Technical Report on Excavation of Bhanbhore, Season 2018

BRIEFING  13th FEBRUARY 2018       

Banbhore: a Mystifying Evocative Site at the Mouth of the Indus Delta

The Research-Work So Far Carried Out. The Starting Points of the 2017-2018 Campaign

1.     The Ramparts and the so called “Partition Wall”. To a more careful study, the ramparts of the site of Banbhore appeared as the result of various influences and building periods. Dr Kervran has provided in her 2012 Report a masterly analysis of the various periods and influences. She has also underlined that these need careful observation and archaeological investigation. The “Partition Wall” is a late structure (around the end of the 12th – early 13th century Ch.E.), a defensive organisation of the Eastern high portion of the bastioned town, hurriedly erected on other buildings and when the population had already started to abandon the site – as some buildings dug in the course of the 2014 field-season seem to suggest (2012-2014).

  1. A first chronological stratigraphy: Trench n 7. Trench 7 provided us with a chronological stratigraphy of the bastioned city up to pre-Islamic levels (late Sasanian), when a layer of well-carved sandstone slabs disposed side by side (some of them with smoothed upper surface) obliged to interrupt the excavation and go deeper. This excavation allowed to reach the transition period between the Islamic and pre-Islamic phase of occupational life, and the Indo-Sasanian levels, revealing intricate patterns of roads, which induced to envisage precise plans of urbanisation in the course of the various phases of life of the site (2014).
  2. Artefacts. Interesting artefacts were found, denoting that also in this area crafts activity was practised (2014).
  3. The excavations carried out by the French Team in the western portion of the site (Trench 1), by the Pakistani Team (Trenches 4 and 5) and by the Italian Team (Trenches 7 and 8, and in 2015 Trench 9) have provided good evidence of crafts activity (ivory, bones, woods, glass, shells, metallurgic activities and so on)..
  4. Urbanisation of Banbhore and its Evolution. Then, studying the evidence brought to light during the 2014 field-season, we decided to complete this first investigation on the urban asset of the bastioned city through the excavation of a new West-East trench south of the 2014 area: Trench n. 9. Trench 9 allowed: (a) to get a complete stratigraphy from the topsoil to the most ancient levels; (b) to collect more information in stratigraphic sequence on the site’s urban architectural organisation; (c) to collect more pottery and artefacts in the pre-Islamic and Islamic occupational levels, in order to better characterise these periods, and to provide some insights on the social structures and urban characters, too; (d) to reach the earlier occupational levels, that – however - could not be reached because of the water table; (e) to collect a marked evidence in stratigraphy of the “Indianisation” of the site in specific phases and aspects of its life; (f) to acquire a rich material evidence of a local ivory and bones crafts activity, carried out in the late period of life of the site; (g) to ascertain an impressive Sasanian presence, as already documented by Trench 7.  This latter feature stands out as a unique study-case, and, with it, unveils new amazing facets of a peripheral but not at all marginal region of this empire, all to be  further explored and studied.
  5. Archaeometric analysis has provided further data on coins and coinage, metal work, little objects, pottery and techniques whether locally or not locally practised.

This was the starting point of this 2017-2018 campaign, worked out and elaborated in collaboration with our Consultant for Banbhore to the General Directorate for Antiquities of Sindh, Qasim Ali Qasim.

All in all, at the start of this 2017-2018 campaign we had some certainties…but yet still many uncertainties made of this site a mystifying reality. So far , it was possible to state:

  1. The site was inhabited all over the area encircled by the ramparts at least since the 1st Century Ch.E. We could not go deeper due to the water-table that prevented us proper stratigraphic excavations.
  2. Trench 9 had allowed the first chronological stratigraphy of the site. A synoptic analysis of the evidence emerged from the other trenches had allowed to outline a first picture of the various phases of settlement and peopling of this site, its urban evolution, decay and end.
  3. The site was not only a powerful and majestic citadel. It was a positive town, a harbour town well-fortified and refurbished, that – in different epochs of its life, under different influences, since at least the first century b.Ch. E. – had given life to a well-structured system.
  4. Not only this. Interesting artefacts had been found and warehouses (glass, semi-manufactured shells, manufactured and semi-manufactured ivory and bones, woods, little objects, exquisite pottery, iron and copper tools, and so on), all denoting that crafts and metallurgic activity were practised in given phases of peopling.
  5. At this point, the archaeological evidence allowed to state that the site of Banbhore was not only an important harbour-town and market, but also a highly significant centre of production of luxury goods to be exported all along the main sea and land routes.
  6. Decline and end. It seems that it was gradual.
  7. The causes. Either a gradual silting of the harbour, or raids from nomadic peoples. Or both. Actually, we are informed that bands from the Chaghatay ulus had settled in Sistan. By the first half of the 13th Century Ch. E., lured by the riches stored in the trade-centres of Sindh and Kirman, these people used to make incursions, attack caravans and towns, plunder, and then a quick retreat to their camps loaded with rich booties (Juwayni, Rashid al-Din, Wassaf, Wasiri, Samarqandi and even Marco Polo tell us about these fearful bandits. The name of Daybul occurs as one of their main targets). However, until this last campaign, points 6 and 7 were only working hypotheses.
  8. Moreover, human and natural ravages and the devastating violence of rainfalls had largely upset the higher levels making it difficult to trace a proper stratigraphy and even more difficult to give a precise dating of the decline and end of the town. It was even possible to talk of “abandonment” of the site and migratory waves of the local population towards other more favourable areas. Still a working hypothesis.

The 2017-2018 campaign has allowed to clear some major points. It has been a pleasant, appropriate Team-Work and collaboration.

A clue has been given by the urban structure of this  portion of the site and its planning (development and variations), which have added precious information on the “evolution” of the site, highlighting precise spans of time. Then, no less precious source of information have been some surface surveys carried out in the surrounding and outlying areas of the walled site. 

In other terms, through advanced technologies (A. Tilia) and by a close association of the various levels with the pottery assemblage and other archaeological evidence that have been unearthed (A. Fusaro), with the support of chemical and archaeometric analyses (M. Piacentini), it has been possible to collect more information on the latest occupational levels, related models and transitional phases of the bastioned town (chronologies and associated architectural features, crafts activity), thus integrating the archaeological evidence brought to light by the excavations (Qasim Ali Qasim – Naheed Zahra – S. Mantellini) and some surveys in the surrounding area. The surveys have allowed to outline a framework of the adjoining and outlying environment and human habitat, and the interactions between the walled area and its “outside” territory. We have been confronted with a complex structural situation and a pluralistic society from the cultural and religious viewpoint.  The re-reading of contemporary literary sources (chronicles, geographies, travellers and also Italian archival records. V. Piacentini Fiorani) has given an interesting picture of specific historic phases of the Indus’ deltaic region (or “Lower Sindh”). The Historical research has given excellent clues to the understanding of the archaeological documentation. Both complemented each other, painting a plastic image of “some” events and historical periods.  

To sum up. Following this methodological approach – or modus agendi – we have achieved the following results:

  • The Archaeological “documentation”, complementing contemporary written sources, seems to point to the half of the 13th Century as the last phase of peopling of the site of Banbhore. It is well possible that some forms of human life survived, but, if so, on a very reduced scale and on the higher portion of the site (Ibn al-Athir, Wassaf, Yaqut, Marco Polo, Genoese archival documents).
  • Excavations have unearthed an interesting “quarter” with related architectonic structures (a “palace”, small houses, rooms, streets, artefacts, warehouses) at the cross-road of the two principal North-South and East-West axes of the site. These have allowed a clearer picture of the urban planning in the last centuries of life of the site, its evolution and decay (Naheed Zahra - A. Fusaro – S. Mantellini – Tilia).
  • This Archaeological evidence, moreover, has allowed to focus an “Islamic” period of intense cultural vitality and activity (political-institutional, economic and intellectual). A synoptic comparative analysis with the chronological stratigraphy from Trench 9 and other levels in stratigraphy of the preceding field seasons, plus the data emerged from the excavation carried out at the adjoining Trench n. 11 under the direction of Qasim Ali Qasim and Naheed Zahra  point to a well-defined span of time between the ninth century Ch.E. and the end of tenth-early eleventh century Ch.E.
  • Some surveys carried out in the surrounding extra-moenia territory have shown an intense activity (both agricultural based on irrigation – canals and barrages – and craftsmanship) in the north-eastern area outside the walls. The archaeological surface material gives the same dating of ninth century Ch.E. – end of tenth-early eleventh century Ch.E.
  • All in all, the urban structures and the material unearthed (pottery fragments, little objects, ivory, bones, shells, glass, , coins and fragments of moulds) plus the shards collected during our surveys provide a wealth of information also on the local daily life, pottery and coinage activity, other crafts at the height of these particular occupational levels.
  • The Hydraulic Factor, that is Water, has now a centrality of its own, both inside the walls and outside. This deserves further studying – already planned.
  • The surrounding and outlying environment and its interaction with this superb harbour-town and market acquires a specific relevance within the general historic framework of that time. Further investigation is required – already planned. The same can be said for a thorough geomorphological investigation (ancient course of the Indus river – tides and sea-level – ancient shorelines).
  • Archaeometric Analysis
  • With regard to the above said “Islamic period of intense cultural vitality”, the archaeological evidence undoubtedly tells us that we are confronted with a period of great vitality in all directions. The image is that of wealth and grandeur, political and social stability, and re-investment in the town’s structures despite two devastating earthquakes (893 Ch.E. c. and 977 Ch.E. c. – Epigraphic evidence in situ at Banbhore site.) Literary sources report specifically about Daybul – laid waste by the first earthquake – and rebuilt thanks to the generous intervention of the Emir. And again, archaeological evidence providing a precise span of time points to the last period of the Barmakid Governorship of Sindh and the Habbarid Emirate of Mansurah, to the enlightened rule of the Amir Umar ibn Abdul Aziz al-Habbari (d. 270/883), his son and successor Abdullah ibn ‘Umar al-Habbari (who is said to have reigned for three decades), and his son and successor Umar ibn Abdullah, and their ten successors up to the first half of the eleventh century. Chronicles and geographies tell us about the administrative skill of the first Emirs and their political capacity when confronted with internal strife and international disputes. In this regard, international relationships were based on a balanced policy between the main powers of the time that were fighting for having a upper hand on Sindh (the Saffarids, the Samanids and the Buhids – ) , a balanced political choice that aimed at privileging trade, reactivating also the land routes to Khurasan and Inner Asia and to Sistan-Makran and Shiraz, rather than to the acquisition of new territories. Mansurah and Daybul enjoyed a prosperity without precedent. They were magnificent and sumptuously refurbished. Daybul was surrounded by cultivated fields (hydraulic engineering), “industrial quarters” in adjoining outside areas where the fumes did not affect the “urban” centre; a lovely artificial lake with artificial islands embellished the environment at the foot of the majestic bastions…a marked “Indianisation” in the urban planning. Then, as depicted by literary sources, the Emirs and the upper class were in the habit of wear regal dresses and turbans studded with precious stones, in a style very similar to the dress worn by contemporary Mahrajas in other south-Asian regions. We are also reported about the Emirs and High Personalities circulating in  chariots driven by finely decorated elephants. Elephants were also introduced in the army and used as beasts of burden and in agriculture. A cosmopolitan, open society. The Emirate was still paying nominal tribute to the Caliph, but, de facto, was independent and had excellent diplomatic relationships with its two neighbour-Emirates of Makran and Multan, and with sovereigns of the World of Islam and the World of the Infidels. A cultural renaissance enlivened the Emirate, and – despite Arabic was still the official language – Sindhi began to be commonly used.

The arrival of the Turks and the Seljuk Qavurd Khan b. Chaghri Beg will sign a new destiny for Lower Sindh: the decline and end of Mansurah, a new autonomous status for Daybul and its brave citizens, who hold up against the Seljuk army besieging the town…defeated the Turks obliging the  Sultan and his fearful archers to a new boundary at Gwadar. But this is another chapter…

Acknowledgments

  • Our gratitude goes above all to the Ministry for Culture, Tourism and Antiquities – Government of Sindh, and namely to HE Syed Sardar Ali Shah and the Secretary to Government of Sindh, Ghulam Akbar Laghari, for having endorsed and followed our research-work most cordially.
  • A warm thanks goes also to the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for its sponsorship to our researches in Sindh, and to the Italian Embassy to Islamabad, namely the Italian Ambassador to Islamabad, HE Stefano Pontecorvo, and to the Italian Consulate in Karachi, with special gratitude both to the former Consul Gianluca Rubagotti for having supported us during the long bureaucratic iter that brought to the signature of this MoU between the General Department for Culture, Tourism and Antiquities of Sindh and the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, and the present Consul, our most welcomed Chief Guest for this Event, HE Anna Ruffino: we thank you, indeed, for her enthusiasm, competence and special commitment.
  • Special mention for their support and commitment deserve also the Pakistani Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Pakistani Embassy to Rome and the General Consulate of Pakistan to Milan.
  • We are also extremely grateful to the Department Culture, Tourism and Antiquities of Sindh, and especially to its Director General Mr Manzoor Ahmed Kanasro, for inspiring and firmly supporting our research-projects in Sindh, and to the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, namely its Rector prof. Franco Anelli and his staff, and to the Research Centre CRiSSMA, for their  constant backing to the organization of our research-work within their scientific programme. All these Institutions – Sindhi and Italian – have motivated us all, Scholars and Researchers; their commitment in the rediscovery of the superb Cultural Heritage of Sindh beyond any cultural and national distinction continues to be a spur for all of us to research and study together.  
  • Special mention deserve Dr Qasim Ali Qasim, Consultant to the Department for Culture, Tourism and Antiquities – Government of Sindh, and Dr Naheed Zahra, Exploration Branch – Sindh, for their competent collaboration.
  • At this point, we also wish to extend our warmest thanks to the Curator of the archaeological site of Banbhore, Mr Irshad Ali Rind, whose archaeological vision and experience have been for us invaluable companions during this 2017-2018 campaign, source of intense motivation and support.
  • Apart, we wish to recall Dr Monique Kervran, whose authority and scientific fervour induced us to embark on this challenge. To her goes our sincere appreciation, to her goes our heartfelt gratitude. We miss her very much.
  • Last but not least, to Dr Kalimullah Lashari and Dr Asma Ibrahim, who nowadays have other and no less important scientific commitments, goes our expression of appreciation for our past collaboration.
  • And what to say of all our special collaborators? The Drivers, the Cook and his Helper, the soldiers always vigilant on our security, and our “special” workers, loyal diligent companions over these seven years of field-work. It would be too long to name them one by one. To all of them goes our most heartfelt thank you.

 Thank you!

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JOINT ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATION AT BANBHORE – 2017-18

WORK DONE BY PAKISTANI TEAM

  • ITALIAN ARCHAEOLOGICAL MISSION (Lead by Valeria Piacentini)
  • Department of Culture, Tourism, & Antiquities Government of Sindh.

Exploration & Excavation Branch Karachi.   (Lead by Naheed Zahra Director)

Objectives

  • To discover the relation of excavation done by Italian team in 2015 (trench # 9).
  • The substratum of the fortress of Banbhore.
  • The first settlement of Banbhore
  • Pre-Islamic Banbhore
  • Banbhore after arrival of Muslims.

Opening

  • The Excavation started on 20th Dec 2017, with joint venture of Italian Archeological Mission, which ended on 8th Feb 2018.
  • Pakistani team after a careful survey decided to mark a trench in the South of the mosque (in between mosque and southern gate).
  • The greater part of the post is excavated and the debris is kept as an afterthought hence leaving less odds of untouched zone.
  • We are thankful to the Italian team for sharing their expertise in topography, photography, and drawing.

Trench details

  • The Trench size was 5 x 5 meter.
  • 50 cm baulk.
  • 4 x 4 meter size. Grid AA,IV and trench # 11

Timeline excavation

  • After cleaning the trench, no visible artifact was found up to 14 cm depth.
  • Soil was lose, grey, and light brown color all around trench from 25cm to 50cm depth.
  • Mix pottery fragments were found on Eastern side of the wall, along with ashes, coal, and large quantity of bones, sea shall, and ivory pieces.
  • Animal figurines were also found. In 70 cm depth of South Eastern side of the trench we found circular shape stones that apparently looked like a well, but that was fallen/ collapsed stones of the wall.
  • At 83 cm depth huge amount of pot shreds, coins, coin molds, grey and glazed pottery were found.(Could be a factory of Terracotta pottery or coin molding place)
  • After 24 days while removing the baulk from the Eastern side a stone wall was found advancing from East to West.
  • To Check and clarify the wall a new trench was dig on the southern side of trench # 11. Up to 120 cm of depth wall has been cleared and a door opening place was clearly visible. This was a room structure which was connected with Italian trench # 9.

Artifacts found this season 2017-18

  • Terracotta pottery fragments, Plain and Painted pottery , Molded pottery, Rims, lids, Complete or Semi Complete objects (12,500),Glazed and Grey Pottery fragment, Coins and Coin Moulds Coin pieces/ copper objects, Beads, Bones, Ivory, Sea Shells, Stones , Iron object / pieces, Glass fragments, Animal Figurines and one Horn also founded.
  • The facts and findings will tack time that would revealed  later on  
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