Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

Proto-Historic Nomadism in Central Asia and Megalithic Graves in District Ghizer, Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan)

Academic journal article Pakistan Historical Society. Journal of the Pakistan Historical Society

Proto-Historic Nomadism in Central Asia and Megalithic Graves in District Ghizer, Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan)

Article excerpt


The complex data, mainly related to the Bronze Age nomads' burial customs, scattered in the vast areas of Central Asian steppes, has raised many questions in academia. In order to understand this complicated data, proto-historic burial cultures in Inner Asia are classified1 into two major groups under the broader topics of 'Timber Grave Culture/Surubna/ Cairn burial complex' and 'Andronovo Culture'. The former culture originated in Volga region and covers the vast areas of Western Kazakistan, while, the latter originated in Central and Eastern Kazakistan covering the areas of Kirgizia and Fergana valleys. It seems that both of the burial cultures met at the middle reaches of the Zaravshan basin at the site like Mominabad Cemetery2.

In addition to this, Gandhāra Grave Culture3 in Chitral4, Dir, Swat5 and Peshawar Valley also reveals a complicated data6, which is comparable to the above mentioned Inner Asian parallels; with reference to the nomadic cultures7, burial customs and technological linkages particularly related to the typological similarities of pottery8.

Large size stone cenotaphs of burials' mounds, dated to protohistoric period between Aral Sea and Pamir9, and similar constructions in wood from different localities in Xinjiang region, is defined as Gumugao II culture10. It is related to similar stone circles categorised under the Andronovo Culture and include similar examples from Siberia11.

The evidences of big circles are comparable with the circles, also found from Siberia, Urumqi and Kazakistan, dated, on Radio Carbon 14 analysis of the data from the sellected sites, to the latter half of 3rd millennium and early half of 2nd millennium B.C.12 However, another culturally linked proto-historic burial tradition known from Chitral, Dir, Swat and proper Gandhāra follows the earlier and falls between 1500/ 1400 to 80013 or 400 B.C. or continues in Chitral until medieval ages14. This tradition is known to us as Gandhāra Grave Culture15 or Swat Valley Culture16, revealing three forms of burial customs: (1) inhumation, (2) cremation and (3) fractional burial; and recently the careful excavationbased investigations at Swat17 revealed the evidences of reopening of graves most probably for performing the rituals.

The core object of this study is to understand similar megalithic circles, in District Ghizer of Gilgit-Baltistan, from the extreme northern parts of Pakistan. This data can help us understand the cultural connection of nomadic cultures in Central Asia and those developed in the Swat valley.

Ghizer valley is situated on the road connecting Central Asia with Gandhāra, through the mountain valleys and passes, located in the areas of the mountain range of Hindukush and Karakoram. Ghizer shares its access to Wakhan and Chitral through the passes in the North, NorthWest and West of the District. Similarly, from Ghizer one can approach Darel through the passes from Singul Gah, which leads further to Swat and Gandhāra. Whereas, Gilgit is located down stream, towards the East.

Previous investigations

Such structures from this area were for the first time mentioned by Biddulph18, the then British Agent, who calls them 'circular stone tables'. Two times he19 visited Ghizer zone: the first time he toured Punyāl and Yasin in 1876; and the second time in 1878. During his earlier visit he noticed the circular graves of huge size in Yasin, and added more to his understanding during his latter stay. He compared them to the graves from Astor20 and those in Central India.

Later Friedrich and Jettmar21 visited Ghizer, and studied such circles with reference to the example at Chasi in Gupis in comparison to the Gumbate Mausoleum at Bubur22 and examples from Central Asia, implausibly placing this tradition to the beginning of the Common Era. Ahmed Hasan Dani23 attempts to reconstruct the history of this area from archaeological remains, historical sources and documented oral traditions. …

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