New Exploration in the Chitral Valley, Pakistan: An Extension of the Gandharan Grave Culture

Article excerpt


During 1999 the International Hindu Kush Expedition, funded by the Royal Geographical Society, conducted fieldwork in the Chitral Valley. The objective of the expedition was to study the impact of mountain rivers on human and natural activity (Meadows pers.comm.). The expedition included an archaeological team to examine the potential of surveying settlement sites. Given the scarcity of previous archaeological investigation, this was an important opportunity to define the location, number and type of sites in the middle Chitral Valley. It should be emphasized that this was a preliminary exploration, and in addition to time constraints, the volatile political situation and the nature of the terrain limited the survey. However, even with these restraints, the number of known Gandharan Grave culture sites in the valley was doubled. The wealth of archaeology that was recorded justifies future investment in field seasons and systematic survey.

Chitral is one of the most isolated regions in Pakistan. Located in the extreme northwest of the North West Frontier Province, it has the Afghan provinces of Badakshan to the west and Wakhan to the north, the Northern Areas of Pakistan to the east, and the Districts of Dir and Swat to the south. There are more than 40 peaks over 6000 m in Chitral District, and these Contrast with valleys that plunge more than 900 m below the main settlements (Dichter 1967: 40-42; Haserodt 1996: 3). Extremes of terrain and climate have resulted in water resources playing an important role in shaping social organization, in addition to influencing settlement and subsistence patterns (Haserodt 1996: 9; Israrud-Din 1996: 19; Young et al. 2000: 138). This role has led to the clustering of settlement on the fertile Pleistocene fluvio-glacial terraces and alluvial fans, as opposed to the arid and rocky slopes (FIGURE 1; Haserodt 1996: 5; Stacu 11969a: 92).


Due to its position in the Hindu Kush, Chitral is accessible only by high passes, of which the most important are the Lowari (3118 m) and the Shandur (3374 m). These links with Pakistan are closed between September and April by snow and rain, although it is possible to divert westwards into Afghanistan following the line of the Chitral river before crossing back into Pakistan. Despite its modern isolation and extreme terrain, Chitral was less remote in the past and its position made it an important transit corridor between south, central and western Asia. The historical significance of this feature, a section of the famous Silk Road, is attested by scholars who have identified it as a significant channel for trade and the movement of ideas and people (Stein 1921).

The Gandharan Grave culture

The Gandharan Grave culture is the name given by Dani (1992: 395) to the protohistoric cemeteries that were first noted in an area approximately corresponding to ancient Gandhara--the easternmost satrapy or province of the Achaemenid Empire. Stacul (1987), however, prefers to refer to the sites as protohistoric or pre-Buddhist cemeteries. Excavations in Dir, at Balambat and Timargarha (Dani 1967), and in Swat at Aligrama, Bir-kot-ghundai, Kalakoderay and Loebanr I (Stacul 1987) suggest a homogeneous culture, represented by similar grave and burial patterns, pottery assemblages, and other artefacts (Dani 1992: 407-8,415; Stacul 1989: 322).

This core of Gandharan sites was extended north to Chitral by Stacul's (1969a) brief survey and excavation, east to the Indus (Stacul 1987: 64-5; 1966) and south to the Vale of Peshawar (Khan 1973: 34). It should also be noted that no comparative research has been carried out in Afghanistan, but it is now highly likely that sites will be found on the Afghan side of the border. The cemetery site of Sarai Khola, in the Pakistani province of Punjab, has also been assigned by some to the culture (Allchin 1995: 125). Further affinities have been recorded with prehistoric burial sites in regions as distant as the southern Himalayas of Uttar Pradesh (Agrawal et al. …