During the last few years, I have been trying to go and see places in our valley which I had heard about but never visited. One of them is Burzahom.
Initially I thought it must be a place known as the abode of Burza, which in Kashmiri means Birch or Betula Utilis trees. The bark of this tree is known to have several medicinal properties, like anti-microbial, pain and inflammation relieving and anti-cancer properties.
This tree has also been used to make thatched roofs in the traditional houses of Kashmir.
However, when I looked at the literature, I found it was a place of great archaeological significance depicting the culture of our valley in periods between 3000 BC and 1000 BC. A pre-historic settlement in the village named Burzahom.
This also indicates the existence of this tree even in pre-historic days. A drive of around 20 kms towards the north west after passing through Shalimar on road to Harwan, a leftward detour passing through the picturesque areas of small villages overlooking the Dal lake, takes you there. It becomes very easy these days with google satellite directing you.
This is exactly what I did and drove alone. It is a small village with a Primary Health centre with lovely smiling children playing and studying and adults busy in daily chores.
Interestingly the first time it was taken note of was as recent as 1936 by the Yale-Cambridge expedition headed by Helmut de Terra and Dr Thomson Paterson.
The main work of excavations was done by the Archaeological Survey of India between 1960 and 1971 under the charge of Mr T N Khazanchi and his team from Kashmir.
The excavations were carried out in both vertical and horizontal directions for 11 years and finally the team concluded that there were 4 periods of continuous occupational sequence at the site. The work still is not complete.
Their findings show Periods I , aceramic and Period II, ceramic period, characterized by dwelling pits up to 3.9 meters at the top and 4,75 metres at the bottom. There is evidence of super structures made up of wood built over compacted soil.
This also depicts the burial patterns of Neolithic people with human skulls and the remains of their animals like dogs and antlered deer. Hunting instruments like arrows and spears have been shown to have existed.
Agricultural practices of those times and crops grown have been inferred as barley, wheat and lentils also establishing a link with people of Central Asia crossing over the Himalayas.
Period III was described by the archaeologists as a Megalithic period. In this period huge stones were brought down from the hills by great effort. These can be seen as huge chiselled rock shaped boulders.
The period clearly had a better craftsmanship with objects made of bones, copper and stones. Finding of a few copper arrowheads points towards knowledge of metallurgy.
Period IV (Dated to the 3rd-4th century AD) was according to the survey the last phase of human occupation of Burzahom. The structures seen were superior compared to the earlier periods and were made of mud-bricks. Pottery was also superior and some iron objects also found.
These sites were nominated in 2014 for recognition as a world heritage site of UNESCO and the case is still under consideration. The unveiling of what more lies underneath the mounds remains a work in progress.
Sustained work has not been possible because of recurrent upheavals in the valley. As per the last information from the department of Archaeology a resumption of the work was to start again in 2019.
However, the sweeping political changes of August 5 and the consequent lock downs, and then by the COVID-19, have put things at a grinding halt.
The grounds around these historic excavations are being freely used for playing cricket and a tournament was held here in 2020. The pre-historic boulders stand unprotected.
The excavation area has been fenced with a locked gate. Except for a metal plate made by Archaeological Survey of India which states in a very small font size the findings is all that you can see.
There is no sign of any office or any information coming forthwith for anybody interested in visiting the place.
There are some other pre historic sites in Kashmir besides Burzahom. These are Gufkral and Kanispora. Gufkral (‘guf’ means cave and ‘kral’ means potter), meaning thereby a site inhabited by potters who utilise the caves.
The cave of Gufkral is one of the oldest caves in Kashmir and some estimates trace its origin 2000-3000 BCE. This area is located at Banmir village in Hurdumir area of Tral which is 40 kilometres from Srinagar and even today been inhabited by potters who are playing an important role and make a living by making fire pots used as Kangris, and also musical instruments like tumbhaknari’s, flower vases and other decorated items.
Unfortunately, the lack of interest of the administration is making these places lose their essence and historic and cultural value.
The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age, with a wide-ranging set of developments which have taken place in various parts of the world first seen 10,000 – 4,500 BC.
The science of archaeology has given the insights of these pre-historic periods. Kashmir valley is blessed with exploring these periods with the excavations in Burzahom a place overlooking the well-known Dal Lake.
Indian scientists led by our own Mr T N Khazanchi and his team. They have explored various stages of this era which is still work in progress. The administration needs to continue and complete this work, which unfortunately is stalled as are various other activities which need a people’s Government.
These are treasures of our history linking us to the Central Asian culture and must be explored and not vandalised.
Prof Upendra Kaul Cardiologist, Founder Director Gauri Kaul Foundation. Recipient of Padma Shri and Dr B C Roy Award
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.