Seven ancient ruins unearthed
Text Wan Phing Lim
Ruling empire: Mehrgarh
One of the earliest Neolithic settlements in Asia is Mehrgarh, an ancient settlement in Pakistan located on the Kachi plain close to the mouth of the Bolan pass. Merhgarh is believed to be a pre-cursor to the Indus Valley civilisation and home to one of the earliest farming settlements in South Asia, when farming was developed by semi-nomadic people using wheat, barley, sheep, goats and cattle. Excavations have revealed simple mud buildings and burials dating back to 7000 BC during the Aceramic Neolithic period. These sites were filled with items like baskets, beads, bangles, pendants, sea shell ornaments, limestone, turquoise, lapis lazuli, sandstone and polished copper, along with simple figurines of women and animals. Covering an area of 250 hectares, recent research has even begun to reveal evidence of early dentistry. The Archaeological Site of Merhgarh is now on the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s Tentative List since its submission in 2004.
Ruling empire: Kassite Dynasty of Babylon
Dur-Kurigalzu literally means ‘Fortress of Kurigalzu’ and it was named after the Kassite king of Babylon, Kurigalzu I, who built the city to serve as the administrative capital of the Kassite-ruled Middle Babylonian kingdom. Located about 20km north of Baghdad International Airport midway between Baghdad and Fallujah, the city covered an area of 225 hectares and was excavated between 1942 and 1945 by an Iraqi-British team. Today, a mud-brick bulk is all that remains of its once-prominent ziggurat, layered with reed mats and dedicated to the Sumerian god Enlil. Meanwhile, the finds from Dur-Kurigalzu’s palace represent the best of Kassite palatial art, with wall paintings at the doorways depicting a procession of male figures. Other items recovered are fragments of mosaic glass vessels, a gold bracelet and ornaments. The most popular relics – the terracotta sculptures of a small lioness and the male head of a bearded man – are now on display at the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.
Ruling empire: Kingdom of Urartu
This colossal stone fortress known as the Van Fortress or the Citadel of Van was once the capital of the Urartu Kingdom and known by the name Tushpa. Built from basalt and mud bricks, the stone fortification known in Turkish as the Van Kalesi is located by the eastern shore of the Van Lake and cut into hillsides and outcrops.
The highlight here is a wall inscription by King Xerxes in cuneiform, one of two Achaemenid royal inscriptions located outside of Iran. Originally carved out by King Darius, the smoothed section of the rock’s surface was left blank until later inscribed by Xerxes. Located 60 feet above the ground, the inscription survives in near perfect condition and is divided into three columns of 27 lines written in three different languages – Old Persian, Babylonian and Elamite – a portion which says: “I am Xerxes, the great king, the king of kings, the king of the lands, king of all the languages. May Ahuramazda and the other gods protect me, my kingdom, and what I have made.”
Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb Museum
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Ruling empire: Eastern Han Dynasty
The Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb is a four-chamber brick tomb that was accidentally discovered in 1955 and later confirmed to be an ancient Chinese tomb of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Stumbled upon by workmen constructing the Lei Cheng Uk public housing estate, the significant discovery proved that early Chinese civilisation was spread as far south as Hong Kong 2,000 years ago. The ancient tomb is the only one found in Hong Kong and the inscription panyu (랸漠) on the brick tombs further confirms the dating – panyu was the name of the county to which the present Hong Kong territory belonged to during the Han dynasty. Housing four chambers along with an entrance passage, the Front Chamber has a domed roof while the other chambers are barrel vaulted – a common design among Eastern Han tombs. In total, 58 items were excavated including cooking utensils, food containers, storage jars, bowls, basins, mirrors and bronze wells. The artefacts are now on display at the museum that is located adjacent to the tomb, the latter which can only be viewed through a glass panel.
Ruling empire: Kushan Empire
The discovery of Fayaz Tepe in the district of Termez is an exciting development that could re-examine widely-held theories concerning Central Asia’s ancient history. Archaelogists have unearthed remains of an old Buddhist temple and a monastery complex complete with a large central courtyard, living quarters and a refectory. Termez, sometimes spelled Termiz, was one of the great capitals of the Kushan Empire in the first century AD. It was the centre of military, trade and exchange of ideology and culture between India, Iran and the Greco-Roman world along the Silk Road. Researchers have discovered a magnificent column carved with two busts of Buddha, clay and gypsum statues of Buddha, a series of murals depicting various adorants in Kushan dress and fragments of pottery containing Brahmi, Punjabi, Kharoshti and Bactrian scripts – all evidence of an active Buddhist community in the ancient city. Together, the Fayaz Tepe, Kara Tepe and the Zourmala tower have been submitted in 2008 to UNESCO World Heritage Site’s Tentative List under the collective name of Ancient Termiz.’
Ruling empire: Pala Dynasty
One of the best known Buddhist monasteries in the Indian subcontinent, the Somapura Mahavira is ‘The Great Monastery’ as it is literally known in Sanskrit. Going also by the name Paharpur Vihara, it is famed for its terracotta artworks and was a renowned intellectual, religious and cultural centre of its time. The monastery is a testament to the rise of Mahayana Buddhism in Bengal from the 7th century onwards, and is only one of three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Bangladesh, having been inscribed in 1985. The temple is quadrangular in form with a colossal temple in the centre of the courtyard and an elaborate gateway complex on the north. Its symmetrical layout designed in simple harmonious lines is considered a unique artistic achievement for its time and has been credited to have influenced the temples of Bagan in Myanmar and the Loro-Jongrang and Chandi Sewer Temples in Central Java. Visitors can now see pottery, coins, inscriptions, ornamental bricks and terracotta plaques excavated from the site at the Varendra Research Museum, part of the Rajshahi University located two hours away.
Ruling empire: Solanki Dynasty
An important pilgrimage and tourist spot, the Somnath Temple is a significant cultural site in India. The name Somnath, which means ‘Protector of the Moon God’, was named so as it was believed to be originally built out of gold by Soma, the Moon God himself. Later rebuilt in wood by Raja Bhimdev of the Solanki Dynasty, the Somnath Temple is the first of 12 Jyortilinga shrines dedicated to Lord Shiva in India. Constructed in the Chalukya style of architecture, it reflects the expertise of the Sompura Salat community who were artists, sculptors and masons in Gujarat. Arab traveller Al-Biruni described it as being so wealthy at one point that it had 300 musicians, 500 dancing girls and even 300 barbers, resulting to it being looted and destroyed over the centuries by Mahmud Ghazni and the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. In 1950, the building underwent repairs and the Somnath Temple that we see today is a serene, symmetrical structure painted a creamy colour. Currently maintained by the Shree Somnath Trust, there is also a Prabhas Patan Museum located nearby which contains the remains of the previous temples.
For more stories and photos, check out Asian Geographic Issue 115.