SAHIWAL: Dr Rafique Mughal, the team lead of the ongoing archaeological excavation at Ganweriwala in Cholistan desert, says he first discovered the site in 1973 and his findings were based on topography maps published by The Survey of Pakistan.

Excavation at the archaeological site of Ganweriwala resumed on March 1 after a gap of 47 years since the discovery of the site said to be the third largest settlement of the Indus Valley Civilisation, between Harappa and Mohenjodaro, belonging to the era of 2600BC to 1900BC.

A picture of mounds.
A picture of mounds.

“My archaeological research revealed the presence of over 350 mother sites from Harappa to Mohenjodaro along with the dry bed of river Hakra as the early development phase of the Indus Civilisation,” says Dr Mughal during the ongoing archaeological excavation at Ganweriwala.

The international community, including the French, Japanese, American, and British archeologists, had recognised Ganweriwala and termed it a ‘major revolutionary discovery,’ he claims.

Explains causes of the long delay in restart of excavation

Dr Rafique Mughal is professor emeritus of archaeology at the University of Boston, US, and former director general of archaeology and museums in Pakistan.

When asked why it took about 47 years to resume excavation at the site discovered by him, Dr Mughal attributed the delay to the dearth of local professional archaeologists, lack of funding, absence of awareness among the masses and influx of foreign missions doing archaeological excavations and discoveries.

He recalls that Pir Hassamuddin Rashidi, an authority on Sindhology, once shared that an indigenous tribe ‘Hakro’ claimed to be a descendant of the tribes who lived along the Hakra river for the last 5,000 years.

“Even a US-based professor of anthropology, a leading authority on the ancient Indus Valley civilisation, acknowledged my archaeological findings, albeit with a professional disagreement about the ‘nomenclature’ of the Indus civilization’s emergence—I proposed that it emerged near the Hakra river while the US scholar emphasized its proximity to the surroundings of the river Ravi,” says the veteran archaeologist.

After initial discovery in 1973, he, being director of the exploration branch of Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Pakistan, had devised a comprehensive archaeological survey, spanning four winter seasons for further excavation at Ganweriwala spread over 71 acres.

Dr Mughal, lead archaeologist busy in excavating with a team of archeologists at Ganweriwala.
Dr Mughal, lead archaeologist busy in excavating with a team of archeologists at Ganweriwala.

Dr Mughal acknowledges that the then department had supported the efforts to unearth the archaeological wealth of the Indus Valley civilisation along the Hakra river. However, despite being granted special permission by the department, the excavation programme was abruptly terminated by the government in 1977, he says.

“Years later I came to know that excavation at Ganweriwala was stopped because it was close to the international border area and many in the government thought it might cause multiple security risks. At that time, I was not allowed to use GPS technology for documentation at Ganweriwala. Today while sitting between two mounds all GPS locations are known to my family, friends and world.”

While talking further about the delay in the restart of excavation, Dr Mughal considers lack of financial assistance and absence of mass awareness about cultural heritage the main impediments to archaeological endeavours at Ganweriwala in the last five decades.

However, Dr Mughal is resolute in his commitment to archaeology and in his efforts for excavation, which materialised today after half a century.

To a question about why archaeological excavations were predominantly conducted by foreign missions rather than local archaeologists, he cites a historical shift within the department of archaeology and museums (DOAMs), now a provincial subject after the passage of the 18th Amendment. He says in the initial phase, the department provided comprehensive one-and-a-half-year professional training to newly recruited archaeologists who conducted indigenous excavations. At that time, the department trained people who engaged in excavation in Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan. However, a shift occurred where the department started prioritizing administrative and professional tasks related to the ‘preservation of monuments’ rather than working on excavation due to on-ground hard challenges and the time-consuming nature of archaeological excavations.

“Hence for excavation, more reliance was on foreign missions to undertake hard on-ground archaeological discoveries,” he explains. However, the situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been different where constant excavations are still running, he says and adds that the policy shift produces a shortage of a professionally trained pool of skilled archaeologists within the country and subsequently necessitates involvement of foreign missions for excavations of national heritage.

Even the Mehrgarh- dating back to 8000 years, was excavated by the French archeological missions.

“Lack of public awareness and private illegal digging at historical sites of Punjab led to another dangerous aspect of the theft of archaeological artifacts from Pakistan,” he adds.

Dr Mughal expects more sites because river Hakra spread towards Upper Sindh, North East and Rahim Yar Khan.

“The Bahawalnagar route of Hakra river remains to be explored.”

Dr Mughal has termed leveling of agricultural land for corporate farming and ongoing urbanisation also threats to the remaining archeological heritage of Punjab and Sindh.

He suggests to the government to consider the provincial archaeology department a major stakeholder while doing urban planning and corporate farming, otherwise, leveling of the land would destroy mounds and remains of civilisation permanently in parts of Punjab and Sindh.

Dr Mughal is optimistic about the long term excavation despite the modest funding of Rs20m. He emphasizes the global significance of Ganweriwala as an early part of the Harappan civilization, a fact even accepted by the renowned archaeologists in Indian Punjab. India has many more sites of the Indus Valley civilisation.

Dr Mughal says the present excavation would collect technical data, metal analyses, studies on pottery and terra-cotta. He says the Department of Archaeology of Balochistan had sent two men and two female university students as a part of the excavation team, which would continue for the next 60 days.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2024

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