etc — and around 100,000 surface collected pot shreds.

He said all the delicate and precious artefacts were displayed / stored in the museums. He said that many of the objects being shifted might not be worthy of being showcased in the museum, but had great value and were important for the research purposes.

He claimed that proper care was being taken for the safe packaging and transfer of the artefacts from the department’s rented premises to the museum. The shifting started a couple of days back and was expected to be completed within about six to eight weeks at a cost of around Rs100,000, said Mr Qasim.

Speaking to Dawn, Director of the State Bank Museum and Gallery Dr Asma Ibrahim said: “The exploration and excavation branch has all the antiquities found during excavations. There are more than 150,000 antiquities. There are 7,000 figurines belonging to the BC period. The pottery, too, dates back to Mehergarh civilisation. We are talking about fragile material here. It should be packed by the professionals who know how the job is done.

“All they [branch officials] are doing is that they are loading these precious things onto trucks and dumping them in a gallery situated in the National Museum, because they need to vacate this rented place [in Hafeez Plaza] by July 25.

“We even wrote a letter to the chief secretary apprising him of the situation, but so far nothing has been done. We understand that the place needs to be vacated, but at least they should be boxed in a professional manner. Their lower staff is doing that, so in the process the delicate objects among them get damaged. Whatever has so far been excavated, that includes excavations carried out by foreign missions, has been deposited in the Exploration and Excavation Branch. So they have it all.

“The other worrisome thing is that there is a danger of objects getting disappeared. They are not taking pictures, not keeping track of things, so we do not know which box contains what. Also, once the foreign missions know about this, it will cause us embarrassment,” said Dr Ibrahim.

As for the books in the branch, she contested the claim that they belonged to the federal government.

The situation can still be salvaged if the authorities concerned consider history, in the words of a wise man, not as a burden on the memory but as an illumination of the soul.

Published in Dawn, July 5th, 2015

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