Dam threatens ancient remains

Published December 5, 2006

ISLAMABAD, Dec 4: Leading German archaeologists had mapped out thousands of years old archaeological remains which would be lost forever as a result of the construction of Diamer-Bhasha dam.

The reservoir would not only inundate 32 villages located between Basha and Raikot Bridge and force resettlement of more than 30,000 people, but also endanger the precious regions archaeological remains some 50,000 rock carvings and 5,000 inscriptions.

Prof (Dr) Harald Hauptmann, Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, who had been working on these sites with Dr Ahmad Hassan Dani of Quaid-i-Azam University since 1985, said it made him ‘very sad’ that ancient remains ranging from the Epipalaelolithic or Neolithic age to 16th century AD would be no more.

So much had been written about the construction of the dam and so many issues and problems highlighted, he said. “But it is so sad that not once has anyone ever raised the concern that the world was about to lose one of its greatest treasures.”

Dr Hauptmann was heading the research project focusing on documenting and publishing the rock carvings and inscriptions to be found in the high mountain region of northern Pakistan.

Speaking here on Monday, Dr Hauptmann said the greatest part of the rock art galleries of Diamer District would be destroyed as a result of the construction of the dam which was a tragedy. “Forget everything. More than 80 per cent will be submerged and the remaining rock carvings on the slopes be destroyed because of the construction of the new 100-km stretch of Karakorum Highway.”

Although, Dr Hauptmann was fighting a losing battle against Pakistan’s appetite for energy, he was visiting the country to present solutions if not convince the government to shift the dam site.

Describing the remains as the heritage of the whole world, Dr Hauptmann said: “We feel responsible to preserve this knowledge of the past for the future generations. We have documented more than 80 per cent of the carvings and scriptures.”

It would be impossible to move huge boulders. Cutting the granite boulders was time consuming and doable, but transporting huge rock pieces impossible. So German archaeologists will bring their high-tech equipment to perform three dimensional scanning, take photographs and sketch the impressions and produce replicas to be saved in museums.

The professor said he had met Culture Ministry Secretary Jalil Abbas and he was pleased at the considerable level of cooperation extended to him to make the project a success. “There is now a chance to get a decision out of the government to preserve its rich archaeological treasures. We have proposed establishment of museums and documentation centre in Gilgit where replicas will be preserved. Visitors and tourists will thus have access to knowledge of the cultural heritage of the region, their people, traditions and living lifestyles a step that can develop the tourism industry enormously.”

Rock carvings could be found in Africa and Australia, but nowhere in the world would we find world’s largest and richest rock art galleries like the ones in Pakistan’s north, the professor said.

Counsellor for Media Affairs and Public Diplomacy of the German Embassy Patrick Heinz said a seminar was being held at the Serena Hotel where all stakeholders would gather to work out as many options as possible. “Prof Hauptmann will give a presentation to highlight the importance of this problem.”

It was sad that this heritage site would be submerged and people did not know about it. It was the heritage of the world that the world could not afford to lose, he said.

According to a booklet published in this regard, one of the world’s largest rock art provinces was spread along the banks of upper Indus in the high mountains of northern Pakistan, adjoining Hindukush, western Himalayas, and Karakorum.

Petroglyphs of unique diversity and abundance covered cliffs, rock faces, and boulders lining Indus river from Indus Kohistan to Baltistan and reaching as far as Ladakh and Tibet.

The rock art sites did not only follow the routes along the Indus itself, but also graced important mountain passes and the valleys of the Indus tributaries including Gilgit river up to Yasin and Hunza valley. A main cluster, however, was found between Shatial in Indus-Kohistan and Raikot Bridge extending over more than 100km. The heart of this complex lay at the foot of Nanga Parbat (8,125m) around Chilas and Thalpan in the Diamer District.

Their tremendous diversity not only permitted insight into the history of various peoples with different social-cultural and political traditions and religious beliefs, but also disclosed the strategic importance of the region.

These high mountainous areas had been a crossroad of important trade routes connecting China and Central Asia to the subcontinent.

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