Digging deep into Makran history

“I’m never afraid of visiting Balochistan. I’ve come here on a number of occasions. It’s like my home,” said Mr Besenval.


KARACHI: There is a general perception about archaeologists that they go about their business in a matter-of-fact manner. Meeting French archaeologists Roland Besenval and Aurore Didier dispels this notion. Their passion for knowing and understanding the past (with reference to relics, artefacts and historical verisimilitude) is infectious. What makes them particularly special is their profound interest in Balochistan in general and Makran in particular.

Roland Besenval, an internationally renowned name in archaeology, has been coming to this part of the world since 1984. His recent trip to the country, along with Aurore Didier, relates to the publication of the archaeological findings in Makran.

“This region existed some 5,000 years back, 2,000 years prior to the Indus Civilisation. I can tell you that the people who occupied this area were technologically advanced and highly developed. There are clear signs of it because we have been able to find out some important aspects of their domestic life. However, it is not known how they looked, what features they had, what religious beliefs they adhered to and what cultural norms they practised,” said Mr Besenval.

Aurore Didier has a PhD in archaeology. She has been assisting and working with her senior colleague for some years now. Despite the big age difference, both sound equally animated while describing how Makran fared thousands of years back in time. “There is a clear link with the sea. We have found sea products that could have been their main resource. Modern fishermen in the area use the same products. Then there is jewellery and handmade pottery that we found. They are quite unique. There are geometrical patterns and animal motifs on different pieces of pottery, which indicates how skilful and culturally rich those people were,” said Ms Didier.

It does frustrate both archaeologists that despite chancing upon many an important object they have not been able to unearth the ancient people’s religious, intellectual or cultural leanings. “There is nothing in the written form, no text, that we’ve discovered, which is strange,” said Mr Besenval. “However, we have found a few things about their funerary practices from the dug-up graves. One interesting fact is that they buried their people in foetal position,” said Didier.

To make things easier to understand Mr Besenval and Ms Didier request every visitor (belonging to the media) to see their visual presentation, which is the right approach because it puts things into perspective.

According to their research and findings, the region has been mentioned in the writings of Alexander the Great. Excavation in Makran began in 1986 by a Pak-French archaeological mission. But there is a history of digging dating as far back as to the latter half of the 19th century.

The first big name that is known to have uncovered archaeological sites in Balochistan was the famous archaeologist, Sir Aurel Stein. Then in 1960, George Dales did achieve some significant feats with new excavations. This was the time when Sutka Koh (Burnt Hill) in Balochistan was talked about and beautiful pieces of pottery were brought to light. A little later Mehergarh was discovered by a French mission and an archaeological sequence was formed for the Indo-Iranian borderlands. Between 1990 and 2000, more than 228 sites were unearthed and places such as Miri Qalat became the focus of archaeologists’ attention. Influences of the Islamic period were also noticed in some discoveries. Of course, there are ‘gaps’ or periods about which nothing is known. But the archaeologists are determined to work on that. The last time Mr Besenval visited the province was in 2006.

All of this sounds good for history and archaeology lovers. But no such story can be complete without some disheartening episodes. Mr Besenval lamented the looting and plundering of pre-historic cemeteries in Balochistan, which he termed a ‘nightmare’. According to him, artefacts were sold in the international market. Naturally they must have been of great worth and value.

However, Mr Besenval’s eyes lit up with admiration when he spoke about the locals who worked alongside him in Makran and lent valuable support to him. “They are excellent workers, better than us in excavation. If we’re able to establish some kind of school or institution for their training they will definitely excel,” he enthused.

Given the socio-political turmoil in Balochistan, it must be quite daunting for someone who does not belong to this part of the world to visit the area. “I’m never afraid of visiting Balochistan. I’ve come here on a number of occasions. It’s like my home,” said Mr Besenval.


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