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VIDALE M., MICHELI R. 2017. Protohistoric graveyards of the Swat Valley, Pakistan: new light on funerary practices and absolute chronology. Antiquity 91, 356: 389-405.

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  • Ministero della Cultura

Abstract and Figures

The protohistoric graveyards of north-western Pakistan were first excavated in the 1960s, but their chronology is still debated, along with their relationship to broader regional issues of ethnic and cultural change. Recent excavation of two graveyards in the Swat Valley has provided new dating evidence and a much better understanding both of grave structure and treatment of the dead. Secondary burial was documented at Udegram, along with the use of perishable containers and other objects as grave goods. The complexity of the funerary practices reveal the prolonged interaction between the living and the dead in protohistoric Swat.
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Research
Protohistoric graveyards of the Swat
Valley, Pakistan: new light on funerary
practices and absolute chronology
Massimo Vidale1& Roberto Micheli2,
Islamabad
Swat
Valley
N
0km
500
The protohistoric graveyards of north-western
Pakistan were first excavated in the 1960s,
but their chronology is still debated, along
with their relationship to broader regional
issues of ethnic and cultural change. Recent
excavation of two graveyards in the Swat
Valley has provided new dating evidence
and a much better understanding both
of grave structure and treatment of the
dead. Secondary burial was documented at
Udegram, along with the use of perishable
containers and other objects as grave goods.
The complexity of the funerary practices
reveal the prolonged interaction between the
living and the dead in protohistoric Swat.
Keywords: Pakistan, Swat Valley, Bronze Age, Iron Age, funerary practices, radiocarbon
dating, chronology
Introduction
The graveyards of the late Bronze Age (second millennium BC) in northern Pakistan
and the upper Indus Valley are known as the Cemetery H culture after discoveries at
Harappa. Alongside undisturbed primary interments, they reveal what appears to have
been a growing tendency towards the re-use of graves, and the exhumation, manipulation,
disarticulation and spatial arrangement of selected body parts (Stacul 1975). The emergence
1Dipartimento dei Beni Culturali,Università degli Studi di Padova, Piazza Capitaniato 7, 35139 Padua, Italy
2Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo, Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio del
Friuli Venezia Giulia, Piazza della Libertà 7, 34135 Trieste, Italy
Author for correspondence (Email: roberto.micheli@beniculturali.it)
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antiquity 91 356 (2017): 389–405 doi:10.15184/aqy.2017.23
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Massimo Vidale & Roberto Micheli
of such funerary polymorphism (sensu Boulestin & Duday 2006) hints at new, complicated
sets of symbolic actions, possibly mirroring important changes in identities and social
functions within the living communities. All of this matches chronologically with major,
although still poorly understood, ethno-genetic scenarios and large-scale linguistic diffusion
processes both on the Iranian Plateau and in the northern part of the Indo-Pakistani sub-
continent—the presumed diffusion from a Central Asian homeland of the first nomadic
Indo-European-speaking communities.
Secondary or delayed burial practices resulting in collective graves have been explained
in different ways by various authors since the late nineteenth century. Some consider them
a consequence of the time needed to collect the wealth required for prestigious funerals
(Miles 1965; Schroeder 2001). Alternatively, in Swat, they have been ascribed to “the semi-
nomadic life style of transhumant people who used to carry the bodies of their dead back
to their country of origin” (Castaldi 1968: 592). Stacul (1975) explained the practice on
ethnic-religious grounds as the diffusion of funerary traditions from Central Asia and later
from the Iranian Plateau. The interpretation by Kuz’mina (2007: 309) of double burials as
an “Indo-Aryan antecedent” of the sati custom of Hindu aristocratic tradition—the ritual
suicide of the widow after her husband’s death—has no supporting evidence, as it is not
backed by the required microstratigraphic records, nor by osteological studies.
Collective graves have, in other contexts, been deemed to be family or clan graves, re-
opened for successive burials. In the absence of genetic and/or microstratigraphic evidence,
this is a reasonable but not assured inference, although it can sometimes be indirectly
reiterated by radiocarbon dates that support generational time intervals in collective burials
(as seen in Lull et al. 2013). Instances of stone cist graves being re-used almost 2000 years
later (Laneman 2012), however, defy similar explanations. The need to incorporate “the
properties of a certain dead and mythicized person in contexts of actions related to the
living” (Bettencourt 2010: 37; see also Barrett 1988: 31–32), as well as considerations of
memory and ‘social time’ (Mizoguchi 1993), may also be involved. For post-processual
archaeologists, funerals and the handling of human remains “alter traditional ideologies,
transform existing imbalances of power, or change the identities of the living and the
dead” (Schroeder 2001: 79; see also Chapman 2003: 308–309). Archaeologists following
body theory (the human body as a social construct) have focused on the power of
human bones, in their materiality, to symbolise the self and social identities over extended
periods (Schroeder 2001: 90; Chénier 2009). Commingled bones may in fact support
egalitarian principles, communal ideologies and group identities (Chesson 1999), thus
helping to construct imaginary group ancestries; others have remarked, however, that
“corpses in ‘collective’ contexts are not necessarily a sign of communalism and a lack
of individualism or vice versa” because the dead are always treated individually (Weiss-
Krejci 2011: 164). Nilsson Stutz (2008) emphasised the physicality of the entire human
cadaver, its ‘corporeality’—biological and chemical changes after death—as a shared human
experience requiring socially structured disposal.
While a full review is outside the scope of this article, different perspectives and
viewpoints on the collective performance of death might have an important impact
on our understanding of ancient funerary practices of the still mysterious societies of
ancient Swat. Less clear, however, is how similar processes, to a large extent based upon
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Research
Protohistoric graveyards of the Swat Valley, Pakistan
ethnoarchaeological observation or just hypothesised in the frame of the systemic context
so far, may be actually recognised in the materiality of the archaeological record. The
point is that in order to understand the codes, and possibly the symbolic implications of a
behaviour that is endemically complex, graves need to be excavated in micro-stratigraphic
detail, but within a holistic perspective, linking the surface record of the ancient funerary
lots (including traces of funerary architecture or markers, which are the true link between
the living and the dead) to the graves’ sub-surface stratigraphy. Greater attention should
therefore be paid to the later negative interfaces or trenches and subsequent fillings
above the first burial: the material evidence of the re-opening of the graves. Moreover,
our experience shows that repeated burials and re-excavation of the same pits result in
sequences of different, well-recognisable inner filling layers. Finally, realistic reconstructions
of subsequent burials in the same graves need to be radiocarbon dated and arranged in a
consistent series (Lull et al.2013).
Previous research
We applied these principles to the protohistoric graveyards of the second and first millennia
BC in north-western Pakistan. These sites have been identified as an important source of
archaeological evidence since the early 1960s, when numerous burials were excavated in the
Swat Valley and in the neighbouring regions of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, formerly
North West Frontier Province. Indeed, these cemeteries were the subject of extensive
excavations and gave rise to considerable scholarly debate, but many issues still remain
unresolved (Dani 1967,1992; Silvi Antonini & Stacul 1972;Stacul1975,1997; Müller-
Karpe 1983; Vinogradova 2001; Coningham et al. 2007: 261–63; Ali et al. 2008).
On the basis of typological and stratigraphical evidence, and through comparisons with
other protohistoric burial complexes in Central Asia and Iran, the graves were dated to
the period between the late Bronze Age and the end of the Iron Age (Stacul 1966,1969;
Müller-Karpe 1983; Vinogradova 2001;Zahir2012). Yet the proposed periodisation and
absolute chronology remained controversial, mainly because the radiocarbon dates available
from graves excavated in the 1960s, which were limited in number and biased by sampling
problems, did not support a coherent chronological framework. The Swat Valley and
neighbouring areas are, however, crucial for the social changes that occurred in protohistoric
southern Central Asia and in the Indo-Pakistani sub-continent from the late Bronze Age
to the Iron Age. Furthermore, they are located along one of the main routes probably
followed by people, goods and ideas that moved from Central Asia to South Asia and vice
versa. Additionally, protohistoric burial practices in these regions were highly diversified,
particularly in terms of the treatment of human remains.
Previous field reports indicate that tombs of this period in Swat and the nearby valleys
usually comprised two superimposed spaces, the upper being a cavity filled with earth, the
lower a cist or burial chamber covered by large stone slabs and containing the remains of
the dead with grave goods. Tombs were used for one, two and occasionally three or more
individuals, generally deemed as non-contemporaneous. On record are single, double and
collective graves, primary and secondary interments, and the co-occurrence of cremation
(absent in the newly excavated sites) and inhumation rituals. Bodies were placed flexed on
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Massimo Vidale & Roberto Micheli
Figure 1. Left) location of the excavated areas: 1) main trench; 2) north trench; 3) modern Muslim graveyard (source: Google
Earth. Image date: 1 December 2009; date accessed: 10 January 2017); right) general view of the site before excavation
(photograph by M. Vidale).
one side and were often accompanied by disarticulated skeletal remains grouped in one or
more clusters of bones. Nevertheless, specific body treatments were not entirely restricted
to particular phases, but varied in occurrence over time, giving a multifaceted picture of
funerary practices. Grave goods included pottery, bone and ivory objects, and metal items
(copper and iron), but few ornaments and only rarely weapons. Individuals of both sexes
and all ages are represented in the graves so far excavated. Unfortunately, no correlation had
hitherto been attempted between the variations in tomb structure, their spatial distribution,
the grave goods, the re-opening and manipulation of the bones, and the age, gender and
social identity of the deceased.
New funerary evidence from the field
Between 2011 and 2012, in the framework of an innovative programme of community
archaeology directed by Luca M. Olivieri (ACT-Field School Project; see Olivieri 2013),
the authors excavated part of two protohistoric cemeteries at Gogdara IV and Udegram in
the middle Swat Valley. Three graves were excavated at Gogdara IV, while 26 tombs were
fully excavated at Udegram, although 31 tombs in total were identified there. In this article,
we present the main results of our research at Udegram (Figure 1).
Wooden architecture at Udegram
The graves were sealed by massive colluvial layers dating to the Early Historic period. These
sediments had preserved the original ground surface and the traces of activity associated
with the cemeteries. The buried surface retained not only the remains of small mounds
piled above the tombs, but also postholes of wooden posts, some belonging to rectangular
and round fences delimiting the perimeters of graves (Figure 2a), while other postholes
form circles or clusters of 1–1.5m in diameter. Excavation also revealed traces of planks set
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Protohistoric graveyards of the Swat Valley, Pakistan
Figure 2. Udegram graveyard: a) the trampled surface with post-holes; b) the excavated graves; c) the north–south section of
the main trench (drawings by R. Micheli).
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Massimo Vidale & Roberto Micheli
vertically in the ground, hinting at rectangular wooden constructions. Among Kafir and
Kalash societies of the Pakistani Kohistan, corpses were traditionally left above ground to
decompose in wooden boxes, with old reports mentioning the smell of decaying bodies that
pervaded the air at those sites (Robertson 1896: 642).
Substantial and very visible wooden erections thus stood on the ground surface. Such
wooden platforms or clusters of poles may have been used to suspend corpses, as isolated
mandibles and scattered human teeth were found on the trampled ground surface of the
cemetery. Alternatively, and more probably, these wooden platforms held suspended bags
or baskets containing partial skeletal remains awaiting secondary interment (Vidale et al.
in press). Other wooden features may have marked the position of underground chambers,
which were re-opened in subsequent rituals. All of this interpretation also explains a famous
passage by Quintus Curtius (History of Alexander 10.8–10; Rolfe 1946), wherein Alexander
the Great’s soldiers, crossing the north-western Swat Valley at night, “cut down trees and
raised a flame, which, fed by logs, caught the sepulchres of the inhabitants. These had been
built of old cedar, and widely spread the fire which had been started, until all were levelled
with the ground”.
In previous reports (Silvi Antonini & Stacul 1972), graves were represented as irregular
rows of rectangular pits of variable depth. We found that the construction of the graves was,
in fact, more elaborate (Figure 3). Our excavations revealed three main types of funerary
architecture: 1) simple pits dug in the soil; 2) chambers with rammed clay walls; and 3)
structures with dry stone walls made of flat schist slabs (14 courses in height as a rule).
The graves were covered by three or more large rectangular schist slabs, the joints sealed by
smaller stones. Chamber floors were paved with a single large slab or smaller pieces. Most of
the larger graves, however, were built as massive chambers of rammed earth, gradually piled
and beaten within frames made of vertical planks that were later removed. This technique
was identified and confirmed through cross-sections (Figure 3). As far as the authors know,
it has never been previously reported in Pakistan. It closely resembles the h¯
angtˇ
utechnique
for building rammed-earth walls and platforms in China from the Late Neolithic and
Bronze Age onwards (Chang 1968). Once the grave had been closed, low mounds of earth
were piled on top, and here people deposited small portable terracotta lamps.
The construction, re-opening and maintenance of the graves were collective efforts:
during excavation, we found that seven to eight men were needed to move and set aside
a single slab. Furthermore, artificial terraces and rammed-earth enclosures were strongly
affected by erosion that exposed the capstones, and thus required continuous maintenance.
Not all of the tombs were made in such a substantial form. Grave 15 was built as a cist
with wooden walls supported externally by vertical logs (Figure 4a). Most of the skeletal
elements had been removed, while a broken femur showed the impact of a heavy chopping
blade. The furnishings included a decayed wooden vessel set on the stone floor after part
of the skeletal remains had been manipulated and re-exhumed. Its section (Figure 4b)
emphasises the clayish traces of sediments that gradually substituted the vessel’s wooden
walls during natural decay. The decayed container might be the protohistoric equivalent of
the wooden pots with food or other substances that Kafirs placed in wooden coffins for the
benefit of the dead (Robertson 1896: 641). The cist also contained a basket or bag made
of woven fibres: similar features in this and other graves appear as patches of lighter and
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Protohistoric graveyards of the Swat Valley, Pakistan
Figure 3. Grave 24 at Udegram, showing details of the construction: 1) the schist bedrock; 2) thick layers of gravel and schist
flakes; 3) layers of clean silty clay supporting and surrounding the grave; 4) basal schist slabs set flat in a shallow depression
and fixed with a mud-like mortar; 5) perimeter walls made by pressing superimposed slabs of clay into a template of wooden
planks, which was later removed. In other graves, walls were then internally lined with stone slabs; 6) large capstones sealed
by mud mortar; 7) an eroded low mound of clay. The succession of silty clay lenses and coarser gravel layers that seeped into
the chamber provide evidence for multiple re-openings of the grave (drawing by R. Micheli & M. Vidale).
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Massimo Vidale & Roberto Micheli
Figure 4. Grave 15 at Udegram: a) evidence of wooden features, including a wooden vessel (SU 108) and probable
wickerwork containers decayed in situ. Skeletal remains were manipulated and to a large extent removed after deposition; b)
micro-stratigraphic section of the wooden container (SU 108) found at the centre of the tomb (drawings by R. Micheli).
finer clay that had slowly filtered through the fibres in the filling process. Similar graves,
ephemeral and comparatively poorly furnished, would have gone unrecognised without an
accurate and slow excavation method.
Cloth, in contrast, was probably a valuable material deposited in burials of a higher rank.
A primary burial of a child (grave 30) had traces of a red cloth, while a secondary burial
of another child (grave 1, individual 1) was wrapped in cloth. Its fabric left a neat imprint
in the fine clay that had slowly filled the grave’s cavity by seeping from the surrounding
clay walls (Figure 5). The same grave also contained a miniature terracotta female figurine
and a crescent-shaped gold earring with chased dots (Figure 6e–f). Perishable funerary
architecture and furnishings may therefore have signalled hierarchies of status in the ancient
Swat communities.
Re-opened graves and secondary burials
Stratigraphic excavation of the burial chambers made it possible to recognise the
sedimentary evidence of phases of closure and re-opening, during which pots and other
items were abandoned at different levels in the fill. Phases of closure were marked by micro-
laminated lenses of pure silty clay that slowly seeped into the empty, closed chamber from
the corners and along the walls; a re-opening of the grave is revealed by the sudden influx
of coarser sediments and schist gravel, small sherds and chips of human bone falling from
the topsoil.
Almost all of the graves had been re-opened shortly after burial, as demonstrated by
the permanence of some of the weakest skeletal joints in burials that had been re-opened
to place pots on the hands and knees of the deceased, as in grave 3; or to remove and
displace, to various degrees, the bones (graves 2, 7 & 15). It is now clear that many
ceramic assemblages, previously mapped as synchronous deposits, are not necessarily such
and probably do not simply reflect the original grave goods, but represent a palimpsest of
offerings and removals as parts of longer funerary cycles, often including exhumation.
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Protohistoric graveyards of the Swat Valley, Pakistan
Figure 5. A detail of the cloth imprint (top) found on the exterior of the bundle containing the bones of individual 1
(SU135) in grave 1 (bottom) (photograph by M. Vidale; drawing by R. Micheli).
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Massimo Vidale & Roberto Micheli
Figure 6. a–c) Grave 19, fragmentary iron pins; d) grave 6, copper/bronze pin; e) grave 1, miniature terracotta female
figurine; and f) gold earring (photographs by M.A. Khan).
The high frequency of double and multiple burials, fractional and often secondary, has
been acknowledged since the earliest excavation reports (Silvi Antonini & Stacul 1972:
11–12). Secondary fractional burials were generally interpreted as those of the earlier
occupant, moved aside to make space for the new corpse. Double burials at Udegram are
in fact the norm, not anomalies. Out of 26 graves excavated at Udegram, only 5 held
primary undisturbed burials; even these cases may represent the early steps of a funerary
cycle that did not progress further. On microstratigraphic grounds we ascertained that the
prevailing funerary custom (n =10 graves) was a double interment in which a primary
undisturbed occupant was generally followed by a secondary interment (Figure 7). This
reverted, in the majority of cases, the order previously assumed, in that what was considered
the secondary burial was actually the primary. Secondary burials contained the remains of
another individual, placed, as a rule, in front of the face of the first. Secondary interments
were wrapped in cloth bundles or kept in baskets, and displayed a recurring arrangement:
the cranium always placed on top of the long bones, packed and aligned, with smaller bones
(mandible, phalanges and vertebrae) collected in a basal layer, seemingly having slipped
down. This funerary pattern was also common in the cemeteries of Katelai I, Loebanr I and
Butkara II. Thanks to the anthropological analysis by Maria Letizia Pulcini, we know that
at Udegram, in the majority of cases, the primary burial was a mature adult female, resting
directly on the floor of the grave, followed by a secondary burial of a male, of the same
age or slightly younger, but not young enough to be considered her son. In some cases, the
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Protohistoric graveyards of the Swat Valley, Pakistan
coxal and long bones of the secondary burial had indisputable cut marks from defleshing,
left by metal blades that included cleavers.
All of this suggests a female-centred pattern: women were buried in megalithic graves,
thereby alluding to their leading role in the household, while the remains of a male relative
Figure 7. Grave 6 at Udegram (photograph by R. Micheli).
(?) played an important but secondary
role as an ‘accessory’, joining the female
occupant after a divergent and more
transformative funerary process that may
have involved exposure, defleshing and
sometimes bone-chopping.
Interestingly, even the graves most evi-
dently re-opened and manipulated were re-
filled and sealed again by heavy capstones.
On the top of these graves we regularly
found a pair of large ceramic containers,
unbroken or almost complete—a large jar
with a neck, and a globular vessel with
four horizontal lugs. These vessels, rare
in the other cemeteries so far excavated,
were probably used in the exhumation
ceremonies. Later they were dumped,
mouth downwards, and left undisturbed
and partially visible on the low mounds
that covered the graves.
Absolute chronology
The protohistoric cemeteries have previously been assigned to a three-phase sequence:
Period V, c. 1500/1400–1100 BC; Period VI, c. 1100–700 BC; Period VII, c. 700–400
BC (Stacul 1966;Dani1967: 48, 1992; Müller-Karpe 1983; Possehl & Gullapalli 1999;
Vinogradova 2001). During this time span there was a general shift in funerary practices,
accompanied by changes in grave goods, while continuity is confirmed by the uninterrupted
use of the same graveyards. Nevertheless, the chronology of these phases was based on only
13 samples from graves at Katelai I, Loebanr I, Butkara II and Timargahra, collected in the
1960s; in other words, from 10 out of some 700 graves excavated in the last 50 years. This
is too few to support the proposed sequence, the duration of the three phases and changes
in burial traditions. In addition, some radiocarbon dates reveal discrepancies between the
absolute chronology and the cultural ascription of the grave goods to the hypothesised
phases.
A new series of AMS radiocarbon dates (Tab le 1) were obtained from samples collected
from two graves at Gogdara IV (Vidale et al. in press) and seven graves at Udegram
(Figure 8). At the latter site, two cultural horizons were defined on the basis of the
accompanying ceramics. A modelled, calibrated distribution taking into account both the
Gogdara IV and Udegram radiocarbon dates is shown arranged in sequence in Figure 8.
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Massimo Vidale & Roberto Micheli
Table 1. List of radiocarbon and calibrated dates of Udegram and Gogdara IV graves. AMS dates by Centro di Datazione e Diagnostica (CEDAD) of
Lecce University (Italy). Calibration: OxCal version 4.2.3 (Bronk Ramsey 2009); IntCal13 atmospheric curve (Reimer et al. 2013).
Calibrated Calibrated
date range date range
Sample Context Radiocarbon δ13C (BC), 68.2% (BC), 95.4%
no. Lab. no. (G. =grave) Material age (BP) () confidence confidence
UDG 9 LTL13335A G. 5 (individual 1) calcaneus 3098±45 17.7 ±0.3 1421–1297 1491–1231
UDG 8 LTL13332A G. 28 (double burial, mixed together) small-bone fragment 3056±40 17.8±0.6 1391–1264 1416–1214
UDG 1 LTL13327A G. 3 (single burial) calcaneus 3018±45 13.7 ±0.5 1382–1135 1400–1126
UDG 11 LTL14411A G. 5 (individual 2) long-bone fragment 2969±45 16.5 ±0.5 1260–1120 1376–1041
UDG 4 LTL13329A G. 10 (individual 2) phalanx 2808 ±45 20.9 ±0.3 1014–905 1107–840
UDG 2 LTL13328A G. 1 (individual 1) long-bone fragment 2785±45 14.2 ±0.3 1003–859 1044–830
UDG 5 LTL13330A G. 10 (vessel 4) carbon soot layer 2760±45 13.9 ±0.2 971–839 1007–817
UDG 6 LTL13334A G. 10 (individual 1) phalanx 2758 ±40 22.2 ±0.5 968–840 1001–824
UDG 12 LTL14410A G. 15 (single burial) small-bone fragment 2731±40 17.1 ±0.5 908–831 975–807
UDG 10 LTL13336A G. 19 (single burial) phalanx 2707±40 15.5 ±0.5 895–819 928–802
UDG 3 LTL13333A G. 1 (individual 2) long-bone fragment 2659±40 15.3 ±0.5 888–796 901–792
GGD IV LTL12131A G. B (individual 2) small-bone fragment 2964±45 18.5 ±0.5 1260–1115 1372–1027
GGD IV LTL12130A G. A (single burial) small-bone fragment 2850±45 21.0 ±0.5 1081–931 1192–902
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Protohistoric graveyards of the Swat Valley, Pakistan
Figure 8. Modelled calibration distribution at the 95.4% confidence level of radiocarbon dates from the Gogdara IV and
Udegram graves. Calibration was performed using OxCal v4.2.3 (Bronk Ramsey 2009) and the IntCal13 atmospheric curve
(Reimer et al. 2013).
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Massimo Vidale & Roberto Micheli
The model is organised into three phases based on the possible calendar age at the
95% confidence level. The earlier dates for Udegram range from 1460–1133 cal BC,
while the later dates range from 1002–783 cal BC. The former comprises graves 3, 5
and 28, while the latter includes graves 1, 10, 15 and 19. The Gogdara IV dates, ranging
from 1266–901 cal BC, fall between the two Udegram series. The latter graveyard was,
therefore, used (perhaps with a gap) from c. 1500/1400 to around 800 cal BC or a little
later.
In Stacul’s view, the end of the Iron Age in the Swat Valley fell in the fourth century
BC (Stacul 1990: 609), on the evidence of ceramic comparisons with Charsadda (Wheeler
1962) and Hasanlu III A in western Iran (Stacul 1969: 85). And yet such a chronological
boundary does not fit well with the new radiocarbon dates from Udegram, where Iron Age
burials came to an end in the eighth century BC.
In Chitral, funerary practices of protohistoric tradition seem to have continued until
AD 800–1000 (Ali et al. 2002,2008). One might presume that in Swat too, similar
Iron Age customs persisted after 800 BC until c. 500–400 BC or later, as proposed
by Stacul (1990, 1997). At present, however, there is no evidence to substantiate
such a view. In contrast, at Saidu Sharif, an Early Historic graveyard dating to the
fifth century BC was discovered below an important Buddhist sacred complex. Three
radiocarbon dates on human bone demonstrate that by that time in the middle Swat Valley,
completely different funerary practices had appeared that had nothing in common with the
protohistoric traditions observed at Udegram and in other sites of the Swat Valley (Olivieri
2016).
Early evidence of iron artefacts at Udegram
In grave 19 at Udegram three iron pins were found, one of them still attached to the skull
as a hair ornament. The radiocarbon date from this grave gives a range of 928–802 cal BC
(Table 1), and is therefore relevant to the question of Iron Age origins in northern Pakistan.
The earliest well-dated iron artefacts and slag were discovered at Bala Hisar, Charsadda,
and are dated to 1200–900 cal BC (McDonnell & Coningham 2007: 155). In Swat, this
important technological change is commonly assigned to Period VII of the protohistoric
cemeteries (Stacul 1979,1997). Iron is not, however, frequently found in graves in Swat
and Dir, with only 7 per cent containing iron objects (Stacul 1966: 60). Further, none of
the small number of graves previously dated by 14C had iron artefacts. The best-dated iron
comes from a burial in Chitral dated to 255–180 cal BC (Ali et al.2008); locally, iron
artefacts continued to be deposited in tombs until the tenth century AD. Reliable evidence
for a widespread iron technology in the Swat Valley comes from the Early Historic site of
Barikot/Bir-kot-ghwandai (Callieri et al. 1992; Olivieri 2014).
In this light, the radiocarbon date from grave 19 establishes firm chronometric evidence
for the early development of the Iron Age in the Swat Valley, although there is a strong
possibility that the use of iron had begun earlier. The iron pin worn by the deceased in
grave 19 (Figure 6a) faithfully replicates a common copper or bronze pin type also present
in grave 6 (Figure 6d). The introduction of iron, first as an ornamental material competing
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Research
Protohistoric graveyards of the Swat Valley, Pakistan
with copper, and only later used for tools and weapons, is consistent with a historical pattern
well attested in the wider Eurasian continent at the end of the second millennium BC.
Conclusion
New evidence provides an image of the Swat graveyards (and the local funerary practices)
that is very different to that offered by previous research. Substantial traces of above-ground
wooden architecture suggest that the graves were well marked and fenced, and were thus
easy to maintain and re-open. The inclusion in the grave goods of perishable items of
wood, wickerwork and cloth alters our perception of the relative richness of the individual
graves. Micro-stratigraphy reveals that graves were often re-opened, with multiple episodes
of deposition and the removal and/or addition of body parts and pottery vessels as stages
in a longer funerary cycle. Secondary, sometimes defleshed, burials of males often followed
the primary interment of an adult female, and grave goods accompanied both deposits,
while at the same time, bones and objects could also be removed. These conclusions cast
some doubt on the usefulness of the ceramic assemblages found in the cists for typo-
chronological assignment of the graves themselves. Finally, the new radiocarbon dates from
Gogdara IV and Udegram indicate the need to revise the chronology and phasing so far
proposed.
On the whole, it is clear that previous archaeological and historical frameworks,
depending upon partial and biased archaeological data, have limited value. This study
is a new attempt at unveiling the complexity of funerary practices and the prolonged
interaction between the living and the dead in protohistoric Swat, but further excavations
and new absolute dates are needed to validate the interpretations presented here, in order
to discuss the new evidence in terms of rituals and social implications. In short, we need
an archaeology based upon sound middle-range theory inferences before addressing wider
questions on the ethnic and/or linguistic background of protohistoric Swat.
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