GWADAR: Fifty-seven kilometres west of Gwadar, near the Pakistan-Iran border, lies a small hidden settlement dating back some 5,000 years. Years of illegal excavations and official apathy have allowed it to quietly fall into its current state of decay.
The site is Sutkagen Dor, which roughly translates into ‘a burned door’ in Balochi language. Archaeologists consider it to be a junction between Mesopotamian cities in 3500BC and Makkan — present-day Makran.
Located in an open field atop a mountain, with a security force checkpost to the left and a gaping hole to its right, the settlement still houses remnants of pottery and sea shells.
The site is only accessible via the Pak-Iran highway coming from Jiwani. Seventeen kilometres before the border with Iran, the road gets bumpy as residents claim construction work was stopped by Baloch separatists taking refuge in the area.
Mohammad Rahim, 68, who lives a kilometre away from the settlement, says he heard about it from his ancestors who spoke of massive excavations. He cannot pinpoint the exact time period when the excavations took place, but says the excavators found pottery and tools.
Mr Rahim remembers one particular illegal excavation headed by some residents from northern Balochistan in November last year who, he said, dug up the settlement with the idea of finding gold. “After digging two feet deep, the cleric, who was brought along by the excavators started murmuring some religious texts and eventually began yelling. This scared the excavators and they ran away,” Mr Rahim added. Since then, no one has come back to the site.
The larger area, known as Mirani Bazaar, is home to a scattered population of around 5,000, and falls under UC Suntsar, Tehsil Jiwani and District Gwadar. The religious belief of the people is divided between the Zikri and ‘Namazi’ (Muslim) schools of thought.
Mr Rahim said that a local newspaper recently carried a story about a town named Mithing where ‘ghosts’ are apparently unhappy about the construction in the surrounding areas. Since the publication of the story, people avoid the construction site from Mirani Bazaar towards Mithing, taking an alternative route whenever required to traverse the area, he added.
Pointing towards what appeared to be a sand dune; Rahim said that his grandfather had spoken of a jetty located exactly where it stands today.
There are two sides of Sutkagen Dor, says Jameel Baloch, curator and custodian of the Government of Balochistan’s directorate of archaeology. “One side is situated near the Pak-Iran border. The other side, known as Sutkagen Koh, meaning burned mountain, is on the right side of the road leading from Pasni towards Shadi Kor and Turbat,” he said.
Speaking about its historical significance, Mr Baloch said that both sites were port areas and trading posts between Mesopotamian cities and Makkan, around 3500 BC. At the time, the sea was closer to these two points, having scaled back around 50 kilometres over the years. Which is why, he added, there were sea shells around the settlement.
Mr Baloch said that Sutkagen Dor near the bordering areas was first discovered in 1875 by a British political agent, Major Mockler. The second side in Pasni was discovered by an expert on the Indus Valley, George F Dales, in the 1960s after his excavation in Sutkagen Dor, which he also spoke about in his book, A Search for Paradise.
“More than a hundred similar sites have been found over the years in and around southern Balochistan,” said Mr Baloch. These are located in areas between Ormara, Makran and Awaran. Miri Kalat in Turbat, Naal in Sordum and Balakot in Lasbela are some of the sites that archaeologists found to be similar to the ones in Gwadar district and Pasni.
Elaborating on how Sutkagen Dor got its name, Mr Baloch said that when it was first discovered, the excavators removed three layers of burned rocks and found two layers of ash. “It indicated to us that the area had come under attack, the time frame for which is not known, after which it was abandoned,” he said.
Some of the excavations from the area in the 1920s, which were mentioned in Dales’ book, included pottery, shell and shell beads and copper arrowheads. These items were then shifted to Quetta.
But Mr Baloch adds that soon after the 1935 earthquake in Quetta, the items were shifted to Calcutta and the British museum. The cataloguing of these items was labelled as ‘Cataloguing of Macmohan’.
Former nazim of UC Suntsar, Abdul Aziz says that illegal excavations and lack of attention from the authorities in terms of backing proper excavation trips are one of the biggest problems that plague archaeologists today.
But Mr Rahim says that since last year’s failed attempt by the locals, illegal excavations have stopped for the time being, “though I can’t say for how long that would be the case”.
Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2016