Khyber is much older than we imagined

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The prehistoric, Buddhist, Islamic and British era sites are a testimony to the historical and archaeological significance of Jamrud tehsil of the Khyber tribal area. PHOTO COURTESY: TOURISM CORPORATION KHYBER-PAKHTUNKHWA
PESHAWAR: Archaeologists and administration officials claim to have uncovered multiple undocumented pre-historic sites, including thousands of years old rock art in Jamrud tehsil of Khyber Agency that will upend popular assumptions about the history of this region.

The archaeological survey was initiated as a pilot project by the political administration of the agency with technical support from the K-P Directorate of Archaeology in Jamrud. The survey has documented 110 sites dating from prehistoric, Buddhist, Islamic and British eras.

In the next phase, according to the political administration, the study will be extended to other tehsils of Tirah and Bara tehsils of Khyber, where the archaeologists are expecting more amazing finds.

Though the survey has highlighted a number of historical sites, the political administration and Fata Secretariat have no archaeologists, funds or a specialised department to work for its preservation and protection against vandalism.

“Rock carvings were etched an estimated 30,000 years ago,” said Abdul Samad, Director K-P Archaeology and Museums, who conducted the survey. He was briefing the media at the Political Agent House in Peshawar. Dr Samad said if properly investigated, this will push back the documented history of the region.

The ancient rock etchings were found on a dry mountain in the Lawara Mayana area which is now considered the oldest in the region. Earlier, Sangao village in Mardan was considered the oldest where rock art as old as at least 10,000 years were found after 10 years of systematic excavations.

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The carvings are abstract with tightly clustered geometric designs and short parallel lines. At the moment, archaeologists cannot tell for sure who carved them as it will need further scientific studies for which the Fata Secretariat is not prepared due to lack of resources and trained archaeologists.

Khyber Agency remained a part of the Buddhist Gandhara civilisation that flourished in the areas that today form northern Pakistan and Afghanistan from mid-1st millennium BCE to the beginning of 2nd millennium BCE. But so far only a dilapidated stupa along the Khyber Pass was available from that era. The recent survey has documented seven more such stupas and ancient Buddhist monasteries.

According to experts, this area carries much potential with regards to ascertaining the pre-historic culture that flourished in the valley but vanished in the course of time due to natural calamities or manmade disasters.

The whole Fata is thought to be a cradle of ancient civilisations but even the British government had not made any efforts to study it due to insecurity in the region.

“We have no such staff or department to work for preservation of archaeological wealth of the agency,” said Political Agent of Khyber Agency Khalid Mehmood, who has taken keen interest in this survey.

He said the documentation of such sites was a big success for the political administration as never before such a step was taken. “We have a lot of historical sites, stupas, tunnels, caves of stone age era, prisons of ancient monarchs and other ancient ruins that could be used for tourism purposes to improve the economy of the people of this area,” said the political agent.

“Efforts will be made to discover the whole agency and use the history for tourism purpose,” he added. “These findings can be assumed as a tip of the iceberg.”

By Hidayat Khan Published in The Express Tribune

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