The archaeological team working at the Bhamala Buddhist archaeological complex in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan, has discovered a large statue of the Buddha in parinirvana, said to be 14–15 meters long, as well as more than 500 other ancient Buddhist artifacts. The massive discovery has been termed “a wealth of history and treasure dating back 2,000 years” (Ancient Origins).
According to the leader of the excavation team, Dr. Abdul Samad, 510 antiquities have been uncovered altogether, including terracotta objects, clay Buddha heads, stucco sculptures, iron architectural elements, copper artifacts, and coins of the later Kushan period (2nd century BCE–3rd century CE). Dr. Samad also stated that samples of organic material had been sent to the US for radiocarbon dating at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The test, carried out by Dr. Mark Kenoyer, professor of Anthropology and director of the Centre for South Asia at the university, shows that the finds could date back even further than 2,000 years.
Dr. Samad, who is also director general of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Department of Archaeology and Museums, said the discovery of the parinirvana statue was highly important. “It is the largest such example [depicting the death scene] found in the Gandhara civilization,” The Express Tribune quoted him as saying. He explained that the statue, situated at the northwest end of the complex and facing east, was made of Kanjur stone and that its right leg and a portion of the left leg were covered in drapery, with the feet and shoulders placed on a huge 15-meter-long platform. However, the upper left leg and arms are damaged and have fallen towards the east, and the Buddha’s head is missing as well. Dr. Samad alleged that the damage might have been caused by illegal excavators.
A second cruciform stupa featuring stucco fragments of statues with double halos on its plinth is another important discovery made by the team. Dr. Samad said that nine chapels had been discovered to the stupa’s east, five of which have been excavated. These also contain Buddha images with double halos, a feature unknown in the rest of Gandhara.
Dr. Samad further stated that the geographical location of the Bhamala Buddhist complex was extremely important as it connected the Taxila valley with Kashmir. He explained that very few sites have a cruciform stupa, which was usually reserved for the Buddha himself.
The Bhamala Buddhist archaeological complex, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, was first excavated by British archaeologist Sir John Marshall (1876–1958) during the late 1920s and early 1930s but was never fully explored, mainly due to the volatile political situation and the lack of law and order in the area.
In 2013, a major two-year collaborative research project was initiated by the Archaeological Research and Conservation Program: India and Pakistan (ARCPIP), funded by the US State Department and in collaboration with the Department of Archaeology, Hazara University, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Mansehra District. The excavation team led by Dr. Samad has been working on the site since then. However, according to The Express Tribune, the work has now been halted until next year while the finds are documented.
500 ancient artifacts uncovered at the remarkable Bhamala Archaeological Complex in Pakistan (Ancient Origins)
Maha Pari Nirvana scene discovered in Taxila (Pakistan Today)
Smells like Nirvana: Over 500 new artefacts found at Bhamala (The Express Tribune)
Ancient Buddhist Sculptures Unearthed in Pakistan (Buddhistdoor International)