Karakorum Rescue Project 
Pakistan 2020-2021

Archaeological fieldwork & heritage outreach

Ghani Khan in the Karakorum mountains.

We are very happy to announce that Abdul Ghani Khan has this year been awarded the Prince Claus Heritage Emergency Grant for the rescue and preservation of ancient rock art in the Karakorum mountain range of the Pakistani Himalayas. He coordinates the project for its full duration. Dr. Marike van Aerde joins the project as academic coordinator. The work combines archaeological documentation and a heritage collaboration initiative with the local communities. It will run from November 2020, including intensive archaeological fieldwork planned for the spring of 2021. 

In the brief video below, we give a first introduction to the project. Ghani Khan explains the project structure and aims, while Marike van Aerde shares information about the rock art that we will be working with. 

Project Summary

Ghani Khan, who previously worked together with our team member Alex Mohns in the Karakorum, will oversee the project in Pakistan, through the coordination of the fieldwork. Importantly, he will also 
lead the outreach and education program developed with the local communities, including workshops and collaborative initiatives to ensure a sustained heritage protection for the threatened rock art for and by the local population of the region. 

Destruction and vandalism of ancient Buddhist rock art (2019-2020).

As the project’s academic coordinator, Marike van Aerde will oversee the data study and (Open Access) publications of the project’s archaeological materials, the (digital) documentation and subsequent interpretations of the rock art. In due course, students and/or PhDs may also be able to get involved with analyses, as part of our ongoing research team Routes of Exchange, Roots of Connectivity at Leiden University. 

The main current threat to the Karakorum petroglyphs is the building of the Diamer-Basha dam in the near future, which will flood several valleys that contain large numbers of as yet unrecorded/unstudied ancient rock art, and that will likewise force the relocation of many local villagers. In addition, vandalism and destruction of especially ancient Buddhist rock art continue to occur frequently due to lack of available education, prevailing superstitions, and/or looting and the illegal market for ancient materials.

Damaged/looted rock art in situ.

MA student Alex Mohns at work in 2019.

Our Karakorum heritage project will therefore focus not only on the emergency documentation of the threatened rock art, but will set up a local collaborative educational program that will directly involve the local communities in the role of guardians of the region’s heritage. This program is already in development in collaboration with local governments in the Gilgit-Baltistan region.

Our project is registered at the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development, which is also supported by the Caliph International Alliance (2020-2021).