Footprints: History's disclosures

Published February 7, 2016
ARCHAEOLOGY students of Quaid-i-Azam University carefully sift through the soil of the newly discovered ancient site in Badalpur, around 10 kilometres northeast of the Taxila museum. Dating back to the third century BC, the excavation is said to be the oldest from the Buddhist period.—Photo by writer
ARCHAEOLOGY students of Quaid-i-Azam University carefully sift through the soil of the newly discovered ancient site in Badalpur, around 10 kilometres northeast of the Taxila museum. Dating back to the third century BC, the excavation is said to be the oldest from the Buddhist period.—Photo by writer

IN one of the three-storey concrete blocks of Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), an office is filled with disparate items: in addition to a computer, a projector and the usual office furniture, there are some stones, bones and a lot of pots, most of clay and a few of copper.

The pots, stones and bones are all centuries old. They have been dug out from various sites in Pakistan that were home to ancient civilisations. This room serves as a workshop for documentation, research and study conducted under QAU’s Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations (TIAC).

The latest addition to these precious artefacts are some clay lamps, pieces of pitchers, coins, a key and a few iron bars, recently discovered in Badalpur — an archaeological site around 10 kilometres northeast of the Taxila museum.

The lamps, coins and the motif-decorated clay pots look quite fresh as Huda Mughal, a Masters’ student in archaeology, sorts through them, puts them in envelopes and stores them away in cupboards and drawers. The red clay pots bear off-white flowery motifs and the iron coins carry embossed pictures of a god. The iron bars are in different shapes, rectangular, circular and curved.

“We have applied acetic and citric acids to these articles and now you can clearly see the pictures of gods on the coins and the designs on the pots,” explains Mughal. “Some of these pots have been repaired with glue after we found their broken parts separately.”

Professor Dr Mohammad Ashraf Khan, the head of the TIAC and who supervised the excavations in Badalpur, says that the latest discovery is the oldest from the Buddhist period. “The discoveries at the Badalpur site date back from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD, which constitutes the oldest revelations so far from Buddhist history,” he says. “We have also discovered a ‘red saint stone Buddha’ which has been placed at the Taxila museum.”

“This monastery, which is 83x83 metres in size, is also one of the biggest monasteries we have discovered so far. And 12 monks cells of the total 55 cells there make it a huge discovery,” Khan continues, sitting in the bright sunshine at the TIAC as Mughal and her colleagues work inside. “Now, we are looking to unearth the whole town planning and the residential area. Then we will preserve this location and all the discoveries, for study, research and even tourism purposes.”

But to completely preserve the site, Khan and his team require a grant of up to $70,000; they are looking towards the European Union, Unesco and the US embassy to meet these requirements.

This was the third phase of research at the Badalpur site. The first one was conducted in 1863 when British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham visited the area and identified it as a potential archaeological research site. Then, in 1916-17, Sir John Marshall conducted research in the area. In 2005, the department of archaeology and museums initiated the latest excavations at the site, which were completely taken over by the TIAC in 2011.

“It will take another one or two years to fully excavate the site,” Khan explains. “Then we will approach various international donors to fund us for preservation, which can also help us set up some tourism and research infrastructure there.”

The TIAC, which was established in 1971 in partnership with Unesco as the Institute of South Asian Studies and was later upgraded to become a research centre for the history and archaeology of the whole Asian continent, also intends to use this site as a school of archaeology training. The institute offers education in four disciplines: Asian civilisations, Asian religions, Asian languages and Asian archaeology.

One of its projects is research on the civilisation in Shangla, where archaeologists working under Professor Dr Ghani-ur-Rehman, have found centuries-old wood mosques and graveyards showing pre-Islamic period influences.

The centre has also conducted research on the archaeological history of Rawalpindi and Islamabad and is looking to more discoveries in the years to come.

“Discovering ancient history is not an easy task and consumes time,” says Mughal as she criss-crosses between the remnants of different eras. “We have to dig up the ground layer by layer, season by season. We can’t excavate in the dry season since it spoils our evidence and discoveries.”

Published in Dawn, February 7th, 2016

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