Abusing The Past: Burzahom Archaeological Site Vandalised

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SRINAGAR- Pre-historic monuments at Burzahom, in Srinagar outskirts have been vandalised to such an extent that the site has almost lost its archaeological value, experts say.

According to the UNESCO, “the Neolithic Site of Burzahom brings to light transitions in human habitation patterns from Neolithic Period to Megalithic period to the early Historic period.  From transition in architecture to development in tool-making techniques to introduction and diffusion of lentil in the north-western India, the site of Burzahom is a unique comprehensive story teller of life between 3000 BCE to 1000 BCE.”

Burzahom is a window for Kashmiris through which they get glimpses 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,” leading archaeologist, Dr. Mumtaz Yatoo, who teaches at the Kashmir University’s Centre of Central Asian Studies (CCAS) told Kashmir Observer.

Read full interview: Monumental Neglect Of Burzahom

Burzahom 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. It’s ironical that the site we are so proud of is reduced to a T20 cricket ground,” the archeologist went on to say. “I wonder why a road should be built for the site when it is just a walk of five minutes from main road to the Burzahom site,” Dr yahoo rued.

He emphasized that there is an urgent need of preserving and conserving the site by constructing an onsite museum, putting in place proper information kiosks and making it desirably convenient for people to get to the site rather than making the site accessible through a macadamized road that goes rite through the sensitive areas of the site.

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, such as at Harwan, are being made, but are not satisfactory”,he said.

According to Yatoo, the later historical monuments of Kashmir are relatively well protected, but those of the prehistoric and early historic periods are greatly endangered by unchecked and unplanned development.

“These periods in particular are seriously understudied. Without research and protection this valuable legacy will soon be lost completely,” he said and added:  “At present the support from government, academic institutions and the society at large is negligible.

As regards the tourism benefits which Kashmir’s archeological sites can set off, he said that till date the state of Jammu and Kashmir does not have anything that caters to the needs of a large section of domestic and international tourists who want to learn and appreciate the cultural wealth of the State.

Tour guides, he said, 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,” he said.

According to Yatoo, it is also critical that the archaeological sites of Kashmir, threatened by developmental activities, are protected and professionally managed, or at least fully documented before they disappear.

As regards the challenges being faced by archaeological researchers in Kashmir, he said that there are tremendous challenges as archaeological research in a state like Jammu and Kashmir is riddled with issues. Quoting an example, he said that field work, an important part of archaeological research, becomes very complicated in sensitive areas.

He added that People are mostly ignorant of archaeological material culture spread over the fields and orchards and unintentionally destroy sites.

[Even] if we are lucky to retrieve anything from such places, the context of such things are lost,” he said.

As of now we cannot excavate a potential archaeological site unless and until we get NoC from State Archaeology Department which is then forwarded to ASI for consideration. Therefore, the discretion of ASI to issue a licence and obtaining a licence is a tedious and time consuming process,” Yatoo said.

SIGNIFICANCE OF BURZAHOM

Archaeological excavations at Burzahom have revealed four phases of cultural significance between 3000 BC and 1000 BC.Periods I and II represent the Neolithic era; Period IlI the Megalithic era (of massive stone menhirs and wheel turned red pottery); and Period IV relates to the early Historical Period (Post-megalithic period). The findings, recorded in stratified cultural deposits representing prehistoric human activity in Kashmir, are based on detailed investigations that cover all aspects of the physical evidence of the site, including the ancient flora and fauna.

The Burzahom site revealed the transition from the subterranean and ground level housing features of the Neolithic people to the mudbrick structures of the Megalithic people. The large cache of tools and implements made of bone and stone found at the site shows that the inhabitants were hunting and farming.

The unearthed Antiquities (of art, architecture, customs and rituals) indicate that the prehistoric people of the Burzahom established contact with Central Asia and South West Asia and also had links to the Gangetic plains and peninsular India. The interaction of local and foreign influences is demonstrated by the art, architecture, customs, rituals and language demonstrated by some engravings on pottery and other artifacts.

According to the UNESCO the core aspects of the Burzahom Neolithic seem to have originated and organically evolved on the soil of Kashmir, and bear an exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition which has now largely disappeared. The nominated property with its entire cultural equipment range has potential for future excavation and other avenues of research which is surely ripe with new set of information throwing a welcome light on the formative stages of culture and civilization in this part of the world.

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