MARDAN, April 26: Illegal excavation continues at various archaeological sites in Mardan and Buner districts, and the people involved in the business use dynamites and metal detectors to find coins and antiquities.

During a visit to different areas in the two districts, this correspondent found groups of people busy in digging at the sites.

In Mardan, the illegal excavation has almost ruined two Buddhist sites at Kashmir Smust (cave) and Sra Dhery near Rustam. The accused mostly use power generators and dynamites to blast the Kashmir Smust, some 7,000 feet above the sea level, for coins and antiquities.

The monastery and the settlement at the cave have been destroyed.

Local people said rare coins of Buddhist and Kushan periods had been found at the site during the illegal excavation.

The people of Babuzai have expressed concern that the area near the site has been leased out to a contractor for marble mining, which might harm the site.

When contacted, contractor Habibullah Khan of Palo Dhery, Mardan, said he had built a road to the marble mines at the mountain and his work would not damage the site because it was quite away from there.

Digging at the archaeological site in the Sra Dhery mountains has destroyed the walls and rooms of the settlement. It is learnt that rare antiquities have been found at the site, but the nature of the antiquities could not be known.

In the Buner district, bordering Mardan, illegal excavation is being done at archaeological sites in Gokand, Malikpur, Chamla and Bagh. Rare gold coins of the Kushan period have been recovered from the sites.

Local people said the smugglers, who were mostly influential people and were operating in connivance with officials, were destroying the sites.

Usman Mardanvi, an archaeologist of the Mardan identified, expressed concern that if the illegal excavation continued the sites belonging to the Buddhist, Hindu Shahi, Greeko-Bactrian, Kushan and early Muslim periods would be ruined.