A museum in cyberspace

October 24, 2021

Treasures of Pakistan is a one-of-a-kind digital museum, started by 21-year old Shaheer Niazi, who aspires to be “an archaeologist”

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Indo-Greek coinage. — Images: Supplied

Treasures of Pakistan, or rather treasures_of_pakistan, is a one-of-a-kind digital museum you can visit only on Instagram. It is the brainchild of Shaheer Niazi, 21, a prodigious physics student from Lahore, who had earlier featured in the Forbes’s 30 under-30 Asians of 2018.

In an exclusive chat with TNS, Niazi, who is currently pursuing a degree in physics from the Institute of Space Technology (IST), Islamabad, reveals that the museum was started to finance his expanding collection of coins and minerals, but later on it repositioned itself to a digital museum and collectibles store.

The idea behind setting up the museum was more than just informing people about the history of the Indo-Pak subcontinent via objects; Niazi’s collection started with heirloom from his father, received when he was only eight years old. This introduced him to coins from a number of countries and of different shapes, sizes and colours. The oldest coin in the collection was a worn-out quarter anna of British India from the time of Victoria, circa 1890.

The EIC postcard pictured with a quarter anna from 1880.

As years passed, his collection of coins grew and the Instagram handle (treasures_of_pakistan) he now has showcases rare coins from 1947 as well as those going back to the Mughal Empire, the Delhi sultans, the Huns, Kushanas, the early Greeks, Alexander the Great and the Mauryans. Additionally, the museum boasts crystals, gems, minerals and, recently, old books such as a German synopsis of Christian texts published in 1741.

These artifacts not only have monetary value but also transfer cultures and beliefs of the particular eras they are from. The earliest treasures posted on the page date back to 3500 BC.

Featured at the digital museum are coinage like 2 Reichsmark from Nazi Germany, the Mughal-style 1/5th rupee (1 fanon) coin from the French Indian colony of Pondicherry, depicting the French Company inscribed in Persian; and coinage showing the Badr-i-Munir (which translates to bright full moon) couplet from the era of Emperor Aurangzeb which states that the coins of Aurangzeb are spreading in the world like the light of the full moon.

Other relics include the first postcard of the subcontinent called the East India Postcard, stamped 23/28 December, 1891; and the earliest form of subcontinental pottery from Nal, a pre-Indus Civilisation settled in central Balochistan.

Shaheer Niazi wishes to acquire a dedicated space which will be open to public like the Fakir Khana Museum in the Walled City.

Perhaps, the most intriguing part of the museum is a chunk, weighing 125g, of the meteorite that fell in Zhob, Balochistan, on January 9, 2020. “It was a long struggle, spanning over many months.

His designated bedroom at his home is actually a room that houses all of his relics and artifacts, Shaheer says. “All the drawers contain some collection, and some curiosity adorns every shelf and table. Every new acquisition helps fulfil my desire to become an archaeologist.”

The artifacts, he adds, were initially found at the antique stores he visited in different parts of the country as well as by exchanging items with foreigners.

He mentions the issue of smuggling of artifacts. The artifacts are stolen from sites and smuggled to auction houses abroad, where they are sold to private collectors, never to be seen again. “Treasures of Pakistan, a digital museum, saves the artifacts, catalogues them and displays them digitally so that no archaeological information is lost.”

Notably, the museum is not only used to inform the visitors about subcontinental history through objects with the help of high-resolution images of archaeological gems and comprehensive captions. The platform also educates them about historical misconceptions about the Islamic civilisations and the Mughal Empire. The artifacts can also be seen at exhibitions Niazi holds from time to time. The relics were last showcased at the Lahore Science Mela in 2019. Niazi is looking forward to exhibiting these at the LSM scheduled to take place in 2022.

Pottery from Nal that shows pigments from 5,000 years ago.

Niazi says that he is open to information about any other exhibition where he can take his impressive collection to a live audience.

He says that the most intriguing vestige he has is a chunk, weighing 125g, of a meteorite that fell in Zhob, Balochistan, on January 9, 2020. “It was a long struggle, spanning over many months. It involved getting newspaper articles written about it being sold entirely to meteorite dealers in the US, and trying to find the fragments left in our country.

“With my interest in space via science and minerals, a meteorite would be the ultimate mineral/ rock to have in the collection.”

Given that there are only 17 classified meteorites (out of which most are hidden from the public or have been lost), the pieces are extremely rare in Pakistan. “It also fits well with the theme of my museum, as it is an extraterrestrial treasure that landed within our borders,” he adds.

The crusted fragment of the Zhob meteorite, weighing 125g.

The museum is on its road to expansion. While Niazi aspires to go for a PhD, he hopes to be able to broaden the museum to include “all forms of collectible treasures of Pakistan.”

He also wishes to have a dedicated space that is open to public, like the Fakir Khana Museum in the Walled City.

For all those who wish to start their own collection of coins and minerals, treasures_of_pakistan has a section of things listed for sale - coins and common relics, especially items that are not under threat of being lost.

The writer is in her last year of high-school. She aspires to be a politician

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