Since 2011, a team of Pakistani, French and Italian researchers have been carrying out new studies on the site of Banbhore (one of the most important archaeological site in Pakistan), under the joint direction of Asma Ibrahim (State Bank Museum, Pakistan), Monique Kervran (CNRS, Paris) and Valeria Piacentini (Univeristy of the Sacred Heart, Milan).
Asma Ibrahim (Director, State Bank Museum, Karachi)
Monique Kervran (Research director emeritus, CNRS, UMR 8167, Orient et Méditerranée)
Kaleem Lashari (Secretary, Culture Dept., Govt. of Sindh)
Valeria Piacentini (Professor emeritus, Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, Milan)
Location and historical summary
The remains of Banbhore, which consist of a fortified town and its surrounding districts, are located on the western edge of the Indus delta, sixty kilometres east of Karachi.
The town is surrounded by a fortified wall which was rebuilt and modified several times. Its perimeter is 1.55km and forms a rectangle stretching east-west, with an unusual extension to the south, which contains one of the three monumental gates of the citadel. The wall contains 56 towers, most of which are semi-circular, while some are U-shaped. A few right-angled fortifications, not all of which are intact, may be evidence for a structure that pre-dates the round towers. The two other gates are located to the north-east of the citadel and open onto a lake whose shoreline has been developed. This essential element of any Indian town is evidence of the Pre-Islamic origins of Banbhore.
Most of the ruins visible within the walls are associated with Islamic urban restructuring. Banbhore is well known as the home of the oldest mosque in Pakistan, which was built after the Arab conquest in 711 AD, and restored for the first time (?) in 853-854 AD. It is through this port that Islam was spread throughout the region.
In addition to the houses, a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva was identified in the western part of the town. It is interest ing to note that there was once a gate, aligned with the temple, in the northern wall of the town. This was later filled in, but it is the only gate visible today in that part of the walls.
A selection of the archaeological material found in the citadel between 1950 and 1965 is on display in a small on-site museum. It reflects the richness of the commercial networks, at the centre of which lay the port of Banbhore.
Banbhore is the only port site in Pakistan that was occupied during Antiquity (from the early years AD) and the Middle Ages. The settlement corresponds with the port of Barbarikon, mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (c. 50 AD). The anonymous author describes trade routes linking the Red Sea to India, the conditions of access to the ports along them, and the nature of goods traded all across the Indian Ocean. At that time, Banbhore was also a river port, receiving goods from central Asia and China (silk and furs), which were then re-exported.
The Periplus states that Barbarikon was ruled by the Indo-Parthian princes, but it appears that the Kushanshahs played an instrumental role in the development of the port. It occupied an important strategic position in their empire, their commercial affairs and in their taste for luxury goods. During the first centuries AD, groups of merchants, for example from Palmyra, were regular visitors and celebrated preachers came to visit their communities (the Arian bishop Mari, Philippe l’Indien). This demonstrates the importance and the cosmopolitanism of this port. During this time, the “port of the Indus delta” is often named Deb, Dyb or Dybous (which led to the name Daybul during the Islamic period).
For the medieval period, it is certain that Banbhore is the city of Daybul, conquered by the Arabs in 711 AD. The port continued to prosper with the expansion of trade from the Near to the Far East. However, around the year 1000 AD, the Indus river changed its course, forging a new channel a few dozen kilometres to the south-east, and abandoned the town. Disconnected from the river, Banbhore had lost its strategic position. The new port of Lahori/Lahorani emerged on the new outlet of the Indus, most likely built by merchants from Daybul. Its ruins are more deeply buried in the delta’s shifting sediments than those of Banbhore but the more recent ones (dating from the 15th-17th centuries) are still visible. Lahori was excavated by the French Sindh Archaeological Project in 1989-1990 (M. Kervran, Mission archéologique française dans le Sindh, 1988-2002).
The first, rather perfunctory excavations began in the late 1920s and concluded that the site was solely Islamic. In 1951, the archaeologist L. Alcock opened a number of new trenches at Banbhore. The results are relatively unclear. It is from 1958 to 1965 that the archaeologist F.A. Khan, accompanied by teams of Pakistanis, made the greatest contribution to uncovering the remains of Banbhore. Since then, the site is seen as one of the major “places of memory” for the new Pakistani nation.
In 2011, the Culture Department of the Government of Sindh authorised a research programme (without excavation), involving French and Pakistani archaeologists and topographers. This was directed by Pr. V. Piacentini and M. Kervran of the CNRS who have directed approximately fifteen seasons, the first of these at Makran/Baluchistan, the second in Sindh. The work carried out in 2011 involved carrying out photogrammetry on the citadel (Yves Ubellmann, architect and Sophie Reynard, IGN engineer), the levelling of numerous points across the site (S. Reynard and M. Kervran) and the creation of a polygon, with a view to future excavations (S. Reynard and the team of Pakistani topographers).
With the continued support of the Culture Department of the Government of Sindh, and with a multidisciplinary and international team (Pakistani, Italian and French), two initial trenches were opened in 2013, and two more in 2014. These have allowed us to gain an understanding of how the areas within the walls evolved over the last ten to twelve centuries of the settlement’s lifetime. Éveha International has been involved in the project since 2014.
How Eveha International Participates
French Ministry of Foreign Affairs