Archaeological research in Udegram
A series of excavation and study campaigns were carried out in Pakistan between 1956 and 1959 by the “Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi in Asia dell’Is.M.E.O. e di Torino”: Giuseppe Tucci was the coordinator and director of the missions, while Giorgio Gullini was the co-director. The Italian archaeological mission had been involved in Pakistan since 1956, following the decision made the previous year by Prof. Tucci in favour of the Swat region, which takes its name from the river that runs through it, flowing a few kilometres away from the northern border with Afghanistan. The area selected for the study and research activities was one of primary importance in the history of Buddhism, being extremely rich in artistic and architectural remains such as stupas, monasteries and whole ancient cities. Two principal areas were selected: the lower city with the Udegram fortress, whose name seems to evoke Arrian’s Ora, conquered by Alexander during his Indian campaign, and the Jambil Valley near Mingora with the Butkara I and Panr sites (monumental stupas and sacred areas), Butkara II, Katelai, Loebanr (necropolis) and Saidu Sharif (sacred areas). The Udegram excavations were conducted between 1956 and 1959, in three separate sectors: the first is represented by the Gogdara hill, perhaps the most ancient settlement site; the second is the so-called Udegram Bazaar (residential area) and the third is the “Castle”.
Gogdara, probably the oldest nucleus of the area, can be dated between the protohistoric time (as witnessed by the rock engravings in Gogdara I that prevalently depict animals) and when it was conquered by Alexander. According to the ceramic sherds, the settlement was inhabited with a certain continuity between the 12th century BC and the Parthian period.
In a near downhill area the monumental remains of an entire vast inhabited district were brought to light (Gullini called it a “bazaar” so that, as Tucci wrote, “Alexander’s presence may gently blow all around us”), dated between the end of the 4th century BC and the 4th century AD.
The purpose of the surveys in the lower city was to “…find the city that Alexander’s troops stormed, follow the wake of its early settlements up to the conquest of Mahmud in the 11th century” (G. Tucci, La via dello Swat). In the specific case of the settlement on the Udegram plain it was decided to reconstruct the grid of the ancient streets and the individual inhabited areas. The vast city district was extensively surveyed during five campaigns under the direction of Prof. G. Gullini. Entire habitation blocks were brought to light, which had been constructed according to a precise urban layout, crisscrossed with streets in beaten earth with shale facings and drainage ditches. Each inhabited block can be divided into two complementary units, constituted by a sector of habitations and by a series of workshops giving on to the street. The settlement also included more finely constructed dwellings, with colonnaded courtyards or prevalently wooden pilasters.
The so-called “castle” on the hillside closes the Udegram plain on the east, on a rocky spur subject to considerable construction works. The excavations and restoration works inside the walls of the Udegram castle in the 1958 campaign were directed by G. Gullini. Excavations of the fortress had commenced the previous year, in 1956, when the need emerged to undertake a systematic survey of the rocky spur of the Raja Ghira hillside controlling the valley. With its jutting towers and its privileged position, the fortress guaranteed total control of the city below as well as the entire valley. In the first few years the excavations brought to light an ample walled perimeter, which had been enlarged and modified many times. It enclosed a well-organized complex of rooms, devices and installations that has been interpreted as the fortified seat of the principal local authority. The preliminary exploration of the entire perimeter of the fortress led to the discovery of important structures, including the monumental access ramp that seems to belong to the principal phase between the 7th and 10th centuries: it was immediately clear therefore that the excavations had to be accompanied by necessary and urgent repair measures and restoration of the structures. These measures, which safeguarded the walls and ensured their conservation, were developed and carried out in collaboration with the Archaeological Department of Pakistan.
The castle was in communication with the other sectors of the hillside by means of a narrow ridge that could easily be closed and controlled. Given its favourable position, the fortress was used over a long period of time: in fact a total of eighteen different levels or occupational phases were uncovered. The absolute dating of the fortress is known thanks to the comparative examination of the coins and pottery sherds found during the excavations: its oldest phases are perhaps contemporary with the progressive abandonment of the lower city (the “bazaar”), whilst the main phases of the stronghold can be placed later in time, between the 7th and 10th centuries, followed by the phases spanning from the conquest of Mahmud to the 13th-14th centuries.
The problem of the great access ramp and the north-eastern external wall with semi-circular towers was of primary importance during the 1958 campaign. The structures are built with dry wall schist blocks, according to the technique widespread in that area, with the larger blocks in the walls held together by smaller stones. Only the facades of the most important buildings were given finishing touches. The restoration works initially concerned the static stability of the structures, in an attempt to fill the voids within the masonry, which in similar construction techniques constitute a high level of instability and precariousness for the entire structure. Where necessary iron cramps were inserted. In addition, a suitable drainage system for rainwater to flow away from the structures was either reinstated or guaranteed. Due to their precarious state of conservation, other walls were at least partially dismantled, and prior to reassembling them it was deemed advisable to investigate previous cultural phases, which had been obliterated by the subsequent building. In the case of the staircase the presence was ascertained of an older similar device, narrow and short, below the steps that later served as a true and proper foundation platform for the structures that were visible at the time of the excavation.
Attività Archeologica Italiana in Asia, Mostra dei risultati delle Missioni in Pakistan ed in Afghanistan 1956-1959, Torino-Roma 1960.
1964, "A guide to the Excavations in Swat (Pakistan) 1956-1962", Dept. Of Archaeology of Pakistan e Is.M.E.O., Roma.
1958, "Marginal note on the excavations at the Castle of Udegram: restoration problems", in G. Tucci, G. Gullini, Preliminary Reports and Studies on the Italian Exacavations in Swat (Pakistan), East and West (new series), vol. 9, n. 4.
1959, "Die Ausgrabungen der Italienischen Archäologischen Expeditionen in Swat-Gebiet", Indologen-Tagung, p. 252 sgg.
1960, Archeologi Italiani nel Pakistan, Il Veltro, IV, 1960, 4, p. 17 sgg.
1962, "Udegram", in Reports and Memoirs of IsMEO, Centro Studi e Scavi Archeologici in Asia, I.
1963, La via dello Swat, Roma.