Mohmand’s ancient glory

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PESHAWAR: The government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is gearing up for the rediscovery of historical sites in a newly merged tribal district of the province. The new discoveries are putting the erstwhile war-torn area onto the global map for its richness in archaeological history.

After a decline in terrorism and restoration of peace, an archaeological survey team is thrilled to have found prehistoric sites in Mohmand tribal district in KP. This is said to be the first-ever scientific government archaeological survey in the tribal district since the end of the British colonial era.

Dr Abdul Samad, director of the KP Department of Archaeology and Museums, told Bol News that this is for the first time that an archaeology team has started survey in one of the tribal districts with an aim to find the lost historical glory in the newly merged tribal districts of KP.

He added that the team has documented around 53 archaeological sites in different tehsils of Mohmand district which contain prehistoric caves, rock carvings, Buddhist and Hindu Shahi archaeological sites.

The head of the survey team elaborated, “Through the history of Mohmand tribal district, this is for the first time that a scientific archaeological survey for the whole district is being carried out.”

Changing perceptions

The head of archaeology, thinking such discoveries will highlight Mohmand district on the world map differently, added: “Whenever people heard the name of Mohmand or tribal belt in Pakistan, they tended to think of terrorism only. But after this discovery, the area will change the concept and portray this remote area as a centre of civilisation and different cultures.”

Dr Samad, discussing the heritage history of the newly merged tribal district and KP, commented, “This is for the first time we are working in tribal area and so far what we discovered in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) revealed that this region could have [many more] such sites.”

We are up for the challenge to show the archaeological richness of seven tribal districts to the world, he added. “These areas were once [sites of conflict] but after peace was restored, the archaeology department is looking forward to more exciting discoveries.” The tribal districts are a distinct territory within Pakistan. They border Afghanistan and have unique culture, traditions and governance structure. These areas have generally been peaceful and calm throughout history but witnessed disturbances in the post-9/11 era.

The entire former FATA region is thought to be a cradle of ancient civilisations but no one made any efforts to study it due to insecurity in the areas. Due to a bad security situation and tribal political setup, the ‘archaeological wealth’ lying underneath may have been waiting for centuries to be discovered.

Dr Naeem Qazi, a professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Peshawar, holds a PhD in the field of archaeology and believes that the tribal areas possess a rich cultural as well as archaeological heritage.

He elaborated that the tribal districts in Pakistan carry much potential with regard to ascertaining the prehistoric culture that flourished in the valley. “But unfortunately this vanished in the course of time due to a bad security situation, tribal administration and extreme weather conditions.”

The archaeology professor calling the new discoveries a victory for the archaeology department in the province said, “This is a great achievement of the government of KP.”

Dr Qazi, while recalling his old study days, revealed, “Many times, we tried to access tribal areas for archaeological purposes but due to deteriorating security, the tribal area was not accessible. But the new discoveries in the area like Mohmand is the need of time and now a ray of hope for many researchers in the world.”

He shared that the British started archaeological research in South Asia in the early 19th century and during the time, they tried to conduct an archaeological survey in Khyber Agency which is now known as Khyber district. However, due to poor security situation, they could not succeed in their work, he regretted.

Dr Qazi claimed that the heritage sites are still neglected and remain unexplored. “These rugged mountains and valleys in tribal districts of Pakistan have traces of life dating back some 5,000 years ago but the region has never been explored or introduced to the world.”

He stressed that the government should use such historical sites for tourism, suggesting that the initial findings indicate that more funds should be allocated to find more archaeological treasures in the entire tribal region. “These sites will further need funds for archaeological tourism purposes and also generate more income.”

After the former FATA region’s merger with KP, the government exploration efforts under the antiquities act also extended to the tribal district of Pakistan. In 2016, the first archaeological survey was launched in Jamrud subdivision of Khyber district. The archaeology department reportedly discovered 110 archaeological sites in affected tribal areas.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Peshawar.

He tweets @JawadYousufxai



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