THE Diamer?Bhasha dam will submerge more than half of the prolific rock art that abounds in Gilgit-Baltistan. According to Harald Hauptmann, a renowned German archaeologist, who has been working on the petroglyphs in Gilgit-Baltistan since 1989, there are more than 50,000 rock engravings and 6,000 inscriptions in ancient languages like Kharosthi, Brahmi, Sogdian, Chinese, and Proto-Sharada etc., 30,000 of which will submerge in the dam when it is constructed.
But the water will take its toll of what remains from the destruction being caused by religious zealots, political activists and advertisers who are defacing and vandalising the markings with reckless abandon.
About 90 per cent rock art sites are located in Diamer district, majority of which are situated in and around Chilas, the district head quarter. Some of the rock art sites in Diamer district are at Thor, Thak, Khanbarry, Hodur, and Chilas from I to VI (six sites located only in Chilas area), Thalpan I, Thalpan-II, Thalpan-III, Ziarat, Shing, Gech, Ges etc.
Rock art sites can be divided into two categories: Prehistoric and historic. The prehistoric petroglyphs are found in Thak, Khanbarry, Dadam Das, Oshibat and Ziarat in Diamer district whereas the rock carvings of historic period are situated in Thor, Shatial, Hodur, Chilas, Thalpan Shing and Gech. The petroglyphs of historic period mainly belong to Buddhism.
Unfortunately, the local people are vandalising the petroglyphs. However, great damage was done during the November last election in Gilgit-Baltistan. Workers of different political parties wrote slogans on these rock engravings thus playing havoc with the heritage. Nobody dared to stop them from this practice. Even the Department of Archaeology was incognizant about this vandalism of the political workers.
At Chilas, one can see the slogans written on the rock engravings of different contestants of 2009 election. It is disappointing to see the rock full of the slogans and names of the contestants covering the surface of the petroglyphs. These insensitive and uncaring elements have whitewashed the rock engraving of stupas and some inscriptions.
One can see the defacing of the petroglyphs right from Shatial in Indus Kohistan up to Thalpan in Diamer. One can also notice the systematic destruction of the rock carvings by workers of some banned religious outfits. At Chilas and Thalpan, some students of the banned outfit have done a great damage to Buddhist petroglyphs. They have written the names of their party on most of petroglyphs along the Karakoram Highway. They have also whitewashed the engravings of Maitreya, the future Buddha at Chilas and Thalpan and even in Hodur.
The advertisers have also played their role in damaging the petroglyphs. In order to promote their products, advertisers always select these spaces for the advertisements. One finds many advertisements of different products on the petroglyphs. These advertisements are numerous in Chilas and Thalpan petroglyphs.
The concerned authorities should take serious note of damaging and defacing of rock engravings otherwise we may loose precious petroglyphs for good even much before the construction of Diamer-Bhasha Dam.
The writer Staff Anthropologist at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) and PhD Scholar at Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad . He may be contacted at email@example.com