Apart from its mineral-rich twisted mountains, Balochistan housed several settlements that were involved in coal, copper, chromite and gold mining in antiquity. Archaeologists from different parts of the globe believe that human communication in South Asia started from Balochistan, which is supported by the discovery of utensils in this province being similar to those found in other historical sites of the region like Mohenjo-Daro in Sindh, Kalibangan in India and Nisa in Turkmenistan.
The research and discovery of historical sites in the multi-ethnic province started during British colonial rule over the region when in 1920 Sir Aurel Stein, a famous explorer, surveyed the south-western region of the province. Harold Hargreaves conducted extensive excavations at Naal in 1925-26, while Beatrice de Cardi conducted careful excavations in the region after the birth of Pakistan in 1947. She conducted a survey in 1948 in Quetta along with excavations at Anjira and Siah-damb, Surab in 1957 and the region of Kalat in 1964 and 1965.
The French Archaeological Mission in cooperation with the Government of Pakistan’s Department of Archaeology, beginning in 1974, excavated the Neolithic site of Mehrgarh. This site produced remains from the aceramic Neolithic Age up until the mid-third millennium BC. Another site called Pirak, some kilometers away from Mehrgarh, was also excavated between 1968 and 1974 by the French Archaeological Mission.
The discovery of archaeological sites is also supported by the fact that water flow always resulted in life and civilization, a process when human beings started to come out of caves and live a disciplined life. Most of the world’s oldest civilizations grew along rivers because water is a source for fishing and hunting and the land around rivers is fertile. Balochistan is also blessed with several Karez, underground water tunnels that are mostly used for irrigation in the province. Except for Mehrgarh, all the civilizations discovered in the province were discovered around areas where Karez was found. According to the data compiled in the book ‘The Best Divisions in the Knowledge of the Regions’ of Al-Muqaddasi, a geographer of the Middle Ages, there were 2,200 villages in Mastung district with more than 350 Karez present in the district alone.
Archaeological sites are non-renewable resources. Once they’re destroyed or excavated, they’re gone forever and can’t be replaced which is an insignificant loss. Every historical site has an important story to tell and these stories have inspired many people to strengthen their convictions and commitment to fight injustice and oppression. Our past is our cultural heritage, and how we choose to use this information for future generations is important in archaeological restoration and preservation.
Understanding patterns and changes in human behaviour through these sites enhances our knowledge of the past. It aids us in planning, not only our future but for generations to come. Many people believe that public archaeology is critical to understanding, protecting, and celebrating our rich and diverse cultural heritage. It provides a more objective account of our past than the historic record alone. Above all, heritage conservation has proven to be a thriving place for entrepreneurship & innovation, especially promoting tourism. It has also shown increases in property value. Also, since the work is very labour intensive, it ends up creating more jobs.
Reports of the directorate of Archaeology Quetta reveals that Balochistan has 30 discovered archaeological sites, each of them requires a separate museum and can offer artifacts for a huge museum. The province is considered as the focal point of archaeological sites but woefully it constitutes a single Museum in Quetta, the provincial capital. According to a report published in Dawn, it consists of two small halls where 86 archaeological objects, 130 rifles, 30 pistols, 124 swords, and 108 ancient manuscripts are on display. Because of the lack of display galleries, 17,200 antiquities of Balochistan are kept in the National Museum of Karachi.
There is also not a single university in the province that offers archaeology as a course of study. It is a subject neglected throughout Pakistan and Balochistan particularly. There is a dearth of information when it comes to ancient sites and cultural heritage. The 18th amendment in the constitution of Pakistan gave more powers to provinces and made them independent regarding the conservation of archaeological sites. All of the provinces took their antiquities from the center, however, the Government of Balochistan is still lagging, but is in contact with the Sindh Government for transfer of its antiquities to the province.
The plight of cultural and archaeological sites of Balochistan is worsening due to negligence and poor quality conservation work on the part of government authorities. Rapid urbanization, environmental pollution, climate change, and natural disasters are also the leading factors behind the plight of historical sites in the province.
Currently, there are two laws in the country providing a legal framework for the protection of the built heritage i.e., The Antiquities Act, 1975 and The Punjab Special Premises Ordinance, 1985. Taking initiatives for construction of museums, adding archaeology as the course of study in curriculum, awareness about the importance of conservation of historical sites and bringing back the antiquities of the province must be top priorities of the provincial government. However the role of media, civil societies and masses are also important in highlighting and providing solutions for the conservation of archaeological sites throughout Pakistan’s largest and sparsely populated province, Balochistan.