AN archaeology department official showing the recovered ornaments which were stolen from Sirkap site near Taxila.—DAWN
AN archaeology department official showing the recovered ornaments which were stolen from Sirkap site near Taxila.—DAWN

TAXILA: The Punjab department of archaeology and museums has constituted a high-level committee to probe theft of antiquities worth millions of rupees from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) world heritage site of Sirkap which was declared “protected” in 1980.

Speaking to Dawn on Saturday, the department’s director general, Chaudhry Mohammad Ijaz, said that one of the department’s directors would head the inquiry committee which would investigate how the gold ornaments worth millions were stolen from the ancient site of Sirkap — also known as the second city of Taxila and was an ancient metropolis dating back to the 2nd century BC and 2nd century AD.

The body would probe why conservation work was carried out without the presence of an archaeologist, said Mr Ijaz, adding that the officials concerned would be taken to task for violating the archaeological manual.

Inquiry to also determine why conservation work was carried out without an archaeologist

Meanwhile, the deputy director of the department’s sub-regional office in Taxila, Irshad Hussain, told this reporter that despite the fact that the police had arrested and kept in remand for five days all six accused labourers — Saeed, Sheraz, Amjad, Yasir, Anjum and Faizan — all the stolen antiquities could not be recovered so far.

A large number of the stolen antiquities — including a necklace with multi-coloured gems, bangles and other jewellery items — were sought-after artefacts with small and delicate carvings, a sign of the superb craftsmanship of that time.

Earlier, deputy director of the department of archaeology Mohammad Irshad Khan had said that they had tracked down a few labourers—who belonged to nearby villages— and recovered some of the ornaments including two earrings, a bangle and a few pieces of gold.

On the other hand, some officials of the department of archaeology and museums feared that even when the labourers were in police custody no recovery was made so far, putting the police personnel under a cloud.

It may be recalled here that the department of archaeology and museums had awarded a contract for the restoration of an ancient archaeological site in Sirkap to a local contractor.

On November 12 during preservation work, some labourers had found gold ornaments, including earrings, bangles, nickels and other small pieces while removing wild grass from the remains of a residential complex located at the eastern side of the site at the back of the apsidal temple and stole them. According to the sources, these ornaments roughly weighed a kilogramme.

Soon after the theft, the labourers sought deals for the stolen ornaments with local antique dealers and it was after reports of the deals surfaced that officials of the department realised what had happened and approached the police.

The first excavation of the old city was carried out under the supervision of Sir John Marshall from 1912-1930 during which gold ornaments were recovered which are now on display at the Taxila Museum. No further excavations have been conducted in the 87 years since and several antiques were stolen from the site.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2017

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