Sunday, June 7, 2009

Diamer-Bhasha threatens ancient heritage sites

ISLAMABAD: Pakistanis take more pride in their historical heritage than they actually care for it.
That seems to have moved the National Art Gallery (NAG) to put up a magnificent exhibition of the rock art found in the Himalayan wilderness of northern Pakistan before it goes under water, literally.
An incredible 50,000 rock carvings and 5,000 inscriptions have been discovered in the area so far, dating back to 10,000 years before Christian Era — all to be lost when the Diamer-Bhasha Dam rises and its water inundates the area.
Hopefully, the ‘Talking Rocks’ exhibition at NAG may arouse public interest in saving whatever could be saved of the treasure trove.
It will be open until July 19, time enough to reflect on what is at stake.
Prof Dr Harald Hauptmann of Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities of Germany, who had been working at the sites of rock art in Northern Areas since 1985 with late Dr Ahmad Hassan Dani, was there on the opening day on Thursday.
It made him ‘very sad’ to think that the art treasure represented in the nearly 100 photographs, artifacts and replicas of rock art on display would be lost.
About 70 per cent of the rock art would be submerged under water and another 20 per cent would become casualty to the rerouting of Karakoram Highway and the establishment of new settlements, he said.
‘If I could, I would have stopped everything to preserve our common heritage for generations to come. But unfortunately I’m too old to put up a fight. It’s just a dream now. The greater tragedy is that archaeology and preservation of our heritage comes too late into our discussions and planning,’ he told Dawn.
When the construction of the Aswan Dam in Egypt in the 1960s threatened to submerge the historic temples at Abu Simbel, the Egyptian government launched an international appeal to save them. In a huge salvage operation, lasting from 1964 to 1968, the temples were dismantled and raised over 60 meters up the sandstone cliff where they had been built more than 3,000 years before and reassembled.
The exhibition unfolds a magnificent chapter of human evolution through centuries.
From ancient scriptures to illustrations and impressions of unique animals, celebration scenes, stupas and battles – reflecting on communities and people who once traveled through this route – rock art can be traced back to settlements appearing in 1st millennium BC.
A number of illustrations have been carved on the rocks like ‘Martavyam Smartavyam’ which when roughly translated reads ‘Remember that you are mortal’ in Brahmi inscription; 4th to 6th AD. Another illustration shows the procession on the occasion of Buddha’s birthday and the statue of the enthroned Buddha carried on an elephant; 6th to 7th century AD.
So far, more than 50,000 rock carvings and 5,000 inscriptions have been discovered; ranging from the Epipalaeolithic or Neolithic (9th/8th millennium BC) to the coming of Islam (since 16th century AD) in the Northern Areas. Their tremendous diversity not only permits insight into history of various peoples with different social-cultural and political traditions as well as religious beliefs but also discloses strategic importance of the region.
The exhibition was dedicated to two great explorers, Dr Ahmed Hasan Dani, considered father of archeology and history in Pakistan and Dr Karl Jettmar, explorer of the ethnography in the Northern Areas, who realized the significance of these rock carvings.
Dr Hauptmann, who was heading research project focusing on documenting and publishing rock carvings and inscriptions to be found in the high mountain region of northern Pakistan, said: ‘We have been working to recreate rock art. We have brought high-tech equipment to perform three dimensional scanning, take photographs and sketch the impressions and produce replicas to be saved in museums.’
Some examples of the laser-carved replicas can be seen on display. Most of the foreigners also seemed disappointed with the loss. ‘This only goes on to show that culture and heritage are the last priority in our scheme of things,’ said one diplomat.
Another echoed along similar lines when she said: ‘It is disheartening that at one level, we talk about our thousands of years of inheritance and culture and at another level, we care so little to protect and conserve it.’ Cutesy Dawn June 5, 2009

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