Bazira (Pakistan): a treasure trove of antiquity

Shehzad Khan

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1137203 img 1467741467 233 640x480Members of the Archeological Mission are seen unearthing important architectural remains of ancient times in Bazira. PHOTO: EXPRESS

Bazira, a town in Barikot tehsil of Swat, is located 20 kilometers away from the Grand Trunk Road between Mingora and Peshawar. It is an ancient city, the oldest in Swat district. Buried under tons of soil and rocks is a treasure trove of antiquity. Pakistani and Italian archaeologists have not only excavated a vast complex of an Indo-Greek city in Bazira, but have also dug up architecture and artifacts dating back to pre-Mauryan period.

After recent excavations, experts believe Bazira’s history can now confidently be traced back to the time before Alexander the Great, establishing its claim to be the oldest city in Swat.

Members of the Italian Archeological Mission started excavations in Bazira in 1978, unearthing important architectural remains of ancient times. Data and studies yielded extensive evidence that Bazira town (or Beira as it was called in ancient times) was conquered by Alexander the Great in 327 BCE.

Excavation data from the plains area and from the hilltop of Barikot offered evidence about human settlements starting even before the 2nd millennium BCE.

Initially, between 1984 and 1990, four trenches were dug up following protohistoric phases which allowed the identification of a stratigraphic sequence ranging between 2nd century BCE and 4th century CE. In the hillside area, archeologists found evidence from the Islamic period (13th-14th century CE).

Dr Luca Maria Olivieri, the head of Italian Archeological Mission in Pakistan, said: “We have unearthed sufficient evidence … We discovered large layers not only of an Indo-Greek city of 2nd BCE, but also from pre-Greek era, as well as relics of a Mauryan settlement of 3rd Century BCE.”

Referring to recent excavations, he said: “We discovered high value coins, weapons and pottery.”

Archeological excavations unearthed remains of a temple and a university complex in addition to ancient relics, including ancient weapons, coins, vases and pots.

Fazal Mabood, an employee of the Archaeology Department, said: “Important relics have been found dating back to the time of Alexander the Great in Swat during excavations in Bazira city.”

More artifacts and relics are expected to be found when the dig area is widened.”

Fazal Khaliq, a local journalist working on archaeology in Swat said: “Recent discoveries (of relics such as) coins … carvings, weapons, vases and pottery confirmed Alexander the Great’s arrival and stay in Swat.” Discovery of ruins of a fortification wall, he said, confirmed the existence of Bazira city in ancient times.

An expert in archeology, Niaz Ali Shah, said that further excavations could help establish the existence of the city during Mauryan period of Ashoka dynasty, a civilisation in existence when Alexander the Great invaded the region.

Proper projection… of Bazira city at global level can help attract huge number of tourists, monks and archeology students from the world over,” he said.

The Italian Archaeology Mission in Pakistan is headed by Dr Luca Maria Olivieri. It is working in collaboration with Pakistani archaeologists.

Teams of Italian and Pakistani archeologists have so far explored and excavated hundreds of sites, unearthing stupas, artifacts and other important relics in different localities of Swat.

Experts termed recent discoveries of ancient artifacts and relics in Bazira city a major breakthrough in the Swat’s archaeological history, which could yield interesting finds for decades.