Archaeologists in the northern area of Swat in Pakistan have discovered a Buddhist monastic and educational complex believed to be between 1,900 and 2,000 years old. The largest known complex in the area, its age puts it in the era of the Kushan empire, which controlled the area as well as much of modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India from 30–375 CE.
The site was originally discovered in the 1930s by Italian archaeologists, but digging there ended before major discoveries could be made. Teams from Pakistan returned last year.
The site is believed to include a vast monastic complex, complete with stupas, viharas, a school, and meditation halls in the center of the small valley, along with small cells higher in the mountains where monks lived in relative isolation. Saqib Raza, the lead archaeologist on the excavation, was interviewed at the complex and said: “Apart from this complex, you can see the assembly hall over there, which was used for different meetings. They also used to teach philosophy here. This was a schooling area, a kind of educational institution for the area and for the region.” (Dawn)
The archaeological team also found a piece of a coin and hope to discover other artifacts as the dig continues. Raza added, “We have discovered some rare fresco paintings belonging to the first century from the Abbasahib-China Buddhist site in Barikot during our recent exactions. The paintings are in different poses including namaskar pose. Six of them are visible and intact.” (Dawn)
According to Dr. Abdul Samad, director of archaeology and museums, the discovery of the murals is unique. He suggested that it is the first time that archaeologists have found intact fresco paintings at an archaeological site of the Kushan dynasty in the Gandhara civilization.
“It showed that about 2,000 years ago, residents of this area were using the fresco painting techniques. Thanks to the archeologists that they discovered the murals intact. There is no other example here in Gandhara of finding intact paintings,” he said. (Dawn)
Prof. Luca M Olivieri, director of the Italian archaeological mission in Pakistan, described the discovery as extremely important, adding that it had opened a new chapter in the historical records of early Buddhism in Swat.
“We believe that Swat and Gandhara had an important painting school whose traces have unfortunately faded away. The new wonderful evidence has now been documented at Abbasaheb-China, thanks to director of archaeology and museums Dr. Abdul Samad to whom our gratitude and admiration go,” said Olivieri. “Such an environment should be preserved along with the archaeological ruins in an integrated archaeological part as it has been planned at Barikot, which will promote cultural tourism in Swat.” (Dawn)
There are some 150 Buddhist heritage sites in Pakistan’s Malakand Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, which encompasses much of the north and northwest of the country, including the Swat valley, a major center for early Buddhist development. Many in Pakistan hope to protect and develop the sites as part of their cultural heritage and as tourist destinations. Last May, a newly discovered Buddha statue in the nearby Takht Bahi area was destroyed by local villagers at the direction of religious conservatives.* Since then, Pakistan’s government has restored and renovated the statue and is taking careful steps with further developments of Buddhist historical sites.
* Four Arrested in Pakistan for Destroying 1,700-year-old Buddha Statue (Buddhistdoor Global)
Discovery of 1st century murals termed landmark achievement (Dawn)
Archaeologists discovers 2000-years-old Buddhist site in Swat, KP (Global Village Space)
2,000-year-old Buddhist site unearthed in Pakistan (USA Today)