Friday July 01, 2022

Discovering – and preserving – Mehrgarh

April 01, 2019

The word ‘heritage’ means something that we inherit from earlier generations. It comprises both the tangible and the intangible including culture, value and traditions. It represents history and identity.

The archaeological explorations and excavations in all provinces of Pakistan show that this land has been home to one of the oldest civilizations of the world. Archeological sites such as Mehrgarh, Moenjodaro, Harappa, Taxila, Makli, Nindowani, Miri Kalat and Shahi Tump have been acknowledged as key archaeological sites.

Mehrgarh is located in District Kachhi near Bolan at a distance of 130 kilometres from Quetta. The discovery and excavation of Mehrgarh in the 1970s and further continuous excavation by the French Archaeological Mission headed by Professor Jean Francois Jarrige brought this region to the limelight as one of the centers of early civilization, once a great waterway – now drying up, thanks to the deteriorating climate change. The work on the Mehrgarh site was carried out in two phases, from 1974 to 1986 and later on from 1997 to 2000 in collaboration with the Department of Archaeology, Pakistan.

This heritage site is the precursor of the Indus Valley civilization and suggests the existence of civilization as early as 7000 BCE. According to renowned anthropologist and culture expert, Ayoub Baloch, the discovery of Mehrgarh by the French Archaeological Mission “genuinely uplifted Balochistan from a blank zone to a distinguished status of civilization giver that not only influenced South Asia but the world at large. It also revised many myths including the dominance of the Indus Valley Civilization, repositioning MoenJoDaro and Harappa (5000 years) as the grandchildren of Mehrgarh”.

The excavation of Mehrgarh brought forth solid evidence about the important role Balochistan once played as one of the cradles of civilization in South Asia. According to German archaeologist Dr Ute Franke, the discovery of Mehrgarh is considered a very significant step in human history, is termed as the ‘Neolithic Revolution’. It transformed nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers into agriculture settlements; people settled down and started to domesticate plants and animals that eventually paved the way for the formation of the Indus Valley Civilization.

The archaeological evidence found during the excavation illustrate that Mehrgarh was a flourishing human settlement with a considerable population. The site of this buried town is spread over a large area beneath several layers of earth which settled upon it during these years. According to archaeologists, Mehrgarh is considered to be one of the most well-planned and ancient settlements in the Subcontinent – much before the Indus Civilization. It is difficult to find out the causes of the disappearance of such a monument but it is assumed that this could be due to earthquake or floods or climate change. It is interesting to note that in those days Balochistan used to be a very lush green area with plenty of rainfall. This is also a sign of the shape of things to come, thanks to what is called global warming. The dwellers of Mehrgarh left this town to move towards Mohenjodaro as the latter started becoming more urban. Besides, the site has considerably been damaged due to soil erosion as well as tribal feuds. The continued neglect on account of its preservation is resulting in gradual destruction. The present state of the site requires more attention.

During the excavation, a huge number of artifacts such as figurines, sophisticated and elegant pottery, beads and seals of different kinds were found which shows the prevalence of a highly developed culture in this part of land in ancient times. Though the Mehrgarians were nomads, soon they developed techniques to grow crops such as wheat, barley and cotton. They used to live in mud brick houses, constructed granaries to store their grain and herded animals like sheep, goats and cattle. The discovery of Mehrgarh shed new light on tool-making too; the people of that time were good at making a variety of tools from copper ore and stone used for different purposes including tools for drilling of teeth for the treatment of cavities. They also knew the use of cotton and wove fabrics of different designs. In other words, they were well conversant with dental sciences and weaving.

The traces of Mehrgarians can still be discerned in the Sibi cattle show in Balochistan where high-bred cattle are put on display. Yet another similarity can be seen in the turban of the people of Balochistan. Their ancestors, that is Mehrgarians, invariably used spectacular turban and clothes made of cotton. This is how the heritage of Mehrgarh has survived the vicissitudes of time. Beautiful ceramics believed to be from the 8th millennium BCE have also been found at the site.

The government of Balochistan is planning to protect this rich cultural heritage and preserve it as much as possible not only for archaeological and historical research but also to promote heritage tourism. Fortunately, the present government is determined to promote tourism by developing tourism spots in the province, construction of museums and preservation of heritage sites such as Mehrgarh. In this regard, a quality museum is near completion in Quetta, and funding has also been allocated for the protection of the Mehrgarh cultural site.

With the cooperation and support of the government of Sindh, a large number of centuries-old valuable antiquities of Balochistan kept in the exploration branch of the National Museum of Karachi for the past many decades have been brought back to Quetta, and will be put on display in the newly constructed museum. These artifacts include seals, coins, stone tools, beads, figurine and refined and stylish pottery. For the promotion of research and development in the field of archaeology, the government of Balochistan has initiated a ‘Jarrige Heritage Award’ in recognition of the services of Dr Francois Jarrige, the discoverer of the Mehrgarh site. This award will financially support young archaeologists to carry out research. These initiatives will also go a long way towards presenting a soft image of the province of Balochistan.

Heritage is a key social and economic asset. It enriches the culture of societies and nations and brings social and economic benefits that are essential for the quality of life. The year 2015 witnessed significant milestones in connection with a new sustainable future. The 2030 Agenda was adopted with seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), in which safeguarding culture has been added. The inclusion of conservation and development of heritage as a main element of the SDGs reflects the importance and significance of heritage. The management of heritage is as important as the environment. Mehrgarh is an important asset of Pakistan, and we should cherish it as a national treasure and take all possible steps to protect it.

The writer is the secretary of the Department of Culture, Tourism & Archaeology, Balochistan.