Bhamala (Pakistan): Over 500 new artefacts found

Hidayat Khan

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Artefacts excavated at the world heritage site of Bhamala. PHOTOS COURTESY: K-P DIRECTORATE OF ARCHAEOLOGY & MUSEUMS

More than 500 potentially priceless artefacts have been unearthed at the Unesco World Heritage Site of Bhamala in Haripur as excavation has been put on hold till the beginning of next year. Some of the main discoveries were found to be damaged due to earlier illegal excavation.

The recent discoveries included terracotta artefacts, stucco sculptures, architectural elements, copper coins, iron nails, door sittings, pottery and 14 coins from the Kushan era.

Apart from natural decay, illegal excavations have resulted in widespread damage to some of the most important discoveries at the ancient Buddhist stupa. Some of the chapels on the southernmost side were found empty, while others contained stucco sculptures of varying and unique styles.

At the moment, the site’s history can be traced back to 2,000 years, but some recent discoveries sent to the US for laboratory tests could date the site even further back in history. Excavation work has been halted till next year by officials and documentation to this effect is in process.

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“The most remarkable discovery from Bhamala was the Maha Puri Nirvana (death of Buddha) statue measuring 14 metres in length. It is the largest such example [depicting the death scene] found in the Gandhara civilisation,” said K-P Director Archaeology and Museums Abdul Samad.

The director said it was made of Kanjur stone. He added its right leg and a portion of the left leg were covered in drapery, while the feet and shoulders were placed on a huge 15-metre platform. The statue was situated at the northwest end of the complex and faced the east.

The archaeologist said the upper left leg and arms were damaged and had fallen towards the east for unknown reasons, while the head of the Buddha was missing due to damage caused by illegal excavators.

Second cruciform stupa

Another important discovery was that of a second cruciform stupa containing stucco sculpture fragments on its plinth. “The stucco statues of Buddha with double halos and the second cruciform stupa with chapels were among the latest discoveries,” shared Samad.

Much like the sculpture of the Nirvana scene, the southern side of the newly-exposed stupa was also badly damaged by illegal excavations. Samad added the northern and eastern sides of the stupa were in better condition and provided a clearer picture of the original structure.

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A total of nine chapels towards the eastern side of the stupa were exposed during recent excavations; five of these chapels were excavated. Chapel 1 and 2 on the southernmost sides were found disturbed and empty, while the remainder contained stucco sculptures of unique styles.

The director said newly-exposed chapels had images of Buddha with double halos which was unique to this site and did not exist in the rest of Ancient Gandhara.