Archaeologists have found Buddhist artifacts dating back 2,000 years in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. The Pakistani and Italian archaeologists who completed the dig were especially excited by an Apsidal temple that they found, which is the oldest ever found in the region.* The finds clarify how historically important the area is and bolsters Pakistan’s draw as a destination for Buddhist pilgrims and tourists.
The International Association for Mediterranean and Oriental Studies (ISMEO) performed the dig in partnership with Luca Maria Olivieri, an archaeologist from Ca’ Foscari University in Venice. The relics were found in the historic region of Gandhara, which has been controlled by Hindu, Buddhist, and Indo-Greek rulers at various times in history.
In a statement, Olivieri said: “The discovery of a great religious monument created at the time of the Indo-Greek kingdom testifies that this was an important and ancient center for cult and pilgrimage. At that time, Swat already was a sacred land for Buddhism.” (Smithsonian Magazine)
Discussing the temple, Tom Metcalfe of the journal Live Science stated: “It was built atop an earlier Buddhist temple dated to as early as the third century BCE—within a few hundred years of the death of Buddhism’s founder, Siddhartha Gautama, between 563 and 483 BCE.” (Smithsonian Magazine)
In addition to the temple, 2,700 other artifacts were recovered by archaeologists; including coins, rings, pots, and writing of the Kharoshi script from the period of rule by the Greek king Menander.**
The discovery was made in Bazira City of the Buddhist period in Barikot Tehsil in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province. The Italian archaeologists plan on conducting more digs in Bazira in Swat District, and they believe that more archaeological sites will be found during excavation. Up to this point, doctoral students from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and several Italian Universities have participated in excavations.
Dr. Abdul Samad, director of museum and archaeology, said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had purchased 14 archaeological sites under section four, where excavations are taking place.
Italian ambassador to Pakistan Andreas Ferrarese told reporters that archaeological sites in Pakistan were very important for different religions of the world. He noted that the Italian archaeological mission, in collaboration with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa archaeological department, had been protecting and excavating archaeological sites in Pakistan for the last 70 years.
In addition to the most recent find, excavations in Bazira have revealed two other Buddhist sanctuaries along a road that connected the city center to the gates. And researchers are speculating that they have found a “street of temples” from ancient times.
The site was active in 327 BCE, during the time of Alexander the Great. Bazira’s microclimate allowed residents to grow rice and other grains twice each year, and Alexander looked to the region as a “bread basket,” providing food for his troops.
According to Live Science, Buddhism had gained traction in the region by the reign of Menander I, around 150 BCE, but may have been practiced solely by the elite. Swat eventually emerged as a sacred Buddhist center under the Kushan Empire (30–400 CE), which stretched from Afghanistan to Pakistan and into northern India. At the time, Gandhara was known for its Greco-Buddhist style of art, which rendered Buddhist subjects with Greek techniques.
Tourists from all over the world visit Buddhist sites in Pakistan each year. This growth in tourism is made possible by substantial improvements to the area’s security. The increase came about following assaults launched by the Pakistani army on militants in the northwestern tribal region along the border with Afghanistan. The assaults have been taking place since 2014, resulting in an 80 per cent decline in the number of terrorist attacks, according to the government.
2,000-Year-Old Buddhist Temple Unearthed in Pakistan (Smithsonian Magazine)
Ancient Buddha artifacts found in Pakistan (Yeni Safak)
2,300-year-old temple of Buddhist period discovered in Pakistan (Hindustan Times)
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