Ancient Ivory Factory Discovered at Bhanbhore

Archaeology

Italian archaeologist Dr. Simone Mantellini says that the antiquities recovered from Bhanbhore included 6,675 ivories, the largest one anywhere in the world. “Nowhere else in the world have ivories been found in such a large quantity. Ivories were found in Iraq but those were less in number. Such a huge recovery proves there was a factory for the commodity in the ancient city.

By Prof Dr. Abdullah G Arijo

The glorious past of Indus civilization, in terms of archaeology, is one and unique in its existence. This was again confirmed on February 8, 2020 by Pakistani and Italian archaeologists in a joint excavation carried out at Bhanbhore, the ruins of ancient city, when it was announced that they have discovered a large elephant ivory stock in Bhanbhore and suggested that there was a big factor for the commodity in the area.

According to Italian archaeologist Dr. Simone Mantellini, the antiquities recovered from Bhanbhore included 6,675 ivories.  It is worthy of mentioning that the ancient town was a gateway to South Asia. The Archaeological site of Bhanbhore is situated 60 kilometers south-east of Karachi on the bank of Gharo Creek in District Thatta, Sindh province of Pakistan.

Ivory is a hard, white material from the tusks and teeth of the elephant, in particular that consists mainly of dentine, one of the physical structures of teeth and tusks. The chemical structure of the teeth and tusks of mammals is the same, regardless of the species of origin.

Ivory carving had been an industry, as the carving or shaping of ivory into sculptures, ornaments, and decorative or utilitarian articles was most common. Elephant tusks have been the main source of ivory used for such carvings, although the tusks of walrus and other ivory-bearing mammals have also been worked.

Poachers used to kill elephants for their valuable tusks. A single pound of ivory can sell for $1,500, and tusks can weigh 250 pounds. However, it is illegal to trade ivory as it promotes the mass killing of precious animal species resulting in their extinction, therefore international trade in elephant ivory is banned. The ban was introduced in 1975 for Asian elephants and 1989 for African elephants as a result of unsustainable elephant poaching in the 1970s and 80s.

Ivory is expensive mainly because its supply is very limited, coming from elephant tusks only, and secondly because of its value as a material due to its carving qualities and its status as rare luxury goods. Many other animals produce ivory, but none as soft or as large quantities per specimen.

Ivory is a useful material for carving reliefs or statuary or cut up into thin sheets as inlays or veneer. The ancient Egyptians used it for all of these purposes. It is a dense, fine-grained material obtained from the teeth (tusks) of both elephants and hippopotamus.

Italian and Pakistan archaeologists, after detailed on-site investigations, concluded that “Bhanbhore was a trade and industrial city, where a big factory of elephant ivory existed”.

Findings of fieldwork were also shared with participants of the technical seminar held in Karachi. Italian archaeologist Dr. Simone Mantellini said that the antiquities recovered from Bhanbhore included 6,675 ivories, the largest such recovery anywhere in the world. “Nowhere else in the world have ivories been found in such a large quantity. Ivories were found in Iraq but those were less in number,” Mantellini further said that such a huge recovery proved there was a factory for the commodity in the ancient city.

The first excavation survey of Bhanbhore was carried out by Department of Archaeology and Museums in 1965. More recently, the government launched another round of exploration in 2012 in collaboration with Italian and French missions in Pakistan.

After each excavation, a technical study was done by the Italian mission in collaboration with the Department of Culture, Tourism and Antiquities, and the Archaeology Departments of the University of Khairpur, Sindh University, and Bahria University. Keeping in view the quantum of discoveries, it may be anticipated that in days to come, more interesting findings may see the light of the day.

Discovery of elephant tusks from Bhambhore also speak volumes of rich biodiversity in Sindh. It also reflects the presence of fauna and flora of that geological period.

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The writer is Chairman, Department of Veterinary Parasitology, Sindh Agriculture University, Tandojam, and contributes regularly to Sindh Courier.

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