Unearthing Antiquity in Remote Pakistan
June 24, 2009
For more than 30 years, Anthropology Professor Louis Flam has studied prehistoric cultures in Asia. On his most recent trip to Pakistan, he was the only Westerner granted permission to conduct research in the remote Sindh region.
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In "Clues to the Unknown," Lehman faculty and students explain the research they are conducting—and the new knowledge and discoveries that may unfold from their work.
This is Vince Bracy, a student at Lehman College. For more than 30 years, Anthropology Professor Louis Flam has studied prehistoric cultures in Asia. On his most recent trip to Pakistan, he was the only Westerner granted permission to conduct research in the remote Sindh region. In this segment, he discusses what his findings reveal about how people lived 6,000 years ago.
And for the past 24 years, I've been excavating a site in Sindh Province in the country of Pakistan that's called Ghazi Shah.
It dates back literally to 6,000 years ago. And then the site was continuously occupied, 6,000 years ago, 5,000 years ago, 4,000 years ago. And then, the site was abandoned. And then, it was reoccupied during the Mughal Dynasty of Indian history, and the history of Pakistan as well, which is between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries A.D.
There was another archaeologist during the British Empire in India. His name was Nani Gopal Majumdar. And he explored the area that I work in, which is called Sindh. It's the southern and southeastern-most province of Pakistan.
And Majumdar had explored this western-most region of Sindh. And he, in 1938 was actually shot to death in the area while he was doing fieldwork. And ever since that time, nobody dared to go into that area to do further explorations.
And in 1975, 6, and 7, I reexamined many of the sites that he had discovered. And when I finished my doctoral dissertation from the University of Pennsylvania, I decided I didn't want to teach. So what I did was I went to Pakistan, and I lived there for six years.
One of the problems that Ghazi Shah addresses because it was occupied for such a long time before the beginning of the Indus Civilization is the origins of the civilization. So we've been digging from the top of the mound where the Mughal Dynasty occupation was, through that to the Indus Civilization occupation 4,000 years ago. And then, Ghazi Shah was occupied even earlier than that-- 4,000, 5,000, 6,000 years ago. So we've been digging through all these earlier cultures to try to get an understanding of why the Indus Civilization came into being.
We've had some tremendous discoveries. We found an entire bead-working kit, including the raw materials, which are coming from hundreds of miles away from Ghazi Shah. And from that raw material, they were making the drills to make the holes in the beads.
We found the raw material for making the beads, which is agate and carnelian, a type of chalcedony, which is also a type of agate. And we found that they were bringing this raw material from hundreds of miles away as well and making beads out of the material. So we have the drills, the material for making the drills.
And because when we excavate, we sift all the dirt through one-millimeter mesh, we're finding even the little tiny chips of stone used to make the bead drills and to shape the beads as well. We're also excavating people's houses at the site. So we're finding animal bones, and wheat seeds, and barley seeds, and fish bones. So we have the entire array of food that they were eating as well.
When the Indus Civilization was first discovered in the 1920's, people thought that it only existed during the third millennium B.C., that is between 3000 and 2000 B.C. And one of the important discoveries that we've made is that people were living in this area, thriving, doing agriculture, keeping animals for food, going back thousands of years earlier than the Indus Civilization.
And that there's a continuous cultural sequence dating back from the Neolithic Revolution right through the Indus Civilization. And this is all relatively new information coming out of not only Ghazi Shah, but other sites in Pakistan as well.
Until this year, 2008 and nine, we had not been able to go to Ghazi Shah since the events of 9/11/2001. In fact, in January of 2001, I was excavating at Ghazi Shah. And then 9/11 occurred. And because of the political difficulties in the region, the Pakistan government was not able to give us our license, which we have to obtain every year to carry out explorations or excavations in Pakistan. They were not able to give us the license for security reasons. So for eight years, I was not able to go to Pakistan to do research.
And this year to my surprise, the Pakistan government gave me the license to excavate at Ghazi Shah. And I was the only foreign expedition allowed to work this year. And we were able to put seven good weeks of excavation in during December of 2008 and January of 2009.
Ghazi Shah, the site that I'm excavating, and the areas that I was exploring in Western Sindh Province, is a very, very, very remote area. In some of those places, I was the only foreigner ever to be in those areas. And the area is very desolate, very few people living in the area. There are almost no resources, no electricity, no plumbing. We shoot wild animals for food, not for game, not for the joy of hunting, but so that we can eat. And there's very little water, only in springs that we drink and we bathe in. So it's a very remote and difficult area to be in. But I've enjoyed every minute of it in the 35 years that I've been working in Pakistan.
It is one of the few parts of the world like Egypt, Mesopotamia, China. India and Pakistan have a tremendously long cultural history and tradition. The culture can directly find its roots in the prehistoric cultures that I work with. And that's the case in Mesopotamia and Egypt, as well as in China and in India, Pakistan. And it's one of the reasons that I was attracted to the area.
The other reason is that so few people, when I first started working in Pakistan, actually were able to go to Pakistan to do research. Debatably with some points in Africa, Pakistan has some of the hottest places in the world. In fact, some of the highest temperatures in the world have been recorded at a town called Jacobabad, which is just north of the region that I work in.
But while I've been doing fieldwork, I've actually been out regularly in 120-degree temperatures. And one summer, I was exploring this western part of the Sindh Province of Pakistan, and I was actually out for about four weeks in 140-degree Fahrenheit temperature.
One of the things that we're finding dating back 6,000 years ago right now are complete house plans of the way people lived, which is quite spectacular. It's not much different from the way people live in the area today.
They have stone foundations, from the mountains nearby. And then they put sun-dried mud brick built up one on top of the other to create the walls. It's exactly the same architectural style 6,000 years ago as today.
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