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Moenjodaro: to bury or not to bury the ancient city

Published Mar 06, 2017 04:49pm
"If we find an ancient object and we dig it out of the ground, it will be destroyed, sooner or later.” —Tauseef Razi Mallick
"If we find an ancient object and we dig it out of the ground, it will be destroyed, sooner or later.” —Tauseef Razi Mallick

Some archaeologists working on Moenjodaro and other Indus valley civilisation sites have expressed concern over the safety of Moenjodaro — the 5,000-year-old world heritage site, and suggested that the ancient remains should be reburied to save them from further decay caused by climatic changes and human intervention.

This point was brought to the fore at the three-day International Conference on the Moenjodaro and Indus Valley Civilisation held earlier this month.

A number of archaeologists were of the view that a replica of Moenjodaro can be created for public viewing like the one created by experts for the Lascaux cave paintings, a Palaeolithic cave in south-western France.

A painting depicting life in the ancient city. —Tauseef Razi Mallick
A painting depicting life in the ancient city. —Tauseef Razi Mallick

Moenjodaro was excavated under the supervision of Sir John Marshal in 1922, who was the director-general of the Archaeological Survey of India from 1902 to 1928, and the government has planned to hold the civilisation’s centennial celebrations in 2022.

When asked, why these ancient remains should be reburied, Dr Jonathan Mark Kenoyer of the University of Wisconsin, USA, one of the archaeologists to have worked on the site for decades, said, “It’s necessary because this area has high salt content and when the salt comes out of bricks, it breaks them. So the tip to protect the bricks from salt damage is to keep them without oxygen underground.”

“The protection of ancient artefacts is our duty. If we find an ancient object and we dig it out of the ground, it will be destroyed, sooner or later,” he said.

“By taking it out we study it, we can record our findings but then we can put it back and make a replica of it. If a replica is destroyed it doesn’t matter because we can make another one. But we cannot make an ancient artefact once it’s destroyed,” he said.

A street sign at the ancient site. —Tauseef Razi Mallick
A street sign at the ancient site. —Tauseef Razi Mallick

Explaining his argument, Dr Kenoyer said, “When your minister comes here, he only walks to stupa. He doesn’t walk to the other areas of the site.” Why does the rest of the area need to remain exposed when, “Ninety per cent of the visitors never go beyond the S D area,” Dr Kenoyer raised the question.

“And then you celebrate festivals inside the fragile site,” he said while referring but not mentioning to the Sindh Festival organised by Pakistan People’s Party government.

The archaeologist was of the view some of characteristics of Indus valley civilisation are in continuity and we can view Moenjodaro people’s features all around. “Some of the characteristics have modified and some of them are in continuity like hospitality of the people in the lower Indus valley, brick making, some costumes and lifestyle”.

Utensils recovered from the site. —Tauseef Razi Mallick
Utensils recovered from the site. —Tauseef Razi Mallick

However, Dr Michael Jansen, who supervised the Unesco project for the safeguarding of Moenjodaro, said, “We cannot remove stupa, we cannot remove the great bath and make replicas of them.”

The site doesn’t need to be rebuilt, he said while rejecting the notion of Dr Kenoyer altogether.

“This is the old theory of conservation. Because if we look at the structures, this clay and crystallisation takes place in this very thin layer of Moenjodaro. So reburying would be complete non-sense.”

Dr Jansen said, “We are dealing with a city spread over 40 kilometres. If we are to rebuild another city with walls spread over the same area, one can only imagine the resources it would take to do so.”

“The right way to go about preservation is that we find a recipe to preserve the site,” he said.

A sculpture placed at Moenjodaro museum. —Tauseef Razi Mallick
A sculpture placed at Moenjodaro museum. —Tauseef Razi Mallick

"What we need is a proper mechanism for sustainable maintained of the structures. The government needs to protect the site from human intervention,” he added.

Dr Aurore Didier, the director of French Archaeological Mission in the Indus Basin, who currently excavating Chahojodaro in Benazirabad, was of the opinion that Indus sites must be explored by digging out buried objects but then be reburied to save them.

“I’m carrying out excavation at Chahojodaro because I would like to know more about the Indus civilisation. It is important to collect evidences through more extensive excavation to know more about early people and their society,” she said.

Dr Didler is of the opinion that there is continuity in Pakistan not from the Indus valley civilisation but also from the Neolithic period.

Traces of coal recovered from the ancient site. —Tauseef Razi Mallick
Traces of coal recovered from the ancient site. —Tauseef Razi Mallick

She stressed, however, the need for technological solution for the Indus valley civilisation sites. “There are scientific ways to know what is buried without excavation," she said, but added that this technology would only inform archaeologists about the presence of artefacts, which would, ultimately, will have to be dug out if more information is to be gathered from them.

About Dr Kenoyer’s suggestion of reburying the site she said, “Of course with excavation architecture is exposed to wind, sun light and rains and artificial elements.” For that reason, she said, in the excavations at Chahojodaro the architectural remains once they have been exposed.

Remains fo the ancient city of Moenjodaro. —Tauseef Razi Mallick
Remains fo the ancient city of Moenjodaro. —Tauseef Razi Mallick