Sunday, August 12, 2012

The looting and protection of the Amluk-Dara stupa

A recent article by the International Herald Tribune, the local paper out of Islamabad, Pakistan, details the recent "re-discovery," looting and now protection and scientific excavation of a very important Gandharan era site (see larger photo here). The Amluk-Dara stupa, located in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province near Mt. Elum, is currently being salvaged by that province's archaeological department, in conjunction with the Italian Archaeological Mission.

It was apparently first discovered in 1926, then later re-studied in the 60s and 70s, but then fell into a period of looting. It has recently been acquired along with a series of other sites in the Swat valley, and the stupa itself apparently dates from the 3rd to 10th centuries and, remarkably, was one of the few sites still visited at the end of that period, when "90% of the Buddhist sites in the Swat valley had already been abandoned." If the site (and surrounding sites) are now truly "100% protected," as is claimed, then indeed much potential exists for open-air excavation and restoration projects to make them into major tourist drawcards, if funding can be found.

Careful excavation of such Gandharan period sites is all the more important given the known international smuggling of artifacts large and small from the region, even if the proportion of forgeries also seems to be high (here). Collectors and dealers might publish readily accessable guides regarding how to spot fakes, but this does not absolve anyone willingly on the demand side of the trade from responsibility in performing due diligence or supporting continued looting.

I will provide updates with news about both the excavation and related tourism, Heritage and outreach efforts as I hear it. All credit needs to go to both the Pakistani and Italian professionals who are leading this effort at what is likely great expense in a remote area. Keep up the good work!

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