PESHAWAR -- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) authorities recently conducted the first ever archaeological survey in the tribal belt after the restoration of peace, uncovering 110 heritage sites including 30,000-year-old rock art.
Troops who launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan in June 2014 helped make the survey possible by driving militants out of the tribal belt.
The Khyber Agency political administration, assisted by the Pakistani army and the KP Directorate of Archaeology, initiated the two-month-long pilot project.
Archaeologists documented sites dating back to the pre-historic, Buddhist, Islamic and British eras, officials announced in early December.
The various military and security operations since 2014, including Zarb-e-Azb, created a peaceful environment for archaeologists conducting the survey, authorities say.
British archaeologists during the colonial era laid the groundwork to excavate the area, but local resistance and harsh terrain thwarted their efforts, Director of Archaeology and Museums in KP Abdus Samad said.
"We made a breakthrough in the area," he told Pakistan Forward. "The reason behind this success story is favourable conditions stemming from the improved law-and-order situation."
The military defeat of militants in the tribal area "paved the way for launching the survey, which can be termed the first of its kind", he said.
"Our whole tribal belt, especially Khyber Agency, is rich in archaeological sites of various eras, which if properly explored would reveal much to the world," he said.
"Excavations have been planned in other areas of the tribal area, and we have received a letter indicating foreign interest in mapping the land," he said.
In addition, the KP Directorate of Archaeology recently suggested to the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) Secretariat that it establish an archaeology department to conduct future excavations and set up museums in tribal areas to attract tourism, he said.
"Jamrud Tehsil was selected as the site of the first survey with the technical expertise of the KP Directorate of Archaeology, but the success in the initial phase has boosted our spirits to start efforts in Bara, Landi Kotal and later in the remote Tirah Valley," said Khyber Agency Political Agent Khalid Mehmood.
The archaeologists found the remains of various historic structures in Khyber Agency, which hint of the rich heritage and historic treasures hidden underneath the mountains of the tribal area, he said.
"The much better law-and-order situation and extended assistance of the Pakistani army helped us to take the initiative and launch the survey in Khyber Agency," he told Pakistan Forward, adding that he is optimistic that archaeologists will find more as peace prevails.
"We want to acquaint the world with the rich cultural heritage of the area," he said.
"We are making efforts to preserve the historic sites in Khyber Agency as tribal areas are beyond the domain of the KP Antiquities Act of 2016, and some of the areas where sites were discovered belong to tribesmen," Mehmood said, adding that the authorities are encouraging landowners to preserve these areas.
Efforts are also under way to restore a 17km-long train track passing through a maze of 34 tunnels, he said, adding that resurrecting the train will revive the tourism industry and will bring lasting benefits to the tribes' socio-economic circumstances.
"We are fortunate that archaeologists made discoveries on the first attempt without any digging or excavation," said Noman Anwar, assistant research officer at the KP Directorate of Archaeology and supervisor of the team that made the discovery. The team included five members of the directorate and ten employees of the Khyber political administration.
"Everything achieved would have been an insurmountable task without the congenial environment provided to the team by the army and assistance from the political administration," he told Pakistan Forward.
The sites discovered in Jamrud include carvings inside the Lowara Mena Cave, which date back 30,000 years, he said. The archaeologists calculated the site's age by comparing its items and stone carvings depicting hunting scenes and images of ibex and jackals with those found recently in the Sanghu cave in Mardan, which archaeologists began excavating almost 11 years ago, according to Anwar.
Archaeologists carrying out the survey made above-ground discoveries in Khyber Agency but have yet to conduct excavations because of security concerns, Anwar said. "But the situation is improving with each passing day, and we are hopeful that more archaeological expeditions will be sent to the tribal areas, which are richly endowed with sites of significant historical importance."
"We are also planning to open more sites in Landi Kotal, Bara and the remote Tirah Valley, where conditions are becoming satisfactory after the security forces' cleansing operation," he said. "However, our efforts will be [better] co-ordinated and result-oriented if the FATA Secretariat establishes a proper archaeology department."