The remains of Gofkral

The historic and archeologically important Gofkral site in Tral remains neglected and the ancient caves used as stores and cattle sheds by local residents



Believe it or not the ancient caves of Gofkral, an important Neolithic and archeological site dating back to thousands of years in Tral, are being used as stores and cattle-sheds by the local residents in the absence of any effort by the government authorities to protect and safeguard this historic site. Leave alone preserving the site that dates back to between 2800 to1500 BC, there’s not even a single signboard put up to inform the passer-bys about the importance of this historic site situated around 41 kilometers southeast of Srinagar in district Pulwama.
Eighty-five-year old Ghulam Muhammad Kumar, whose house is adjacent to one of the ancient caves in Gofkral, says these caves were there even when his grandfather was growing up. “They have always been there and I was born in these caves and my marriage was also held there,” says Kumar who has been a potter throughout his life.  “I have heard from my grandfather that people used to live inside these deep caves when there were no houses to live in.” The aged potter says the government authorities never paid any attention to preserve and look after this historic site which could have been developed as a tourist attraction. “Only once some district administration officials visited this year, they did some measurements but we didn’t see them here again,” he says. 
Seventy-year-old Muhammad Akbar Kumar, another local resident whose house also lies adjacent to the caves, says he has lived in these caves for three years in his childhood when they didn’t have a house to live in. The caves remain cool in summers and warm in winters. These caves are also suitable for living in all seasons.   “At times we still get old and broken pottery items and other things from inside these caves that date back to hundreds of years,” says Akbar, adding that the government authorities have always neglected this historic site. “They don’t even bother to keep one sign board near the street to inform people that this is a historic site,” he says. 
Given the historic neglect of Gofkral over the years, the caves of the site at present are being used as store houses and as cattle sheds by the local residents here. The residents store their pottery items and other household goods inside the caves, some of which are damaged because of the neglect over the years. Continued neglect over the years has also ensured that openings of many other caves is blocked with waste and soil that has poured into the cavities.  However, the local residents of Gofkral say if government takes care of this site, they are willing to move out their cattle and empty the caves that remain stuffed with their household goods and other items. 
When contacted by GK, DC Pulwama, Manzoor Lone said he was unaware of any project to look after the conservation and excavation of this historic site. “I don't know if the department of tourism or anybody else has done any projects there. I looked but couldn’t find any such records in our office,” he said. “Maybe some surveys were done around 5-6 years ago but we don’t have any records of them.”
Historians and archeologists say Gofkral is a site of tremendous archaeological and historical importance. They believed many things could be known if proper excavation and preservation of the antiquities found in this site is carried out in a sustained manner. Historians say the British took away some antiquities from here in the past that are still with them, adding charm to their museums in London. "Some stolen pieces of utensils, etc are still there in the Royal Museum of London", points out Muhammad Ashraf Tak, Chief Editor in Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, Srinagar. “Many such things have been stolen after the independence too. It’s important to make people aware what these things are and how valuable they are to us,” he says. 
In the later part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century people of Tral believed the caves to be dominated by ghosts. They didn't go inside to explore these caves. But, with the expansion of the British Empire, explorations into this archaeological wealth began. "Kashmiris feared to enter these caves as these were believed to be haunted,” says Tak. The caves were believed to be used by some potters and hence the place was named as Gofkral. The studies by the British archeologists revealed a number of historical facts and led to a vast amount of research into its historical background. 
The history of Gofkral is believed to date back to some eight to ten thousand years, times when nomads came to Kashmir and settled in caves. "Nomads came from somewhere and settled in Tral some eight thousand years back and their origin is yet to be known," says Tak. These nomads tamed animals and carved out weapons and tools out of stones. These weapons and tools are still found in this archaeological site. “These early men lived in smaller pit-chambers,” points out Professor Muhammad Ashraf Wani who teaches in Department of History, University of Kashmir. "Since the low level lands were covered in water, they inhabited hilly areas,” he says.
"Crockery, utensils and needles have been excavated from Gofkral along with the remains of the ancient humans,” says historian Abdul Rashid Mir, an expert in Kashmir history. "These weapons and tools were made up of stones and even animal bone. These nomads who settled here were not the most developed; the biggest development in this area was made by the Aryans.”
This Gofkral site resembles the ones that have been previously seen in The North-Western Frontier Province. “The excavations, particularly the remains of flora, fauna and utensils reveal that this locality was in line with those found in Burzohom and SWAT Valley,” informs Professor Wani.
Aryans are believed to have come to Kashmir from Central Asia around five thousand years back. They were equipped with better tools, better weapons and they tamed animals in a better way. "Aryans came to Tral and settled here. They developed small localities and constructed small houses much like the huts of modern times,” says Tak. Aryans settled in chosen places which were better connected and suitable for living. Tak points out that the main reason that they settled here was because ‘this place enjoyed better connectivity, good irrigation, soil fertility and, above all, their concentration was to settle here.’
Professor Wani believes that if there is any archaeological site that can reveal facts about the history of Kashmir and its culture, it is Gofkral, and the one at Burzohom.
In a research paper titled “GufkraI1981: An Aceramic Neolithic Site in the Kashmir Valley” (published in March 15, 1982), A. K. Sharma, who conducted the excavation of the site along with his team for Archeological Survey of India, points out that “GUFKRAL (literally guf-cave, kral-potter)— a site inhabited by potters who utilize the caves cut into the karewa – was excavated by the Prehistory Branch of the Archaeological Survey of India from 18 August to 20 October, 1981.”
On the slopes of the 35m high mound, Sharma writes in his research paper, “there are a number of caves, both single and multi chambered with pillars. Some, particularly on the southeastern side, are occupied by Krals both for residential and storage purposes. Others, which are deserted, had their openings closed due to collapse of the earth. Inquiries so far have revealed that the oldest Kral, a centenarian, was born in one of these caves.” 
Sharma writes in his research paper that the site was first explored in 1962-1963 by the Frontier Circle of the Archaeological Survey of India. “The aim of this season's dig was to learn the culture sequence at the site, hence the dig was restricted to almost the center of the mound, where a maximum of 3.10 m of habitation a I deposit was encountered over the natural soil,” he writes. “On the northern side of the mound another 5 m of deposit was expected as indicated by rain gullies and side scrapings. Some scrapings were also made in the rain gullies that revealed oval and rectangular pits.”
Summarizing his findings, A K Sharma writes that excavations at Gofkral have brought to light five periods of occupation from the Aceramic Neolithic to the Historical Period. “For the first time it has been firmly established that in the Kashmir Valley there was also an Aceramic Neolithic Period before pottery was introduced,” he writes in the summary section at the end. “It is in this period that the process of domestication of selected species of animals was attempted. People also recognized the food value of various grains as wheat and barley and had started collecting them. Bone and stone tools were manufactured. People lived in the open and in huts with floors sunk into the loessic deposits in order to protect the dwellers from gusty freezing winds. They kept the floors tidy and beautiful by painting them with red-ochre. Their main occupation was hunting.” 
Sharma further writes that one season's limited dig at Gufkral has filled some of the gaps in the cultural sequence of Kashmir and has ‘definitely pushed back the antiquity of the Neolithic Culture in the Valley.’ “The earliest 14C date for Period I at Burzahom is 2375 ± 120 B.C. [lab and half life used not reported, editor). The Aceramic Neolithic Period at Gufkral is likely to go back by 400 to 500 years earlier as even in Period IB at Gufkral the technique of manufacture of bone tools indicated an earlier phase than the bone tools of Period I at Burzahom which are well polished,” he writes, concluding that, “from the size of the mound it appeared that Gufkral might reveal a fairly vast settlement.” 
Noted Kashmiri poet and social worker Zareef Ahmad Zareef says Gofkral is a stone-age site which is believed to have existed at the same time as the Burzahom civilization. “Because the caves and many other things are similar to those found at Burzahom,” says Zareef, adding that after some excavations the work at Gofkral was stopped midway just like at Burzahom.
Zareef says Kashmir has a 5000 year old history and a very rich heritage which needs to be preserved.  “Look at how people in Ladakh and Jammu have preserved their heritage sites and the number of tourists visiting Ladakh has kept increasing,” he says. “But sadly in Kashmir the government and the people are not serious about such things.”  We need to inculcate a sense of heritage among our children, he says, so that tomorrow they can form forums and try and save our heritage from vanishing forever. 

Lastupdate on : Thu, 14 Nov 2013 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 14 Nov 2013 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 15 Nov 2013 00:00:00 IST

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