HERITAGE: UNDERSTANDING THE POTENTIAL OF THE INDUS VALLEY CIVILISATION

Published December 10, 2023
Pakistan’s authorities need to preserve, restore and promote Mohenjo Daro
Pakistan’s authorities need to preserve, restore and promote Mohenjo Daro

In 1856, the British Empire was expanding their network of passenger railways in the Subcontinent. During the construction of the railway line connecting Lahore to Karachi, a British official supervising the project noticed something unusual: the local labourers were using bricks that were slimmer, longer, and appeared to have weathered over time.

Upon immediate investigation, he discovered that the labourers had been removing bricks from an archaic site nearby, half-enveloped by land. Instead of manufacturing new bricks, they thought it was more efficient to save time and repurpose old ones from the abandoned site of what would later be discovered as part of the Indus Valley Civilisation.

As they continued this desultory practice, a tale of inadvertent historical erasure was unfolding — a narrative that would forever be tied to the discovery of the Indus Valley. The narrative goes: before the discovery of the Indus Valley Civilisation by white men, the native people were ruining the artefacts and the archaeological sanctity of the site with their ignorance.

Over 50 years later, a fleet of archaeologists, led by Sir John Marshall, would excavate the site of Harappa and officially be celebrated as the heroes who uncovered the Indus Valley Civilisation (3300 BCE - 1300 BCE).

Although the Indus Valley Civilisation has been globally recognised as one of the most technologically advanced ancient civilisations, little has been done to preserve the archaeological sanctity of this cultural heritage. It could, however, still become a springboard for economic and soft-power gains for Pakistan

Neglected History

The Indus Valley’s preservation efforts since have been met with a recurring obstacle. Since most of the sites, including the significant ones such as Harappa and Mohenjo Daro, were abandoned and forgotten for centuries, the conservation of these sites requires archaeological knowledge, precaution, and a degree of intricacy that Pakistan struggles to provide.

As the example of labourers during the railway line construction suggests, over the centuries, the decay of these cities, coupled with natural factors, has forever damaged a part of the history of the Indus Valley.

Despite being the most technologically advanced civilisation as compared to its contemporaries, due to its relatively late discovery in an impaired condition, it has not received as much exploration and recognition as the other three notable ancient civilisations: Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt and China.

Lessons from Peru and Egypt

A scapegoat argument that has been used to justify Pakistan’s lack of efforts into preserving and capitalising on this cultural treasure is that the Indus Valley Civilisation has only recently been discovered over a century ago.

However, it’s worth noting that Machu Picchu’s rediscovery in 1911 occurred roughly around the same period as that of the Indus Valley. Nevertheless, the Peruvian government has successfully transformed Machu Picchu into a thriving global tourist attraction.

Other than the timeline of its discovery, Machu Picchu shares another trait with the Indus Valley: they both have been attributed to the discovery efforts of white explorers. Machu Picchu, the Inca citadel nestled high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, remained a well-guarded secret for centuries, until its discovery by an American historian named Hiram Bingham. While searching for the lost city of Vilcabamba, Bingham — with the guidance of indigenous farmers — stumbled upon this abandoned site.

Since then, Machu Picchu has evolved into a linchpin of Peru’s economy, generating formal and informal employment opportunities and yielding an annual revenue of approximately $40 million through entry fees alone, with the additional economic impact stemming from transportation, hospitality and culinary services, considerably augmenting this figure.

In some ways, Peru has done this by establishing remarkable infrastructure, such as transportation, accommodations and visitor facilities, making the site easily accessible to tourists, and preserving the cultural and historical integrity of Machu Picchu by placing strict regulations on visitors.

Egypt stands as another example of how historical preservation yields economic benefits. Egypt’s approach to preserving its ancient landmarks, such as the pyramids of Giza, demonstrates a long-term commitment to safeguarding its heritage.

The country’s success in leveraging its historical sites as a major tourist attraction is also attributed to its effective marketing strategies. The pyramids of Giza, along with Luxor and other archaeological sites, are internationally recognised symbols of ancient civilisation, generating a revenue of $10.7 billion from tourism in the last year alone .

By diversifying their offerings beyond the pyramids, incorporating other archaeological sites, museums and cultural experiences, Egypt has been able to capitalise on and preserve their ancient history.

The success of Egypt’s pyramids in driving its tourism industry is a testament to the significant economic impact of well-preserved historic sites. The revenue generated from tourism has contributed to Egypt’s economy and job creation.

The Great Bath of Mohenjo Daro is an example of how planners at that time understood city design
The Great Bath of Mohenjo Daro is an example of how planners at that time understood city design

Missed Opportunities: Pakistan’s Economic Loss

The neglect of the Indus Valley sites has been a missed opportunity for Pakistan. With effective preservation, strategic promotion and infrastructural development, these archaeological marvels could have been transformed into economic assets. The potential benefits include a boost to tourism, job creation in the hospitality and tourism sectors, and a rise in revenue for the government.

These sites, if properly conserved and marketed, could attract domestic and international tourists, leading to the growth of hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses in the surrounding areas. This would not only create employment opportunities but also generate substantial revenue through entrance fees, souvenir sales and other tourism-related activities.

The rich cultural heritage of the Indus Valley also could potentially broaden horizons for scholars and researchers from around the world. The cultural significance of these ancient sites extends beyond sightseeing — it represents an opportunity for educational tourism.

The undeciphered script found in the artefacts of the Indus Valley Civilisation could leverage Pakistan’s academic and historical advancement. By investing in scholarly research and international collaborations to decode this ancient script, Pakistan could position itself as a centre for linguistic and archaeological studies.

Deciphering the script would unlock invaluable insights into the civilisation’s language, culture and societal structures. Furthermore, this breakthrough could attract linguists, historians and researchers worldwide, fostering a deeper understanding of this civilisation. The script’s decipherment would not only enrich Pakistan’s cultural heritage, but also propel it on to the global stage as a prominent member in historical research and interpretation.

With proper preservation and support, the Indus Valley sites could become epicentres for academic exploration. Research centres and institutions dedicated to the study of the Indus Valley Civilisation’s history, art, trade and societal structures could attract historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and various other experts. The study of these ancient sites can contribute to the expansion of knowledge about the depth of human history and civilisation, potentially uncovering new insights into the development of early societies; presenting an opportunity for us to apply ancient knowledge to contemporary problems.

Beyond scholarly pursuits, efforts to preserve and promote Indus Valley heritage could be done in various other forms, such as public awareness campaigns, community outreach programmes and educational initiatives within schools — as they could instil a sense of pride and ownership in Pakistanis. This cultural preservation and awareness would nurture a deeper appreciation for the historical significance of these sites and foster a sense of national identity connected to our rich heritage.

Enhancing International Image

Another benefit that robust preservation of the Indus Valley could yield is that it could help in enhancing Pakistan’s international image.

The responsible custodianship of such historically significant sites would not only attract tourists but also garner global respect for Pakistan’s commitment to preserving world heritage. Promotion of Pakistan’s rich cultural history can strengthen the country’s soft power and cultural diplomacy, potentially increasing international cooperation and partnerships.

Additionally, a strategic focus on sustainable tourism practices and environmental conservation could be integral to the preservation efforts. Balancing economic growth with the conservation of these ancient sites can be crucial for their longevity and continued appeal. Implementing eco-friendly practices and sustainable tourism initiatives can further enhance the attraction of these destinations to travellers, promoting a responsible and ethical approach to tourism that only a few states protecting ancient ruins have been able to offer.

The economic benefit from building up Pakistan’s soft power through preservation of historic sites can be reaped in ways that aren’t directly tied to monetary gains. The establishment of a strong tourism infrastructure and promotion strategy could set the stage for sustainable economic growth, leaving a lasting legacy for future generations.

Lessons for Modern Urban Development

The urban planning of the Indus Valley Civilisation is a testament to their sophisticated understanding of city design. Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, the principal sites of this ancient civilisation, showcase unparalleled levels of urban organisation. Their advanced city layout, characterised by well-planned streets, efficient drainage systems, and well-structured housing, reflects a diligent understanding of town planning that was far ahead of its time.

By exploring and understanding the architectural layout and infrastructure of these ancient cities, Pakistan could gain a deeper appreciation of city planning principles. The meticulous sewer and water systems, the grid-like street patterns and the standardised brick sizes all indicate a level of urban organisation that modern cities could learn from. The emphasis on sanitation and public health, apparent in the well-structured drainage systems, could provide crucial insights for contemporary urban planners, especially in densely populated areas.

The Indus Valley Civilisation’s emphasis on sustainability and eco-friendliness in their urban design is particularly noteworthy. Their cities were not only planned well but also integrated systems that managed water supply and waste disposal effectively. The knowledge and practices of resource management and environmentally conscious urban living from this ancient society could offer valuable insights in the face of modern challenges such as climate change, overpopulation and sustainable urban development.

In addition to urban planning, the Indus Valley Civilisation’s technological advancements and trade networks also offer treasured enlightenment. The presence of advanced craftsmanship, standardised weights, and evidence of long-distance trade routes indicates a complex and sophisticated economic system. This information could contribute to our understanding of early globalisation and the interconnectivity of ancient societies, providing a broader perspective on the evolution of human civilisation, and how we could evolve those practices to fit the frame of modern-day problems.

Strategies for Preserving the Sites

The government needs to show a robust commitment towards unlocking the economic potential of these sites. A dedicated budget allocation specifically for the preservation, restoration and promotion of these archaeological wonders is crucial.

Adequate financial support is needed to invest in infrastructure development, expert conservation and ongoing maintenance. This funding would ensure that the sites are well-maintained and accessible, enhancing their appeal to both local and international visitors.

Investments in infrastructure, such as roads, transportation and visitor amenities, are critical. Enhanced accessibility to these historical sites ensures a smoother and more enjoyable experience for tourists, academics and archaeologists. Building visitor centres, rest areas and interpretive signage can provide historical context, enriching the experience. Moreover, the provision of clean facilities, security and well-trained guides contribute significantly to the overall satisfaction of visitors, encouraging return visits and positive word-of-mouth promotion.

Additionally, collaboration with international organisations, heritage preservation bodies and academic institutions could provide not only financial support but also invaluable expertise. Partnering with Unesco, for instance, could facilitate the recognition and preservation of these sites on a global scale. Collaborations with international experts could offer insights into best practices for conservation, effective promotional strategies, and the implementation of sustainable tourism initiatives.

Incorporating educational programs, workshops and cultural events centred around the Indus Valley Civilisation can attract scholars, students and curious travellers. Lectures, seminars and interactive learning experiences could promote academic engagement and create a deeper understanding of the historical and cultural significance of these sites. Cultural events celebrating the heritage of the civilisation could attract both locals and tourists, fostering a sense of pride and community engagement.

Furthermore, creating a strong digital presence and effective marketing campaigns is important in attracting global attention. Engaging and informative websites, enhanced social media presence and partnerships with travel agencies can significantly increase awareness of these historical sites.

REVIVAL DEPENDS ON REALISATION

Realising the economic potential of the Indus Valley Civilisation sites demands a multi-faceted approach that involves collaboration, funding, infrastructure development and strategic marketing.

By prioritising these initiatives, Pakistan can not only unlock the economic benefits associated with these ancient marvels, but also contribute to global cultural understanding, sustainable tourism and the preservation of our shared human heritage.

The realisation of this potential not only promises economic growth but also ensures the preservation and appreciation of this ancient legacy for generations to come.

The writer is an academic. She can be reached at mishazafarr@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, December 10th, 2023

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