KARACHI: By next week, the Sindh culture department would be able to determine whether the sculptures confiscated last month are genuine or replicas, said its minister Sassui Palijo at a press conference held at the National Museum of Pakistan on Tuesday.
“A lot of sculptures don’t seem like they belong to the Gandhara civilisation,” she observed. “We would be able to tell how many of them are real within a week.”
A total of 395 figures, a majority of them believed to be ancient Buddhist relics, were seized by the police from a container truck in July as they were being smuggled to Sialkot. The artefacts have now been shifted to the National Museum.
After having a good look at the figures, Palijo claimed that the artefacts were well protected by the department and soon all pieces would be moved inside the museum building. “Two pieces of legislation, one on amendments in the Antiquities Act 1975, and another on archaeological sites would soon be tabled in the assembly,” she said.
Similar to how the seized artefacts were dumped earlier at the Awami police station, some sculptures were lying outside the museum building.
Qasim Ali Qasim, the archaeology director of the culture department, said that the figures were too heavy to be carried inside. “We need special machines to move them to the first floor where they would be exhibited,” he said.
While 298 sculptures indeed relate to the Gandhara civilisation, two figures depict Lord Shiva from the Hindu mythology, he said. Around 95 other pieces are metallic; horse shoes, flasks, vases and other ornaments relating to the Mughal era, added Qasim.
About the origins of the relics, Qasim said they had most likely been excavated from different regions of the Gandhara civilisation, like Swat and Taxila in Pakistan and Kandahar in Afghanistan. Almost 1,800 years old, the green stone artefacts are from Taxila while the grey ones are from Swat, he said pointing towards the relics.
Qasim said that no Peshawar government officials had contacted him to hand over the relics. “If they are claiming custody, they should tell us from where the pieces came from in their province,” he said.
The price of Gandhara relics can range between $8,000 and $90,000 in the international market. Qasim hopes displaying Gandhara art would attract visitors to the museum.
This is the first time budget has been allocated to the archaeology department, Palijo said at the press conference. The renovation of Wazir Mansion was done despite lack of funds and staff.
The culture minister lambasted the federal bureaucrats, saying they were against the autonomy of provinces.
About the Thar coal and Gorakh hill station projects, she said they have yet to start because of lack of political will. Palijo added that 130 historical sites have been surveyed, documented and photographed in the province.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2012.