Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Necropolis with a View

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The direct road from Mardan to Swabi in the Northwest Frontier Province [Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa] passes through the heart of Yusufzai country: great stretches of well-worked farmland cut across by the occasional canal or punctuated by a few low hills and populace villages. As one drives eastward to Swabi the craggy ridge of Kharamar (Rearing Snake) hill blocks the view to the north. Twenty-seven kilometres from Mardan, under the highest point of the ridge, lies the village of Adina.


Once it was just a quiet Pakhtun village; then in early 1993 it hit the news. The discovery was a group of ancient graves high above the village under the hooded peak of Kharamar. The man behind this discovery was the tall, hawk-faced Professor Farid Khan, fiftyish yet bursting with youthful energy. The professor has devoted his entire life to archeology and knows everything there is to know about NWFP prehistory. It was therefore entirely my good fortune to be driving to Adina with him.

North of the village we drove to the foot of the ridge where Professor Khan pointed out stone steps leading up the slope, ‘We use the same stairs that the ancient funeral processions would have taken,’ he said as we started the climb. Behind us was a low mound, the remains of the settlement where the funerals originated, abandoned long ago and smothered by the dust of time it now awaits the spade of the archaeologist to divulge its secrets. On a rocky platform about 200 metres above the village was the necropolis: a collection of flat stone slabs that the untrained eye would have taken as nothing but a natural arrangement. Now, marked by great blotches of whitewash they stand out against the drab hillside. Below us the Yusufzai plains were marked out in neat patches of cultivation to as far as the eye could see.

When we visited the site in July 1993 the team had investigated seventy-five of the graves. Aligned east-west these were mostly from thirty to sixty centimetres deep and rectangular in shape formed by the arrangement of flat slabs of rock and covered over by a similar slab. The burials either inflexed, fractional (indicative perhaps of reburial) or cremation were all from the same period.

Although the ashes were mostly interred in urns, there were a few cases where they appear to have been strewn in the burial chamber. Besides the ash urns most graves contained another two or three pots, while the earliest also had rings and bangles of gold or copper. Some graves also contained beads but iron objects were conspicuously absent. None of the graves at Adina were ever reused indicating that after its abandonment the necropolis was completely forgotten until plunderers robbed or at least desecrated them at some indeterminate time.

The use of iron began in the 11th century BC, its conspicuous absence, according to Professor Farid Khan, is therefore very definite evidence that the graves are from an earlier date. Judging from the style of pottery recovered from them, the Professor estimates the graves to be from the 14th to the 12th century BC. This was the time of the great influx of Aryan wanderers from across the Hindu Kush mountains and since their annals mention the geography of this area, Professor Khan attributes the necropolis to these northern tribes. About the 2nd or 1st century BC the necropolis came into the use of Buddhist monks whose cubicles built in diaper masonry can be seen above the graves. But this appears to have been a short lived infraction, and the necropolis was once again consigned to oblivion.

So far the graves only reveal that the ancient people of Adina practiced different kinds of burial techniques and believed in some sort of afterlife to have interred articles of use with the ashes. Other than that very little can be determined. A full investigation will be possible when the mound at the foot of the hill also comes under the spade.

As we were leaving the site, Ajmal Shah, the professor’s assistant, said that Adina could possibly be a corruption of ‘adira,’ the Pashto word for graveyard. If that is true then it surely rings of the time the first grave robbers discovered this ancient necropolis.

Book is available at Sang e Meel (042-3722-0100), Lahore

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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