Swat Valley (Pakistan) : ancient rock paintings

Unfading beauty: If these rocks could talk

Fazal Khaliq

Source - http://tribune.com.pk/story/351015/unfading-beauty-if-these-rocks-could-talk/ 


A view of rock paintings created by early inhabitants of Swat valley. PHOTO: ACT PROJECT

Of its many splendours, a facet of Swat’s history remained hidden from tourists and locals till the new millennium-the ancient rock paintings in the valley.

An Italian archaeologist, Dr Luca M Olivieri, who has worked extensively in Swat, told The Express Tribune, “Many of the paintings in Swat valley were discovered in natural shelters formed by glacial erosion in granite boulders. These are generally located in remote mountainous ares and are hard to access. They are, however,clearly visible from a great distance.

According to Dr Olivieri, mountain tribes, possibly the ones referred to in the Vedas as Daradas and Kambojas painted the rocks.


A view of rock paintings created by early inhabitants of Swat valley. PHOTO: ACT PROJECT

“The shelters of Sargah-sar and Kakai-kandao are considered to be the most ancient and display highly symbolic compositions. The paintings suggest that they are the work of cultures lacking a written language, with a complex mythology in place. The paintings at Sargha-sar are naturally carved in a gigantic rock face.

“Some paintings belong to an early phase, datable to the Bronze Age (before 1400 BCE), which represent agricultural rituals and wild animals, perhaps depicting specific divinities, said the archaeologist. In this phase, the hero, wielding a shield, appeared for the first time.

In the long transition to Iron Age (1400-400 BCE), warriors and pastoral figures dominate, along with depictions of horses. The horse icon was the totem of the Assakenoi, the people Alexander the Great encountered in Swat at the end of the 4th century BCE.”

During the Buddhist era (100 BCE-400 CE), images of stupas and mounted warriors are common. However, Buddha and Bodhisattvas were never represented.


A view of rock paintings created by early inhabitants of Swat valley. PHOTO: ACT PROJECT

According to Dr Olivieri, this is proof that the works are not Buddhist, even though the creators probably interacted with Buddhist monasteries. Ancient images are more vivid and elaborate, while later images, as a rule, are richer in detail, but less symbolic.

Though the language of the rock paintings’ creators is not known, Dr Olivieri believes it was most probably a Dardic language, the same branch of languages spoken today in Dir, Swat and Indus-Kohistan.

“The stories narrated in the paintings reveal a world of deities, warriors and wild animals, a pristine world which was slowly intruded by Buddhists in a later period,” Dr Olivieri said. Dardic communities were the aboriginal stratum of ancient Swat as early as two millennia BCE and were positively attested in Middle Swat until the 16th century CE.

The colours used in the ancient paintings are quite vivid, as the figures in the paintings had been drawn in dark red ochre, the more recent ones in orange ochre and a few in white or yellow, with red being a universal symbol of life from prehistoric times.

Apart from rock paintings, Prof. Giuseppe Tucci made some important discoveries in 1956, including a carved wall at Gogdara I. Standing tall over the road, the wall displayed carvings dated between the Late Bronze Age and the classical period (1600-400 BCE).

“The archaeologists discovered two phases at Gogdara I, one belonging to the Bronze Age, representing large wild animal figures, mostly ibex, and the other with depiction of carts, herds of horses and standards that dated to the Iron Age,” Dr Olivieri explained.

The carvings, neglected for years, have been recently cleaned up by the Archaeological Community Tourism ACT-Field School Project, lead by the Italian Archaeological Mission and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Directorate of Archaeology and Museums.

According to Dr Olivieri, locals will be trained as tour guides. Ancient tracks, springs and passes will be rehabilitated to create a sort of archaeological park. The ACT project plans to create an archaeological itinerary for the major paintings.

Asked to describe the importance of these paintings, Dr Olivieri defined the painted shelters of Swat valley as “Talking stones from the past”.

The majority of rock paintings in Swat valley were discovered between 2000 and 2006 by two Italian scholars, Dr Olivieri and Prof M Vidale, in collaboration with Faizur Rahman, the curator of Swat museum, who discovered 49 painted shelters in Kandak and Kotah valleys and beyond.

The first discovery of painted shelters goes back to 1989, when Nazir Khan, then curator of Swat Museum, documented some in Kotah, valley while other paintings were discovered in Swabi and Hazara.