Meandering through gorges of the Indus River valley and across high mountain passes, ancient arteries of the fabled Silk Road cut through the Diamer District of Northern Pakistan. Along these pathways, thousands of petroglyphs cover cliffs, rock faces, and boulders, standing testament to the ancient cultures that once settled in this region and the merchants, pilgrims, and conquerors who later journeyed through it. Over 50,000 rock carvings and 5,000 inscriptions serve as a timeline from the Epipaleolithic period to the pre-Islamic “golden era” of Buddhism. The earliest petroglyphs, which depict wild animals such as ibex and sheep, were created by groups of hunter-gatherers first drawn to the region in the early Holocene. By the first millennium B.C., Scytho-Saka tribal groups from Central Asia had introduced the Eurasian animal style of drawing. As this region developed into a dynamic Himalayan crossroads in the Silk Road era, more petroglyphs exhibited Buddhist iconography and architectural forms, most importantly associated with the building of stupas. Throughout this cultural landscape are found the archaeological remains of these occupations in a rich context of historical and contemporary vernacular culture.
2010 World Monuments Watch
In the summer of 2010, construction began on a dam that will submerge many of these petroglyphs and their cultural landscape, impacting an area of over 100 kilometers. The dam will provide much needed infrastructure to this remote area, but will sever any remaining connection between the local communities and the vestiges of their past. Recognizing the need to balance development and heritage stewardship, further documentation of the petroglyphs and possible protective measures are being sought to mitigate the effects of the dam on this unparalleled complex. Following a Cultural Heritage Impact Assessment carried out for the dam project, an emergency action plan was prepared that stressed the importance of community involvement in preservation efforts. Focus of the project has been on capacity building and training for members of the local community who are assisting in the documentation and mitigation effort, and for young people to learn the value of their cultural inheritance.
The wealth of cultural heritage in the Indus River valley and adjacent mountain passes includes petroglyphs as well as built heritage and archaeological remains spanning millennia. The invading armies, settlers, traders, and pilgrims who traveled the Silk Road left an incomparable legacy, which remains of great historical and cultural importance to many in the region and around the world. Through cooperative efforts, it is hoped that the rich and diverse heritage resources of high significance are preserved and plans for sustainable stewardship are developed. Awareness and appreciation of cultural heritage can help a community cope with the inevitable change and loss brought about by mega-development.