As the National Museum was granted custody of the Gandhara artefacts on Saturday, doubts continued to surround the authenticity of the relics that were seized earlier this month when policed foiled a smuggling bid.
It will take at least three days to transfer the 395 artefacts from the Awami Colony police station to the National Museum, where experts will carry out research on the sculptures.
“We can’t put them on display before October,” said the museum’s director, Mohammad Shah Bukhari. “It will take time to determine if these relics were made 1,500 years back, or just recently.”
The region where the Gandhara civilisation figurines were originally discovered spread from Taxila in Punjab to the Jalalabad province in Afghanistan. Many of the relics that were seized by police from Korangi on July 6 were reportedly excavated from this belt. Police confiscated the relics after conducting two separate raids on a warehouse in the area after being tipped off. The artefacts appear to be around 1,500 to 2,000 years old.
“Many of the relics depict stories from different phases in Gautama Buddha’s life,” said Bukhari.
The oldest Buddha relic in Pakistan dates to the first century AD. Meanwhile, the biggest statue in the haul depicted Buddha meditating with his devotees. The sculpture is 94 inches long and 70 inches wide. Vast areas in and around Taxila have never been properly explored and excavated, say experts.
However, separating real sculptures from fake ones is not an easy job. A statement by the Sindh culture secretary Abdul Aziz Uqaili, in which he said that many of the relics were fake, has made it difficult for archaeologists to say anything about their exact origin. The country also lacks scientific research facilities that could be used to carry out detailed analyses of the archaeological finds, said Bukhari. “The most powerful tool we have is observation.” The tools used to carve sculptures 2,000 years ago would be different from what someone would have used to make the sculptures recently, added Bukhari. “We can also test the soil used in the making of the statues.”
Smugglers often mix fake relics with real ones to get them through the prying eyes of customs. If the consignment was stopped for inspection, they would be able to demonstrate that a second copy was being exported.
Bukhari said this won’t be the first time someone has tried to smuggle the artefacts. “These people work in organised gangs, and they are experts in this kind of job. They know where to dig to find archaeological [treasures].”
Law enforcement officials area still clueless about the artefacts’ origins. “Since these are Gandhara artefacts, they must have been taken out from Gandhara,” opined DSP Majeeb Abbas. He added that the smuggled cargo had come to Karachi from Rawalpindi and was heading back to the garrison city.
Meanwhile, the prime suspect in the foil smuggling bid has been released on bail, while two others have yet to be interrogated, said another police official.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2012.