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Archaeological sites being neglected

October 08, 2001

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SWABI, Oct 7: There are various archaeological sites in the frontier province as the NWFP used to be main centre of Gandhara art, whose cultural and historical importance has not only been known in Pakistan but throughout the world.

According to Zainul Wahab, an archaeologist and in-charge of Mardan Museum, Gandhara was the ancient name of the Peshawar Valley. It comprised the present districts of Peshawar, Mardan, Swabi, Charsadda, Swat, Dir, Buner, and Bajaur Agency. The city of Jalalabad in Afghanistan was also part of the Gandhara civilization.

The Scythians, the Parthians, the Kushans, the Huns and some other Central Asian conquerors had settled in the Frontier as they were attracted by the pleasant climate and fertility of the region.

There are more than 300 archaeological sites in Mardan and Swabi. Prominent among those are Takhtbhai, Ashoka’s edicts at Shabaz Garhi, Jamal Garhi, Asota, Hund, Aziz Dheri, Ganguder, Mekha, Sanda, Safiabad, Kashmir Smast (cave), Torabaz Kaka stupa, Trali, Chanako Dheri and Tangu.

The sites at Shahbaz Garhi (Mardan) and Hund (Swabi) have a unique importance from the archaeological point of view. At present, Hund, which was the capital of Hindu Shahi till the commencement of 11th century, is facing neglect.

Hund, situated on the right bank of the Indus river at a distance of about 50km from the Attock bridge, was the most important strategic, political and commercial centre of ancient India.

Archaeologists say that most of the traders from Central and South Asia crossed the river at Hund to continue the two-way trade.

Hund was invaded by Alexander the Great, Greeks and Persians. The famous Buddha ruler of India Ashoka had sent Buddhist scholars to preach Buddhism there.

Keeping in view the historical significance of Hund, excavation in the area was in full swing till August 1996. One fundamental objective of the excavation was to preserve the cultural and historical values and secure material for the proposed museum at Hund.

It was expected that the tourists would have a chance to enjoy a beautiful view of the River Indus and experience the traditional and ancient crossing point at Hund.

The excavation work was inaugurated by the then federal cultural secretary, Arshad Sami Khan, along with renowned archaeologist Dr Ahmad Hassan Dani and Vice-Chancellor of Peshawar University Prof Durani. The excavation teams started work under the supervision of Ihsan Ali, Associate Professor at the Department of Archaeology, University of Peshawar, and Zainul Wahab, in-charge of the Mardan Museum.

So far, some structures and other signs of the Islamic period like that of stones and diaper masonry, several floor levels, pits oven and some other features have been excavated. The antiquity record included utensils, copper and iron rings, household objects, figures of Terra-Cotta, precious and semi-precious stones and stone beads and glass shells.

More than 90 beads and pots including pictures, jars, cups, plates and other instruments of daily use have also been excavated.

Zainul Wahab told Dawn that due to lack of funds the excavation work had been stopped. He said the government should allocate sufficient funds for the excavation process. He also demanded of the government to take practical measures to stop illegal excavation by unscrupulous elements.

According to a journalist of Swabi, Mohammad Arif, a contractor of the Islamabad-Peshawar Motorway had demolished a hillock of archaeological importance at Hund by removing earth from it.

The hillock known as “Chapai” was a valuable site for the students of archaeology. The archaeologists claimed that during the period of Alexander the Great, this artificial earthen hillock was built as a “High Mark” to give signals by lighting lantern to those crossing the river at night.

The “Chapai” was also used during the war for providing vital information to forces and protecting them from enemy’s surprise attacks.

A few months back people involved in smuggling of archaeological relics carried excavation at “Chapai” at night and took away valuables of ancient civilization, he claimed.

The archaeologists have urged the government to protect and safeguard Hund suburbs from illegal excavation. They demanded resumption of excavation at Hund and construction of museum at Hund.