Kashmir awaits return of its prized pre-historic treasure

Burzhom antiquities were taken to Kolkatta in the ''60s for "tests" but never returned

Srinagar, Publish Date: Dec 18 2018 1:18AM | Updated Date: Dec 18 2018 1:18AM
Kashmir awaits return of its prized pre-historic treasureFile Photo

A gallery has been reserved at the SPS Museum for the antiquities that were excavated at Burzhom, one of the world’s rare pre-historic archaeological sites, but were not returned to state in the past 50 years.

Burzhom site is unique for showcasing different stages of the evolution of people from food gatherers to food producers, between 3000 BC and 1000 BC. It shows fourfold sequence of the oldest cultures in Kashmir--Neolithic period I & II, Megalithic and early historical cultures.

The extensive excavation was conducted at the site by TN Khazanchi under Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) from 1960 to 1971. The antiquities recovered at the site were transferred to Kolkata probably for carbon dating.

The archaeological records state that huge stones called as megalithic menhirs on a karewa were first noticed by foreigners De Terra and TT Paterson in the year 1939, as part of their Yale-Cambridge expedition. The two archaeologists are believed to have collected some bone and stone tools from the site.

Prominent writer Ghulam Nabi Khayal said both foreigners abandoned their excavation after a rumor was floated that storm will struck the site from Taelbal side. 

“There was a motive behind it. The local people were apprehensive that excavation of the site will ruin their fields,” he said.

Khayal, who is among the very few people to have witnessed the excavation out at the site during GM Sadiq’s tenure in 1967, said whatever antiquities were found at the site were transferred by the Government of India to Kolkata “on pretext of chemical examination” and also that “these antiquities were not safe in Kashmir”.

This, Khayal said, despite state government’s plan at the time to construct an international standard museum to house the recoveries made at the site.

“I along with some 12 journalists was taken to witnesses the excavation at Burzhom. We saw a stone that had a carving depicting a deer-hunting scene. The area was a jungle then. I saw a long skeleton and pits. One pit had skull and small tools,” said Khayal.

To add weight to Khayal’s observations, last year a team of astrophysicists from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, had revealed that rock art found at Burzhom is likely the oldest human-made star chart and supernova record that occurred in 3600 BC.

The artwork shows two bright objects in the sky, with figures of animals and humans underneath.

The ASI in its report last year had revealed new insights into the Burzahom culture, saying Kashmir had fledgling international trade with neighboring countries as early as 5000 years ago. The report also said people living in Burzahom were adept at weaving and intricate craftsmanship. It had also established links of the site to contemporary Indus Valley civilization and Harappan culture. The excavations carried out at the site revealed well-polished bone and stone tools including harpoons, needles, arrowheads, daggers and scrappers. The tools with fashioned put of antlers were also found, while  pottery mostly crude and handmade with  steel-grey and shades of dull red, brown and buff were also recovered from the site.

An engraved stone slab depicting a hunting scene showing an antler deer being speared by two hunters with long spear and arrow which dates back to Neolithic phase II, while remains of human and animal burials have been found.

The excavations suggested that humans were buried both primarily and secondarily in oval pits mostly dug into house floors or in the compound. The signs of people using iron and ceramics during megalithic period were also found at the site. The last period of the site belongs to 3rd to 4th century of Christian era.  In this period, archaeologists suggest mud bricks were frequently used for building houses, in ceramics, red ware of fine to medium fabric was also used with a type of slip on it.

Despite five decades of wait, the antiquities continue to remain at Purana Qilla storehouse of the ASI in New Delhi and in the Kolkatta office of the Anthropological Survey of India. 

Muneer-ul-Islam, director department of archives, archaeology and museums, said he has taken up the matter with the ASI and hopes that state’s prized antiquities would be returned soon. 

“I am pursuing the case,” he said. Another official said three to four letters have been sent to the ASI but they haven’t responded. He said now the state has taken up the matter with the ministry of culture. Another worry haunting the state government is that it doesn’t have a record of the antiquities.  “We have to accept whatever ASI gives us,” he added. Repeated attempts to reach out to the ASI officials in Delhi proved futile.

This site uses cookies to deliver our services and to show you relevant news and ads. By using our site, you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Cookie Policy, Privacy Policy, and our Terms of Service.That's Fine