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Historic-Archaeological Research of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milano on the Indus Delta (2010-2018). The following text is only an abridged note on the excavations at Banbhore and some significant extra-moenia surveys carried out by the Italian Team within the Institutional framework of a “Pak-French-Italian Historical and Archaeological Research at Banbhore” on the basis of a Licence issued by the competent Pakistani Authorities (2010-2015 - Coordinator of the Project Dr Kaleemullah Lashari), and, some later, within a new institutional asset: a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MoU) signed in the 2017 between the Director General of the Department of Antiquities of Sindh (Manzoor A. Kanasro) and the Magnifico Rettore of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan (Prof. Franco Anelli). Aims of the said MoU are: (a) historical-archaeological research-work at Banbhore and Rani Kot; (b) training (theoretical and on the job) to selected students and officers of the DAS. The Italian group works under the sponsorship of the Italian Ministry for Foreign Affairs (now Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation/MAECI). Scientific director for the Italian Team is Prof. Valeria Piacentini, member of the Board of Directors of the Research Centre CRiSSMA of the Catholic University.
In the following dissertation I won’t linger on the debated issue about the identification of the site of Banbhore with historic sites on the Indus delta (the historical Mihrān river) mentioned and described in the written sources of the past. Too many respected scholars and archaeologists have entered this debate since the end of the 19th Century, for which I refer to a well-known exhaustive literature. In the “50s of the previous century, Leslie Alckok – then official to the Department of Archaeology of Pakistan – carried out some preliminary excavations, followed by Dr Rafique Mughal and F.A. Khan. This latter carried out a systematic and extensive archaeological campaign of several years between the “50s and the “60s, well backed by one of the most authoritative Pakistani historians, N.A. Baloch. Khan brought to light extraordinary archaeological and architectural evidence, but, unfortunately, his excavation-notes have gone lost and little or nothing has been published. Thence, our research-work had to start from nothing.
First of all and most urgent was an updated planimetric and altimetric study of the site by kite-photos: a massive wall of c. 1,4 km with 55 towers, 7 posterns, and major and secondary accesses to the citadel (2010-2012 by Y. Ubelman, S. Reynard, A. Tilia), regularly updated with advanced technologies (A. Tilia).
Then, in collaboration with Dr M. Kervran, head of the French Team, we undertook an accurate study of the bastions and the shapes of its towers (squared, U-shaped, circular), which has brought to envisage three main occupational phases of the intra-moenia area: 1. Indo-Parthian/Indo-Kushan phase (c. III-II Century b.CE – III-IV Century CE); 2. Sasanian/Indo-Sasanian phase (c. III-IV Century – early VIII Century CE); 3. Islamic phase (VIII – XII/early XIII Century CE). Decay and/or abandonment and end of any settled life on the site can be dated around the XII-early XIII Century, due to attacks and pillaging by Turco-Mongol nomadic tribes, and/or the deviation of this branch of the Indus delta and consequent filling of the harbour, or both. Archaeological evidence come to light confirms the historical information.
Our third aim (2010-2015) was to arrive to a first chronological panorama of the site through levels in stratigraphy and the assemblage of pottery and other significant evidence with the individual levels (N. Manassero – A. Fusaro – A. Tilia). Deep trenches were excavated (T/7 and T/9 on the Italian side; T/1 on the French side near the western portion of the bastions skirting the Hindu Temple. These brought to the very early Sasanian period or late Indo-Parthian (c. II-III Century CE), then the water-table invaded the trenches preventing us to go deeper; however, drillings (T/9) have allowed to go deeper for c.1,8 mt of shards …thus reaching a much earlier occupational phase. The question about an Hellenistic occupation at the bottom of the site (Arrian’s harbour of Alexander) is still unanswered… a dream…but the importance of Banbhore has induced to take it seriously and include it within our priorities.
Ours and the French trenches have also produced significant information on the architectural panorama of the site for its earlier periods of life. A main N-S and E-W road axis was traced. The site was organised in insulae, each insula with its pits of organic and inorganic refusals, densely built along narrow roads by small mono-nuclear houses, roofed, bases in local stones and the elevation in unbacked bricks. Interesting the presence of refusals of some crafts, as if each building had at the same time the function of “home” and workshop. The refusals shew activities of ivory-working (T/1,T/4, T/9), and other crafts carried out “within the bastions of the citadel”, such as glass, shells and mother of pearl, alloys and various metallurgic activities, too, and so on. Significant the presence of a wealth of clay-moulds. T/5 has produced a clay-mould nearly intact in its shape. No less interesting, in the deeper layers, the presence of a well arranged organisation of the hydraulic resources (small canals, little domed cisterns in roughly cut local stones, wells..: T/9).
One element of the site attracted our attention: the so called “Partition Wall”. It has a North-South direction; then, it bends Eastwards, including the Mosque and the Eastern lagoon, but cutting out the majestic Southern Gate. So far, it had been interpreted as a Wall that had a “religious” or “social” function to separate – after the Islamic conquest – the Muslims from the non-Muslim inhabitants of the site. Manassero dedicated the 2014 Field-Season to investigate: T/7 and T/8 were the trenches that gave a new profile to this structure and to the general occupational organisation of the citadel during its last period of life. The round-shaped tower in mud-bricks and the walls on both sides show that they had been hurriedly erected in a late phase of the life of the citadel (around the end of the X – early XI Century CE). They had been built on the top of pre-existing buildings either abandoned and collapsed or hastily flatted-down, likely to defend this eastern portion of the site and its Mosque by some human ravage that had succeeded to open a breach in the lower western bastion leaving the higher north-eastern area exposed to attacks (the skeleton found by Dr Kervran on her portion of the wall, and Khan’s skeletons with arrow-heads in their skulls and chests). According to F.A. Khan’s excavations and what he left us in his little booklet that so far – printed and re-printed – is the guide for visitors to Banbhore, in the eastern portion of the site during the latest stage of its life still stood beautiful palaces, the Friday Mosque, markets, and an eastern gate where a staircase (still in situ in the 2015) brought to a lagoon at the foot of the eastern bastions and to the river.
At the end of this first stage of our historical and archaeological research-work, the identification of the site of Banbhore with the historic Sasanian/Indo-Sasanian fortified harbour-town seemed quite feasible. When we resumed our field-work in the 2017, we decided to go deeper in this direction. In the meantime, Dr Manassero had resigned due to personal choices of life. Dr Simone Mantellini bravely accepted to be our Field-Director for the archaeological sector. T/9 had unearthed an imposing Building (Building 1) running along the East-West road-axis, parallel to a second Building (Building 2). The road – wide about 5 meters – must have been a major road, that had played a central role within the general architectural urban asset of the site. Building 2 had the typical structure of the local houses: base in rough stones, elevation in mud-bricks. Excavations of Building 1 produced fillings well flatted and an endless chronological procession of floors in row mud, likely the re-occupation of an important palace during the last phase of the occupational life of Banbhore. The material (pottery and others) associated with the various levels in stratigraphy (Dr A. Fusaro) confirmed the dating of the dug portion from c. the early XIII to the XI Century CE. Historically speaking, it makes sense: chronicles of the time report about the invasion of Lower Sindh by the Seljuks (second half of the XI Century CE); they indulge on the assaults against the walls of its great harbour-town named Daybul, its long siege concluded with a peace-treaty that fixed the border with Makrān at Gwadar and gave to Daybul an autonomous status (nāḥiya) within the Seljuk dominion of Qāvurd-Khān ibn Chaghrī Beg. More interesting was the copious filling with ivory refusals. Along Building 2, were found semi-worked shells, glass, iron and brass rivets, iron instruments, alloys, coins and other. This induced to think to a late quarter of work-shops outside the Partition Wall, built on previous buildings. Lastly, some surveys extra-moenia and in the Lahiri Bandar and Mullah-ka Kot islands have revealed a close connection and interaction between these spaces and the citadel. Around the bastions: the remains of a densely settled area and a well organised regulation of the waters and the territory, rock quarries, urban quarters, dwellings, cairn-tombs (some of them re-used), an artificial lake of sweet water delimited to the south by a “barrage”, wells, and a vast so called “industrial area” to the north-northwest of the bastions, pottery kilns and others completed the image of a urban asset at least for a given span of time. Architectural and archaeological evidences have regularly been graphically, photographically and topographically documented (A. Tilia).
Archaeometric analyses on the job (pottery, metals, alloys, coins…) and in Italy (ivory, glass, clay-moulds, shards…) have provided precious support and new elements to the archaeological work.
We are now confronted with the plan of a positive shahristān. Banbhore is no longer only a fortified citadel. Written sources in Arabic and Persian confirm this feature. After the Jan.-Feb. 2018 field-season, the Islamic occupational phase of Banbhore and the “archaeological park” surrounding it enhanced this image: a positive fluvial and maritime system stemmed out, a well-fortified system and harbour-town, a centre of mercantile power, production and re-distribution of luxury goods, an international centre of pilgrimage and religious learning, too, outlet to the sea of the capital-city of the moment.
For the forthcoming field-seasons, it was decided to concentrate the attention on the sector where the North-South axis crosses the East-West one. In particular: to further investigate Building 1; to look for the ivory-workshops that must be there around – given the copious pieces so far brought to light and used as refilling (more than 9.000 fragments) and some fragments of rough ivory (specialist of the Italian Team G. Affanni); to organise a deep-trench in the Pakistani sector (T/11), in order to resume Manassero’s investigations on the urban and architectural features of the pre-Islamic phases...and (why not?) try to overcome the water-table problem with the technological support offered by the Bahrya University of Karachi…the much dreamed quest of Alexander the Macedonian’s port.
All in all and to conclude. Nowadays, at the end of this first stage of historical and archaeological research-work in collaboration with the DAS, the identification of the site of Banbhore and its surrounding area with the Sasanian/Indo-Sasanian and the Early-Islamic well-fortified harbour-town of Daybul/Debol can be confirmed. No other site with the characteristics described by the written sources of the time (chronicles, geographies, travelogues…plus Marco Polo and some significant Genoese archival documents) has so far come to light on the Indus deltaic region. Conversely, still un-answered are other queries: Banbhore can be identified also with the great harbour of Alexander the Macedonian? Or with the Barbaricum/Barbarikon/Barbariké, harbour-town of Parthian rulers or local lords of “Skuthia”, also mentioned in the Periplus Maris Erythraei? Or again with Dib/Deb, harbour mentioned in a Parthian-Manichaean text? Or again the Dibos of Greek sources? Or the Dêbuhl/Dêphul of an Arminian text à propos of the Prophet Mani? Wishful thinking; however, these queries represent some amongst the ambitious aims of our future research-work.