Tool & Technology Wise Kashmir Remains Handicapped: Expert
Dr. Mumtaz Yatoo, who has done his PhD from University of Leicester (UK), is a leading Kashmiri archaeologist. He has been a Ford Fellow and is currently working as Assistant Professor (Archaeology) at Kashmir Universitys Centre of Central Asian Studies (CCAS) where he is also the principal investigator of Kashmir Prehistory Project (KPP) which was started in the year 2014 in collaboration with Prof. Alison Betts (Prof. of Silk Route Studies), University of Sydney, Australia. During his PhD research at University of Leicester, Dr Yatoo successfully located six Neolithic sites in Kashmir which paved the way for KPP for further probing of the sites. In a detailed interview with senior journalist, Athar Parvaiz, for Kashmir Observer, he answered various questions about the prevailing status of archeological sites across Kashmir. Here are the excerpts:
Athar Parvaiz (AP): To start with, please give a brief description of archaeological sites of Kashmir and the significance of most important sites?
Mumtaz Yatoo (MY): In both exploration and excavation, Kashmir now has a fragmented archaeological record spanning prehistoric to modern times, and this still requires systematic probing and research. However, beginning chronologically from prehistory Prof. H.D. Sankalia (1971) surveyed Pahalgam, 100 kms south east of Srinagar in the south Kashmir, with the objective of challenging De Terra and Patersons findings, who said Palaeolithic material culture did not exist in Kashmir. The only aim of the survey was to locate Palaeolithic material so that a chronological gap could be filled. Sankalia successfully reported an Abbevillian handaxe and massive flake (considered by him to be the earliest in South Asia) dating to first interglacial and second glacial periods of lower Pleistocene (lower Palaeolithic) from well-stratified deposits, in the vicinity of the Liddar River (a tributary feeding Jhelum River). Sankalias findings aroused the interest of other archaeologists who surveyed Pahalgam again in the 1970s in an attempt to locate more tools of this period and to verify the findings of Sankalia.
Prof. A. A. Bandey surveyed Manasbal lake in the 1990s, 35 kms north of Srinagar in Ganderbal District with the aim of determining the presence of Palaeolithic material culture in Kashmir particularly towards north of Kashmir which until then was considered a marginal zone in terms of Palaeolithic findings. He successfully located cave shelters and stone tools belonging to the Middle Palaeolithic period. I myself surveyed North eastern areas of Baramulla District and located Upper Palaeolithic site and material culture along the Yemran mountains in Bomai Sopore, an in-situ rock engraving is one of the significant finds of this period in whole of South Asia.
Archaeological Survey of India excavated Burzahom, under the leadership of T.N. Khazanchi from 1960 to 1973. It was systematically excavated for a period of nine years. The detailed excavation report by Khazanchi is yet to see the light of the day, but summaries of each excavation season were published in the Indian Archaeology Reports. The excavations revealed a four-fold cultural sequence: phase I (2586-2130 cal. BC) and phase II (2881-1730 cal. BC) were attributed to the Neolithic, phase III the Megalithic (797 cal. BC) and phase IV the Early Historical (c. 300 500 AD)[for more details and significance kindly see question 1] . A settlement analogous to Burzahom was excavated in two seasons at Gufkral, 40 kms south east of Srinagar in district Pulwama, by the Archaeological Survey of India under the direction of K.D. Banerjee and A.K. Sharma. During these excavations three cultural phases were indentified: phase I Neolithic, further divided into I-A aceramic Neolithic (1420 cal. BC), I-B early Neolithic (2554-1772 cal. BC) and I-C later Neolithic (1923-926 cal. BC); phase II is Megalithic (2131-1677 cal. BC); and phase III is Early historical. The significant find at Gufkral was the earliest evidences of use of Iron implements. Furthermore, Kanispora a two-period site (Neolithic 3149 cal. BC and early historic c. 1st to 5th century AD) situated on the left bank of Jhelum River in Baramulla District, 50 kms north west of Srinagar. Kanispora was briefly excavated by the Archaeological Survey of India in a single season under the direction of B.R. Mani. From the five cultural phases found at this site; the phases I and II yielded the Neolithic material culture (with phase I aceramic and phase II ceramic); and the other three phases belonged to Kushan of the early historic period. The Neolithic material culture of Kanispora had similarities with that from Burzahom and Gufkral. The significant find of the site was emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum) which is only reported at this site in Kashmir.
Semthan a multi period site, located 43 kms south east of Srinagar on a loessic deposit. It has been partially excavated in three seasons by the Archaeological Survey of India from 1977 to 1984 to bridge the sequence of cultures from c. 700 BC to c. 600 AD. The aim of the excavations was to bring to light habitational deposits and material culture of northern black polished ware (NBPW) and onwards at this site. The significance of the Semthan excavation to the archaeology of Kashmir was that it brought to light important evidence about the cultural sequence from the end of Megalithic and early historic period (the concluding phases after the Neolithic period at Burzahom and Gufkral) up to the later historic period in Kashmir. This period between the early and later historic would normally be understood through definition as cultural periods and developments such as the Iron Age and Indo-Greek.
Daya Ram Sahni from Archaeological Survey of India excavated the important Buddhist site of Parihaspora, 28 kms north west of Srinagar. Among the structures exposed, the most important were a stupa, a chaitya (halls enclosing the stupa) and a vihara (monastery). These monumental ruins provided important information about the Karkota rulers of the 7th century AD. Chief among these was Lalitaditya Muktapida, who is credited with building Parihaspora. As well as Parihaspora, Daya Ram Sahni excavated the Buddhist site at Pandrethan near Srinagar, and the Hindu temples of Avantisvamin and Avantisvara at modern Avantipora (8th century AD), 28 kms south east of Srinagar and Ushkar site in Baramulla town. R.C. Kaks excavation work at Harwan in 1919 revealed a fully-fledged Buddhist Settlement laid out on the terraced slope of the hill. Although the Harwan excavations were essentially carried out to unearth structures, it was the unusual style of these structures in Kashmir (such as diaper rubble and diaper pebble) and the discovery of molded tiles marked by Kharoshti syllables that aroused the interest of many scholars in the wider archaeology of this site.
In 1938 M.S. Kaul excavated some Buddhist settlements in Gilgit and Kashmir. His most significant work was the excavation of ancient Pratapapura (modern Tapar in Baramulla District). A base, courtyard, enclosure wall, pathway and other architectural members were exposed. The town and the temple are attributed to King Pratapaditya II (7th century AD), son of Durlabhavardhana of Karkota dynasty and father of the famous King Lalitaditya of the later 7th century AD.
AP: Could you please explain for a common Kashmiri why it is important for the government and the citizens to preserve Burzahom and why it matters to the common citizens (and, to our region)?
MY: Burzahom is a third millennium BCE Neolithic (new stone age) site, 12 kms north east of Srinagar city, first of its kind to reveal the Neolithic material culture of our early ancestors in Kashmir. The site was first discovered by H De Terra in 1935 when he was carrying out the geological and geomorphological survey in the region. He carried out a trial excavation at the site in September of the same year. De Terra deemed the material culture to be of considerable antiquity with no parallels in India at the time. The material culture of this site aroused the interest of the Archaeological Survey of India and, under the leadership of T.N. Khazanchi from 1960 to 1973, it was systematically excavated for a period of nine years.
Excavations at Burzahom brought to light some interesting information about our ancestors, such as their dwelling places, subsistence patterns, disposal of dead and their economy and interactions. The excavations revealed oval and square pit structures, narrow at the top and broad at the bottom that were interpreted as the Neolithic dwelling places (or as grave pits) with timber and birch bark roofing . However a new research is being carried out on the similar dwelling pits in Kashmir, which suggest that they probably acted as granaries. The animal and plant remains at Burzahom were interpreted as indicating people with pastoral and arable knowhow. The material evidence from Burzahom suggest that people knew various crafts such as pottery making, weaving, tool making in bone and stone, expressions of art and so forth.
Two noteworthy pots were recovered from Burzahom, one was painted with a horned figure on its shoulders, the other was found filled with carnelian and agate beads. Parallels of these pots and beads have been traced at pre-Harappan site Kot Diji (northern Sindh, Pakistan), also at Sarai Khola (Taxila, Pakistan) and at Gumla (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), signifying their cultural interactions with Burzahom. Similarly a copper arrow-head, a coil and a copper knife from Burzahom were considered to be evidence of cultural contacts with Harappans. Prof. G. Stacul, working with the Italian Archaeological Mission in Swat Valley (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan), found remarkable similarities between the material culture of Burzahom and the Swat Valley. Material culture from Burzahom Kashmir has been found to have parallels in neighbouring regions such as in Pakistan, China and, Mongolia. Based on these similarities, it was suggested that Burzahom was a part of larger multifaceted culture known as the Inner Asia Complex or Northern Neolithic Complex.
AP: There are growing concerns about ill-treatment of archaeological sites like Burzahom. For example, due to growing urbanization and developmental projects like the proposed road-construction for making Burzahom accessible to tourists. Your thoughts on that?
MY: Burzahom is a very unique site in Kashmir, it is a place where our ancestors lived for thousands of years, domesticating plants and animals and living a settled village life. The Burzahom is a window for Kashmiris through which they could have a peep and glimpse of their past but unfortunately Burzahom is vandalised to such an extent that when a common Kashmiri or tourist or a student visits site, they see nothing of the sort they read in books. The Site is encroached on all sides, roads are laid through the middle of the site by our government in contravention to Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites Act. Its ironical that the site we are so proud of is reduced to a T20 cricket ground, people who come to see the site, come with high expectations but return with disappointment, their expressions at the end so is this the Burzahom Archaeological Site! As a Kashmiri and as an archaeologist, I feel embarrassment when tourists come long way to visit the site and find nothing except disappointment I sometimes wonder why make the site accessible to tourists when it is just a walk of five minutes from main road to the site. I feel the need is to preserve and conserve the site, construct an onsite museum, proper information kiosks, built public convenience rather making the site accessible.
AP: Tell us about the Kashmir Prehistory Project (KPP) under which you are documenting the Kashmir Neolithic sites?
MY: I am the principal investigator of the Kashmir Prehistory Project at Centre of Central Asian Studies. The project was started in year 2014 in collaboration with Prof. Alison Betts (Prof. of Silk Route Studies), University of Sydney, Australia. During my PhD research at University of Leicester, UK, I successfully located six Neolithic sites in Kashmir which became the basis for our KPP which is now into Stage 2. Under the KPP- Stage 1 we only further probed the sites located during my PhD research.
The KPP- Stage 1 was the need of the hour as these are the sites which are homologous to Burzahom and we are at the brink of loosing Burzahom! Furthermore, we need to document these sites because, the early levels of the Kashmiri Neolithic sites date from the end of the 4th to the mid-2nd millennia BCE. This is a critical period in the history of Inner Asia and yet one where only a handful of sites are known. One of the most important questions being asked of these sites is their role in transmitting knowledge of wheat and barley agriculture from western Asia into China where it played a key role in supporting the nascent rise of the early Chinese state.
Wheat and barley were cultivated in the Near East as early as the 9th millennium BCE. From here they were transmitted eastwards, eventually ending up in central China by at least the mid-3rd millennium BCE. The precise path of entry is unknown, but these cereals are most likely to have been introduced at some time around the late 4th to early 3rd millennium BCE, possibly through Xinjiang. Early farming sites of these periods on the western borders of China are almost unknown. The early Kashmiri farming villages (Neolithic Sites) may hold vital clues to our understanding of this nebulous period.
The Kashmiri Neolithic is also of much broader interest. Its origins are poorly understood, but are most likely to look north rather than south to the Indus as might be expected. It is likely that they are part of an important early agricultural complex that until now has remained hidden behind the mountains and valleys of the Pamirs, the Hindu Kush and the Karakorum ranges. The work on paleobotany is limited and there are only a small number of C14 dates, only weakly linked to the stratigraphic sequences. In the past decade much new work has been carried out in China and Central Asia on sites of these key periods. Therefore, a new scientific study of the Kashmiri Neolithic was proposed which will fill a vital gap in our knowledge and with little effort will provide a wealth of new and important data.
AP: Last year, your research at Haigam in north Kashmir culminated into the discovery of 4000-year-old pot. Tell us about the significance of that discovery and the efforts it entailed.
MY: The pot was a chance discovery frankly we were not expecting it. We were sampling for soil at one of the pits at Haigam when we luckily came across it, our initial thoughts were it must be a piece of rim as we usually encounter pottery fragments. This is the first time that a complete pot of Coarse Ware spherical bodied pot was recovered anywhere from Kashmir. Coarse ware is one of the first diagnostic wares of Neolithic period which were first baked and strengthened in fire before this people used sun dried pottery as portable vessels. As part of our archaeological training we are taught how to make a shape of a pot from a diagnostic fragment, we have drawings of many such coarse ware pots in the past. But the discovery of this extinct complete pot was not only refreshing but thought provoking also as we could physically see, feel and appreciate the efforts in early pottery making by our ancestors. The pots discovery in the pit and the presence of early grape seeds in its belly raises further interesting questions which we are still being probed.
AP: How can archaeological research and archaeological findings help enhancing the tourist footfall in our region? Do you think we are yet to tap that potential? What measures need to be taken in that direction?
MY: To date the state of Jammu and Kashmir does not have anything that caters to the needs of a large section of Domestic/international tourists who want to learn and appreciate the cultural wealth of the State. Majority of the cultural heritage sites lack proper documentation hence very little information reach to tourists and general public. Tour guides are ill equipped lacking information about heritage sites thus failing to communicate to visiting tourists. Furthermore, school children are superficially taught about archaeology and heritage which leaves them insensitive to cultural heritage of the State. The development of heritage and cultural tourism by the help of professional discipline of Archaeology and cultural studies would be highly beneficial to the economy of State and its people and in the long run will provide a sustainable cultural tourism.
While the heritage of Jammu and Kashmir is important as a focus of research, beyond its borders it has also played important role since time immemorial in wider regional cultural development. Information of the archaeological heritage of the State in its wider contex t opens up possibilities for regional partnerships and collaborations. It is also critical that the archaeological sites of Kashmir threatened by development are protected and professionally managed, or at least fully documented before they disappear. This can only be done by experienced local professionals, professional archaeologists and educating our children at school, college and at University levels.
AP: What are Kashmirs most proud possessions with reference to the discovery and preservation of archaeological artefacts? Have we lost some artefacts? If yes, please explain.
MY: Among the most proud possessions I would say the one millennium old Palaeolithic tools reported from Pahalagam, Middle Palaeolithic tools from Manasbal and an In-situ rock carving belonging to Upper Palaeolithic period at Bomai, Sopore. The Bomai rock engraving, first of its kind in whole of South and Central Asia is thought to be an astronomical scene (Meteorite Comets shower), the research is ongoing in collaboration with Prof. Mayank Vahia of Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. From the excavated Neolithic sites such as Burzahom, Gufkral and Kanispora, the bone and stone tools are the signature artefacts but unfortunately most of the artefacts are untraceable.
Unique to Kashmir, the terracotta moulded tiles from Harwan, Ushkar, Hutmur, Kutbal are again the priced artefacts of the Kushan period in Kashmir. The tiles had various decorations over them depicting social and ideological elements from life during the Kushan period, such as real and mythical animals, Kharoshti numerals and other artistic expressions, these tiles also had other motifs such as the Barhut railing, the Chinese fret, the Sassanian foliated bird, the Persian vase, the Roman rosette, the Indian elephant and others, which showed connections or knowledge about these far off places and practices in Kashmir. These tiles have not been reported from anywhere else in Central Asia. Some of these tiles are at SPS Museum, Srinagar but most of them are in the possession of ASI. The terracotta heads of Yakshas from Lethpur, Kashmir are again the significant artefacts of the c. 7th Century AD, many have reached to different museums of the world only one is housed at Central Asian Museum, University of Kashmir, Srinagar. These terracotta heads are the best unparalled specimens of the plastic art of Kashmir.
The Gilgit manuscripts are again a different story, a proud possession of Kashmir, the world’s oldest manuscripts which probably holds key to the exact evolution of Sanskrit, Buddhist, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Tibetan literatures. The manuscripts were taken out of the J&K during the 1948 indo-pak conflict and now under the possession of National Archives of India.
The stone artefacts of Gods and Goddesses from 7th Century onwards are masterpieces of artistic expression by the people of Kashmir, most of them are housed in SPS museum and Central Asian Museum, and the museums in India, and they are among the better preserved artefacts of Kashmir.
AP: When we talk of the oldest civilizations, does Kashmir enjoy a uniqueness in the sub-continent?
MY: Certainly Kashmir has the earliest evidences of the human activity since Palaeolithic times, it remained occupied through Lower Palaeolithic, Middle Palaeolithic & Upper Palaeolithic periods C. 1.2 million years BP to C. 18000 years BP, the artefacts of these periods have been reported from South to North of Kashmir. The Neolithic Period is very well represented in Kashmir and it is on the basis of identified common traits in the Neolithic material culture with the Swat sites and Taxila in Pakistan, Yangshao and Longshan in China, and Gobi in Mongolia that scholars termed this a unique cultural complex calling it the Inner Asian Complex or Northern Neolithic Complex. This unique cultural complex possibly existed because of the ancient routes such as Jhelum Valley route, Gurez-Gilgit-Baltistan route through Himalayas, movement of people took place, which might have played an important role in the development of this distinctive cultural complex within Kashmir, Pakistan, China and Central Asia.
Following the Neolithic period, we have a number of early historic sites in Kashmir which are unique in the subcontinent such as Harwan, Semthan, Kanispor, Ahan and so forth this period in Kashmir dates from c. 7th BC century to c. 5th century AD. In Kashmir evidence for cross cultural integration during the early historic period is known from Semthan, where Northern Black Polished Ware (NBPW) and Indo-Greek potteries were found (c. 7th century – c. 2nd century BC). Kalhanas Rajatarangini verses 101-107, translated by Aurel Stein, mentions four places founded by Asoka, and this brings Kashmir into the ambit of the Mauryan empire (c. 324 – c. 185 BC). It is suggested that the Mauryans were based at Taxila and would have found it comparatively easy to interact with Kashmir most likely through the Jhelum Valley route. The Kushan period (c. 1st 5th century AD) also suggest integration and interaction. The Terracotta art during the Kushan period of Kashmir is considered to have been influenced by the Gandharan school of art, representing religious as well as secular beliefs.
AP: What are the most important discoveries and developments as far as archaeological research in Kashmir is concerned?
MY: One of the important developments as far as our archaeological research is concerned is the outcome of the joint collaborative work with University of Sydney. The results are being published with one paper already out. The most statistically and economically significant of the identified palynological specimens at one of the sites being probed is the Qasim Bagh where two cereal crops – free threshing wheat (Triticum aestivum) and broomcorn millet (Panicum miliaceum), followed by a number of pulse crops only first of its kind in Kashmir were found. These botanical samples have provided new essential details on subsistence patterns during the Neolithic period in Kashmir. The botanical evidence points to the growth of a diverse agricultural system in Kashmir from at least the beginning of the 4th millennium BP, and compliments well the contemporary mixed botanical assemblages at Begash in southeast Kazakhstan and Adji Kui 1 in southern Turkmenistan. This agricultural diversity may represent part of a hypothetical strategy employed by early wheat and barley farmers, who began to grow millets as a short season insurance crop during summer months throughout the mountainous regions of Inner Asia. The Qasim Bagh millets present evidence for a chronological and geographic link in the model presented by scholars, who draw on 4th millennium BP evidence for millets at Tasbas and Begash in Kazakhstan and Shortughai in northern Afghanistan, and Ojakly in Southern Turkmenistan to model the spread of this domesticate throughout Central Asia. The slightly later dated millets from Qasim Bagh suggests that broomcorn millet was most likely transmitted into Kashmir from Central Asia as part of a wider system of regional exchange between agro-pastoral communities of the Inner Asian mountain and arid regions.
The evidence from Qasim Bagh in Baramulla district adds substantial new artefactual and botanical data to a growing body of archaeobotanical studies in South and Central Asia. The stratified nature of the materials give insight into long term settlement practices within the valley, from sealed and well dated archaeological contexts. The evidence suggests that the farming villages of Kashmir had multiple and varying routes of exchange with South, East and Central Asia.
The pervasiveness of botanical materials from the deposits within the pit at Qasim Bagh and their association with stratified mud brick like surfaces suggests that the structures were used for food storage or other kind of processing activity. As such, Qasim Bagh pit evidence may also help to resolve the long standing debate regarding the nature of use of these structures, dwelling pits as they were called at Burzahom or granaries.
AP: Tell us about the collaborations which you (KU) and ASI have with other international institutions vis-à-vis archaeological research. How that helps?
MY: Our Centre (CCAS) at Kashmir University collaborated with ASI on a project at Ahan, Ganderbal. Our Centre has international collaboration with Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography, Siberian branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia, and this collaboration is being lead by my colleague Dr. Mohammad Ajmal Shah. We have collaboration with university of Sydney, Australia. We have one important collaborative project in pipeline with Cambridge University funded by National Geographic Channel.
AP: What are the challenges (and advantages) for doing archaeological research in Kashmir?
MY: I didnt see any advantages but the challenges are tremendous archaeological research in a state like Jammu and Kashmir is riddled with issues, for instance field work an important part of archaeological research becomes very complicated in sensitive areas. People are mostly ignorant of archaeological material culture spread over the fields and orchards and unintentionally destroy sites if we are lucky to retrieve anything from such places, the context of such things are lost. As of now we cannot excavate a potential archaeological site unless and until we get an NoC from State Archaeology Department which is then forwarded to ASI for consideration, it is therefore the discretion of ASI to issue a licence and obtaining a licence is a tedious and time consuming process.
AP: Are you satisfied as an archaeologist about the preservation of archaeological sites in our region? How about the support from the government, academic institutions and the society at large?
MY: We have to go a long way in preserving our archaeological sites I am yet to come across a site which has been systematically and scientifically preserved, attempts are being made such as at Harwan but are not satisfactory. The later historical monuments of Kashmir are relatively well protected, but those of the prehistoric and early historic periods are greatly endangered by unchecked development. These periods in particular are seriously understudied. Without research and protection this valuable legacy will soon be lost completely. At present the support from government, academic institutions and the society at large is negligible. However, support of INTACH is encouraging, the convener, Mr. Saleem Beg is a great support.
AP: Are there enough tools and technology available to Kashmiri archaeologists? Please explain regardless of the answer being negative or affirmative.
MY: Archaeological tools and the new technology available to archaeologists in India or Abroad is yet to reach us tool wise and technology wise we are handicapped. It is due to our collaborations with international institutions that we manage things and carry forward our research.
AP: Any particular message you want to convey as one of the premier archaeologists of Kashmir?
MY: Study of the archaeology and culture of Jammu and Kashmir is very essential in exploring and documenting the history of the region and its people. Archaeology records the history of a region through its material culture. As such it can be used to test the veracity of historical records and to provide a more nuanced picture of the past. Beyond history, in the deep past, it helps to tell a story that cannot be recovered through written sources.
However, while historical studies are the first job of an archaeologist, the scope of this discipline is very much broader, and its reach much wider. Because archaeology is concerned with the material record, it is also the base discipline for Heritage which covers the management and promotion of historical sites and monuments. While these are of much importance to the local people of Kashmir, they also play a critical role in the promotion of tourism, especially to visitors. Therefore, there is a great need of support by the people in protection and preservation of archaeological sites/artefacts to assist in the professional revitalization of our cultural tourism in Kashmir.
- Burzahom has been vandalised to such an extent that when a common Kashmiri or tourist or a student visits site, they see nothing of the sort they read in books.
- Burzahom is encroached on all sides, roads are laid through the middle of the site by Govt in contravention to rules.
- Road has been built for the site when it is just a walk of five minutes from main road.
- There is need to construct an onsite museum, information kiosks, public convenience at the site.
- J&K has nothing that caters to the needs of tourists who want to learn and appreciate the cultural wealth of the State.
- It is critical to at least fully document the archeological sites in Kashmir before they disappear.
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