Archaeological Field Research in Pakistan since Independence: An overview

This 1990 article from the Deccan College Bulletin's Memorial volume for H.D. Sankalia, an eminent Indian archaeologist, is a summary in one place of the archaeological work done in Pakistan after 1947. Much of this is relevant to wider than national boundaries, for as the author states up front, "the pre- and protohistoric periods of Pakistan have somehow received much greater attention than the sites of later periods," (p. 261). He also notes that since the 1970s, "an important outcome of the presence of foreign archaeologists has been the accumulation of a vast body of new information bearing upon a multitude of important issues of diverse kinds," (p. 261).

There are many things to note about the research. The first pages cover the Paleolithic [2.5 million to 10,000 BCE] period, where discoveries on the Potowar plateau in the 1930s pointing to the earliest hominids in South Asia were continued in the 1950s, 60s and 80s in particular. There were numerous discoveries in Sindh too. Neolithic [10,000 BCE to the Bronze Age Indus period roughly] cultures were examined in Balochistan and there is a whole section on early Balochistan, where European archeologists like J. M. Casal, who excavated Mundigak in southern Afghanistan, made contributions; there was a lot found in north Pakistan like Swat and Taxila valleys. Pakistani archaeologists like Dr. F. A. Khan who "revealed convincing evidence of the early of formative stage of the Indus civilization in the cultural assemblage called Kot Dijian," (p. 264). Others like Farzand Ali Durrani worked at sites like Rehman Deri in what is now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, among other sites going back many millennia all over the larger Indus basin. In short, the richness of the region across a vast swathe of human history was reiterated by many discoveries that have reshaped our understanding of early urbanization and cultural development in South Asia. Multiple, diverse, talking and trading with each other, as one would rationally expect but easy to lose sight of when one focuses on a single city of civilization.

Many archaeologists worked in Mohenjo-daro, including Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Michael Jansen. Sites like Allahdino near Karachi were discovered (and where excavations have recently been re-started). The author worked at Harappa in the 1960s, where work was also re-started in the 1980s making it the best excavated ancient Indus site in the years since. Dr. Mughal himself discovered a wide range of ancient Indus sites along the ancient Ghaggar-Hakra riverbed in the Cholistan desert during the 1970s, including the urban site of Ganweriwala. In 2024, some 50 years later he is now leading excavations there, which is probably some sort of record in terms of discovery and digging in a single archaeologists career. This is a largely Pakistani-run operation, like many after Independence, even if interest in the ancient Indus civilization has driven many foreign archaeological teams to work in both Pakistan and India since 1947.

The final pages speak to the post-Harappan period and the Iron Age, which has also been partially filled in with PGW (Painted Grey Ware) sites discovered in Cholistan as well as Rajasthan, not to mention the mysterious Gandharan Grave culture with cemeteries discovered all over northern Pakistan dating to between 1200 and 400 BCE. A slew of Buddhist-related discoveries have been made in the same region. Indeed everywhere one looks, there are layers upon layers of cultures and traditions in the region that speak to a long influx of people, cultures and religions from west and east. Mughal concludes that "there is no doubt that during the last forty-two years, Pakistan has made great strides in archaeological research and development in all major periods commensurate with its very long history and rich cultural heritage," (p. 271).

Despite the limited resources deployed, thanks to intrepid researchers, a rich legacy of discovery reaching back to just after Archaeological Survey of India (A.S.I.) times, foreign archaeologists and the tools and resources they bring, and the incredible richness of the terrain in terms of peoples and cultures spanning a good 10,000 years, archaeology in Pakistan remains alive if not adequately celebrated.

One is led to the question of what are the challenges and prospects for future archaeological research in Pakistan, particularly concerning the preservation of discovered sites and the integration of new technologies in research methodologies? How connected is the evolving state narrative of Pakistani history and sometimes contrary desires to become an international tourist destination going to influence future archaeological investment? What has been heartening in recent years has been the growth of a domestic tourist industry, and this too is likely to shape future work. Fortunately for ancient Indus studies, both Punjab and Sindh have constituencies interested in and proud of sites like Harappa and Mohenjo-daro, so it is hoped that work at Ganweriwala and other Bronze Age sites and antecedents will continue to grow.