Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Discoveries of Empire

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July 1798, the domes and minarets of Cairo rose shimmering amidst the heat waves before the eyes of Napoleon’s army as it marched south along the Nile River. Some ways away, the rock-strewn desert was home to the pyramids. The West was aware of their existence and knew too they were burial sites of kings past.

Now for the first time, these strange edifices came within the purview of scientists as Napoleon had brought along 175 “learned civilians” in his train. They came armed with scientific equipment and every book on Egypt found in France. In the three years they spent in Egypt, the French scientists uncovered a sizeable hoard of ancient artefacts and made replicas. This was just as well: in 1801, British forces defeated the French and expelled them from Egypt. The artefacts fell into British hands and the copies went to France, setting off a great intellectual foment in the two countries and pushing back Egyptian history to the 4th millennium BCE.

Some five decades later in India, intellectuals of the British Raj were overawed by the magnificence of its built heritage. Everything from the 9th-century Jain and Hindu temples of Gujarat and Kashmir and Sultanate period buildings to the glory of Mughal architecture captured the British imagination. But for most archaeologists, Indian history did not go any farther than the 6th century BCE, when Buddha preached his new faith. Unsurprisingly, in 1864, archaeologist Alexander Cunningham exploring the mounds outside the village of Harappa was disappointed in failing to find any Buddhist artefacts, even though he turned up some unique, unexplained remains.

Cunningham’s report elicited some interest but it was not until 1920 that the first archaeologist began working in Harappa. The following year, another went fossicking about on the high, wind-swept mound near the village of Dokri in Larkana District. In his report on these two digs, John Marshall of the Archaeological Survey of India could only venture that this, the most ancient civilization in the subcontinent, dated from the 1st millennium BCE.

Within years, artefacts similar to those found in Harappa and Moen jo Daro turned up in Mesopotamia besides sites in western Iran as well as the western shores of the Persian Gulf. At a loss to put all this in perspective, archaeologists were confounded by one question: how old were the Indus cities and how were they linked to those in Mesopotamian and the Gulf? The assiduous efforts of three generations of archaeologists answered these questions, bringing the limit of the Indus Valley Civilization to the 7th millennium BCE.

Here [in PPL Calendar 2014] is a brief recapitulation of the story of Pakistan’s earliest history through the prism of its once-thriving cities. The one thing that needs emphasis is that despite all the work there are still more questions than answers. The inquiry must go on and needs your active support and engagement.

Related: PPL Book of Days 2014 - The Very EdenBesting the NileTreasure ForsakenRendering in Dressed Stone - TaxilaCompass ConverseTown with Seven LivesRiches beyond MeasureAncient Emporium of SindhMonastery of the FountBounty of the KushansPerch of the Queen

Part of Pakistan Petroleum Limited yearly diary and table calendar project

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:00 AM,

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days