Ancient Baluchistan – Exploring the Past
By Dr. Ute Franke
Excavations at Harappa and Moen jo Daro in the early 1920s pushed back Pakistan’s history by 2000 years and added the Indus – or Harappan Civilization – to the cultural landscape of the Ancient World, at eye level with the early civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Intense archaeological fieldwork carried out during the last 90 years by Pakistani and international missions has contributed enormously to our understanding of this society.
One of the most intriguing aspects from the very beginning was the genesis of the Indus Civilization – was it an import from its westerly neighbours or an indigenous development? Hence, attention was also turned towards Baluchistan and the Indo-Iranian borderlands. Surveys and excavations carried out under difficult conditions in the early 20th century and post-partition times left no doubt that this vast and now mostly deserted and dry regions was a cultural key region. Field work in the 60s and 70s not only pushed back once again human history to the 7th millennium (Mehrgarh), but also revealed a continuous cultural development to the late 3rd millennium BC – the long tradition to the Greater Indus Valley was established.
Yet, the region was and is difficult to access. Thus, the Joint German-Pakistani Archaeological Mission to Kalat, funded by the Cultural Preservation Program of the German Foreign Office and the German Research Foundation, was only the third – and last large international archaeological mission to work in central and southern Baluchistan, i.e. from Quetta to the sea coast. The team carried out extensive surveys and excavations in central and south-eastern Baluchistan from 1996 to 2000. The discovery of many 4th through late 3rd millennium BC sites provided information on the gradual expansion of human settlement, cross-regional relations, and shifting patterns of interaction prior to and contemporary with the Indus Civilization.
However, reconstructing the cultural landscape across regions and eras requires sound chronological sequences and contextual information. Thus, Sohr Damb/Nal near Khuzdar was selected for excavations in 2001. This 4.3 ha large, rural site is 14m high and type site of the beautiful polychrome Nal pottery that was traded throughout the borderlands. Excavations unfolded four subsequent levels of occupation, dating from the mid-4th to the late 3rd millennium BC. This research, supplemented by archaeometric pottery technology, informs on many aspects of life and death, food economy, craft technologies and aesthetic practices, and their change through time.
Along with the results obtained by other missions in the Kachhi plain and the Dasht Valley, in Quetta and the Bannu Basin, the topographic map of Ancient Baluchistan is taking shape and can be linked with the neighbouring regions, namely the pre-urban sites of the Indus Tradition and the civilizations to the west.
In Baluchistan, field work has come to a stop once again the rich cultural heritage is increasingly threatened by industrial expansion and looting. The documentation of sites and monuments, many of which have already vanished, and the retrieval of a large body of objects and information are thus important measures to preserve the cultural heritage for the general public and the scientific community.
A faint idea of what might still be buried – and what has been lost – is provided by the outstanding collection of several hundred pottery vessels that was confiscated by the Pakistani customs in the port of Karachi. These vessels have lost their context, but are still testimony of the outstanding quality of prehistoric craftsmanship and aesthetic concepts, many of them previously unknown from excavated material. This assemblage is presently documented and restored in the National Museum of Pakistan in Karachi by a Pakistani-German team. Funded by the Cultural Preservation Program of the German Foreign Office.Tagged