The forgotten cities of the Indus

By Prof. Dr. Michael Jansen (Sitara-e-Imtiaz)

Moen jo Daro Sindh

Moen jo Daro, is an archeological site in the province of Sindh, Pakistan. Built around 2600 BCE, it was one of the largest settlements of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.

In 1979 both Moen jo Daro and the cathedral of Aachen, where the exhibition was inaugurated, were put as some of the earliest cultural sites on the World Heritage List.

Again, in the same year UNESCO started one of its largest campaigns ever (after Abu Simbel in Egypt) and RWTH Aachen University, Germany under the directorship of the author started their research at Moen jo Daro the ‘Hill of the Dead’: The city should not die a second death!

It was in 1985 when the priest king of Moen jo Daro left the country for the first time to go to Aachen, Germany. The German Government and the Government of Pakistan had organized for the first time in cooperation with UNESCO an international exhibition on the Indus Civilization. The exhibition which traveled through whole Europe became a big success, making the third of the earliest civilizations of the world (besides those of Egypt and Mesopotamia) more known to the people.

More than 20 Million US$ were allocated by UNESCO to safe the site from crumbling to dust. Salts (saltpeter) in the ground were about to systematically destroy the city mostly built to burnt bricks of today’s size and standard. With the more than 700 water wells inside the city and several kilometers of drains for the draining of sewage, the city was the most modern in the world in the 3rd millennium BC. Jointly with UNESCO, RWTH Aachen University finally found the recipe to protect the more than 40 km! of standing burnt brick walls. As the salts are only below 32⁰ C on the capillary surface destructive, it was decided to cover all surfaces with a thin layer of slit in which now the salts crystalize without further destroying the original bricks. This protective layer, of course, has to permanently monitored, supplying jobs to the locals of the nearby villages who are also capable to supply the silt slurry to the walls. In 1997 UNESCO regarded the city to be sufficiently protected and finally winded up one of the biggest campaigns in its history.

The scientific basis was laid by the research work of RWTH Aachen University: all structures excavated in the twenties and thirties were re-documented stone by stone, an evaluation study shows which walls are still original, a systematic time-space analysis was carried out for the reinterpretation of three-dimensional growth and studies for the replacement of the figurines and seals were carried out (Alexandra Ardeleanu-Jansen; Ute Franke).

The German Research Center ‘Moen jo Daro’ houses the largest collection of data in the world, consisting of several hundred thousand photographs, more than 5000 old photographs of the British colonial time, registrations of 38,000 excavated objects, more than 800 aerial photographs taken from hot air balloon. With three television films made with the German television, Moen jo Daro is today well known in Germany.

But the site, since the 18th amendment under the responsibility of the Government of Sindh is still in danger: monsoon rains challenge the site annually, an effective site management has to be built up guaranteeing the permanent professional monitoring and adequate treatment, local tourism has to be controlled and the international standards of UNESCO and ICOMOS has to be followed.

The Technical Consultative Committee, presently under the chairperson ship of Prof. Dr. Nilofer Shaikh, former vice chancellor of Khairpur University has been established by UNESCO and the Pakistani Government as caretaker of this worldwide unique site. The author is member as senior advisor.


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