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History in ruins

December 11, 2018

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IN an effort to draw attention to one of the oldest and most neglected historical sites — Mehrgarh in Balochistan — a rally was organised in Quetta the other day. Participants had a few broad demands: they requested the site be given the same importance and official state protection as other historical sites in Pakistan, such as the Indus Valley and Harappa civilisations, and that measures be taken to facilitate visits from students and tourists alike. Despite being a precursor to the aforementioned civilisations, and one of the earliest sites with evidence of farming and herding in the world, very little work has been done on it. The site was first discovered by French archaeologists, with the help of the Department of Archaeology, in 1974. A team led by Jean François and Catherine Jarrige worked on the site — coming across bodies, silverware and kitchen utensils as they dug up the earth.

Unfortunately, tribal feuds between the Rind and Raisani clans, following a local body election during the Zia years, led to a rising body count on both sides, and it also effectively closed off the area to outsiders as work came to a halt. There has been sporadic work since then, which picked up again in 1997 and concluded at the end of the millennium. But much of the treasures dug up were shipped out of the country. The local museum is a picture of neglect. The second cause for the site’s decay is its proximity to the Bolan River. Like all civilisations, Mehrgarh was born on the banks of a once-great river. Now, rainfall and seasonal flooding from the river has gradually eroded the ruins. Balochistan offers much scope for archaeology and history enthusiasts. But just as the province is neglected politically, so too is its history. In Pakistan, unfortunately, there is apathy towards our ancient history, especially the pre-Islamic past. A little wisdom and understanding will make it clear that ruins translate to riches. But who’s listening?

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2018

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