TAXILA: The Federal Department of Archaeology has discovered coins and arrowheads dating back to the 1st century AD at the site of a Buddhist stupa that dates back to somewhere between 200 to 500 AD in Taxila. The discoveries were made during excavations in a remote part of the Margalla Hills.

The archaeology department director general, Mohammad Arif, told Dawn at the site on Tuesday that the stupa and monastery were from the Kushan period, between 200 and 500 AD. The stupa is locally known as Ban Faqiran. It is located about two kilometres from the Giri Buddhist monastic complex in Taxila valley.

Mr Arif said renowned archaeologist and professor, the late Ahmad Hassan Dani, Dr M Ashraf, Dr Mark Kenoyer and Dr F.D. Kakar discovered the stupa. He said excavations were held at the site for the first time, as it was located in a particularly remote and hilly area. He said remains of the complex were scattered around a 1,000 square metre area on a hilltop.

The excavation was led by Abdul Ghafoor Lone and Arshadullah. According to Mr Arif six copper coins and four iron arrowheads have been recovered during the excavations. He said the preliminary study revealed that five coins belonged to the 1st century AD, while one to the 1st century BC. He said these were ‘remarkable’ discoveries which would help the study of Buddhism’s ancient history in the area.

In response to a question, Mr Arif said the exposed architecture of the stupa presented the semi ashlar and diaper masonry of the kind used in the reconstruction of the Dharmarjika Stupa in Taxila, which dated back to the 3rd century AD.

Mr Arif said this was the first excavation conducted by the federal archaeology department since its devolution under the 18th Amendment. Funds for the excavation and preservation of the Buddhist site were provided by the National Fund for Cultural Heritage in April this year.

Mr Arif added that further excavation would reveal more about the development of monastic complexes during the Gandhara period. He said Dr Dani believed that the caves at Shah Allah Ditta were meditation cells for this monastic complex, which was also later used by Hindus.

Mr Lone told Dawn that he was optimistic about further discoveries at the site. He said acheologists believed that the track that led to the site was used by Alexander the Great.

He said the site would be preserved in order to protect it from further illegal digging by treasure hunters. He said the site’s preservation would bring new dimensions to archaeology and the history of Buddhism, and would also bring more religious tourists to the area.

He said Buddhist remains in the Margalla valley were still hidden from the world, and successful excavations would open new doors to research and study, as well as introduce the region to the rest of the world, particularly archaeologists, anthropologists and religious tourists.

International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Pakistan chapter president Dr Kakar said ICOMOS Pakistan had taken action against the construction of the Orange Line which was planned to pass near the Shalimar Gardens world heritage site and the Chauburgi monument in Lahore.

He said he would invite all ICOMOS colleagues in various parts of Pakistan to visit the ongoing archaeological excavations and conservation work at various sites and monuments in order to determine whether the work was in accordance with ICOMOS principles and international norms.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2015

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