It is said that rivers give birth to civilisations and if a river dries up or changes its path, the civilisation also dies eventually. Obvious examples of such cities that have now gone extinct can be found in Cholistan desert where remains of several settlements of Indus Valley civilisation have been found along the dry bed of the ancient river Hakra.
However, those rivers that continue to exist become cradle of history as one civilisation after another rises and falls on their banks. Soan River has proven to be one such asset which has seen the rise and fall of many civilisations and cultures. But as fates have turned, once the site of a prehistoric civilisation, today Soan River has been reduced to nothing more than a sewer and a dump site for our ‘modern civilisation’.
Though Soan is considered to be one of Pakistan’s smaller rivers, this is an important stream of the Potohar region and historically has been the centre of pre-historic Soanian culture.
Emerging from the foothills of Patriata and Murree, Soan River eventually falls into Indus River near Makkar.
“The oldest evidence of life in Pakistan has been found in Soan River valley. It was here that some of the earliest signs of humans have been discovered during the excavations of prehistoric mounds,” said Director of Taxila Institute of Asian Civilization at Quaid-i-Azam University, Dr Ashraf Khan.
According to Dr Khan, Soan River Valley is where 500,000 year old relics of the Stone Age man have been found, identifying it as the place with the earliest human inhabitation in the region.
Soan River has many archeological as well as natural heritage sites along its banks and there is no denying that the areas of Rawalpindi and Islamabad are a rich den of precious history.
“The historic background of Rawalpindi and Islamabad can be traced back to the Paleolithic period, the oldest stone tools have been reported in Morgah, Sohan and on the banks of River Soan,” said Dr Ashraf.
“The Stone Age men of Soan Valley have been found to organise themselves in a homogeneous society where they formed groups and developed a culture called the Soan Culture,” explained Dr Khan. Beyond people, significant animal remains have also been found along Soan River. Experts reveal that one such discovery has been of a large fossil, probably remains of a rhinoceros, along the bank of River Soan near another historically site, the Pharwala Fort.
Unfortunately, instead of finding more about the hidden treasures around Soan River, these remains are under permanent danger of being destroyed.
Mr Zulminun, a resident of Soan Garden Housing Society, remarked: “Due to sewage disposal and piles of municipal waste being dumped into the river without any hesitation or fear of legal action by the authorities, I fear there will be nothing left for future generations to learn from here.”
Part of the problem is the sheer lack of awareness about the importance of Soan River and its surroundings. Archeological and heritage sites have never been given their due attention by the government and so people remain unaware of the significance of these remains that give clues to our prehistoric past.
Irfan Bhatti, a radio producer and the patron-in-chief of Potohar Adventures Club, condemned the negligence of the authorities for the ongoing damage.
It is not just a matter of destruction of our history, but the river is a natural home for many species: “Birds and animals of Potohar Region naturally make their homes along the river - just like the extinct animals that once lived here. But this window to our pre-historic past is facing increasing pressure from developers and polluters,” he added.
Theoretically, no new project is authorised without its Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports.
Thus when housing and other developmental projects fulfil this legal requirement, they commit that their projects will not cause any harm to environment or heritage.
This means that project planners should assume the responsibility of developing proper sewage and solid waste treatment and disposal systems. But in reality, such planning and development is simply not taking place and EPA and the government keeps its eyes closed to ongoing violations.
This matter needs to be addressed not just because of the significance of these sites but also because their full value has not even been completely discovered yet.
“Detailed scientific excavations are needed on these sites so that a stratified chronology of the history of this region can be established,” said Dr Khan, pointing out the abundant room for exploration and discovery that exists in these areas.
Experts claim that these prehistoric sites have immense value and are worthy of being selected as one of Unesco’s many world heritage sites - but without attention from authorities concerned, they will remain unnoticed and ignored.