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Department of Archaeology


Department of Archaeology was established in 1947. The Department was expected to search for ancient remains, and their unearthing, preservation and protection. At first its office was established at varendra research museum in rajshahi. But soon it was shifted to Dhaka. Q.M. Moneer was the first Director of the department. Due to inadequate qualified manpower and finance, the department initially concentrated its activities mostly on preservation and excavation works of only select monuments and ruins.

Explorations were carried out in several sites in comilla district (1955-56) under the supervision of of the Department of Archaeology. The founding of the journal of the Pakistan Archaeology in 1964 by F.A. Khan enabled publication of important activities of the department. Paharpur Museum was first founded in 1956-57. Later, mainamati (1966) Museum and Mahasthangarh Museum (1967) were founded.

The Department of Archaeology carried out explorations between 1961 and 1963 in many places in the districts of dhaka, khulna, dinajpur, kushtia and faridpur. In the 1960s conservation works were carried out at a number of sites both in West and East Pakistan by the Archaeological department. Some of the important works in East Pakistan were the Mahasthangarh and its remains, i.e. temple of govinda bhita, bairagir bhita, Mosque at mankalir kunda dhap, gokul medh (1961), paharpur Monastery (1967-68) satyapir bhita (1964-1968), Salban Vihara, kutila mura, bibi begni mosque (1965), Ranvijaypur Mosque, kusumba mosque, kherua mosque, Tomb and Mosque of Shah Niamat Ullah Wali and Tahkhana, idrakpur fort, lalbagh fort, sonakanda fort, hajiganj fort (1968-69), Kuthi Bari, satgumbad mosque and Nine Domed Mosque (1967-68).

In 1968, the laws relating to the preservation and protection of antiquities, the Ancient Monuments Preservation Act, 1904 and the Antiquities (Export Control) Act, 1947 were repealed and a new Act entitled Antiquities Act (1968) was enacted.

The 'Department of Archaeology and Museums' developed as an autonomous organisation in 1972. Initially one Director, two Superintendents and some assistants staffed it. In 1973 all Bengali officers and staff of the archaeology department at Karachi returned to Bangladesh. As a result, the department got enough staff to engage in its programmes for protection, conservation and restoration, exploration and excavation of archaeological sites, acquisition of antiquities, development of museums and research activities. Until 1971, there were 152 protected archaeological sites, 4 sites museums, and 3 Libraries cum Museums in the country. Now, in 2010, there are 397 protected sites, 14 site museums and 4 Libraries cum Museums. Of them Panam City of Sonargaon itself possesses 49 individual heritage buildings which has been treated as single site as per gazette notification.

Abdul Gafur was the first Director- in-charge of the department from December 1971 to January 1973. During this period excavation was conducted in 1971 at Mahasthangarh. In 1971 the police headquarters was shifted from Dhaka Lalbagh Fort and the department took the full possession of the site for conservation.'

Nazimuddin Ahmed joined the Department of Archaeology and Museums of Bangladesh in February 1973 and retired in February 1983. During this long period many sites were explored, protected, excavated and simultaneously a good number of monuments were conserved. During his time excavations were carried out at Bhasu Bihar in 1973 to 1977, Bihar Dhap was excavated between 1979 and 1986 excluding 1981-82 and 1982-84. Mongalkot and Ananda Vihara were excavated in 1982. Excavation at Paharpur was resumed in 1982 and continued up to 1990. These excavations were conducted in two phases. The objective of the first phase excavation was to establish the relationship between the occupation levels of the cells and the structural remains exposed in previous excavations while the second phase (1986-1990) work aimed at removing the debris from the courtyard with a view to establishing an effective drainage system in and around the monastery. A group of skill archaeologist worked here for the purpose.

Simultaneously exploration was conducted in the various parts of the country. As a result many important sites were discovered and had been taken under protection including Halud Vihara (Naogaon), Patharghata (Bogra), Mangalkot, Godai Bari Dhap, Kanai Dhap, Salivahan Rajar Bari, Salivahan Rajar Kachari, Jogir Bhavan, Dolmancha, Dhaniker Dhap, (Mahasthangarh area), Janjir Dhap and Arun Dhap (Nawabgonj, Dinajpur), and Rohanpur Mounds (Chapai Nawabgonj).

Besides the usual exploration, a Pilot Survey Project of First Five Year Plan was launched in Bogra district in 1975 and was completed in 1981. Consequently 190 monuments and 115 ancient cultural mounds were surveyed and documented and 28 archaeological sites (mounds and monuments) were brought under protection between 1975 and 1977. Report of this project had been published in 1986. Conservation works carried out at the excavated sites in mahasthangarh, Paharpur, Satyapir Bhita, sitakot vihara, Salban Vihara, govinda bhita, Bhasu Vihara, kutila mura and several Muslim monuments and Hindu temples. Along with these, most significant sites were, Baba Adam Mosque, hajiganj fort, Sonakanda Fort, Khan mirdha mosque, Chunakhola Mosque, Rejakhoda Mosque, Singair Mosque, Shah Ali Kuli Beg Memorial, nayabad mosque, Farrukh Shiar Mosque, Rohonpur Memorial Tomb, khania dighi mosque and Putia Siva Temple, that had been taken under conservation courses.

Antiquities Act of 1968 was amended in 1976 by the Antiquities (Amendment) Ordinance 1976. In 1980 the department published the journal (in English), Bangladesh Archaeology 1979, Vol.1.No.1. It also reprinted the monograph of Mahasthangarh excavation and revised the booklet on Mahasthan, Maianamati, Paharpur.

In former Pakistan an Archaeological Laboratory was housed in Lahore Fort, which carried out the chemical treatment and analysis of movable antiquities of the country. But there were no such lab in East Bengal. In 1974, a Chemical Laboratory of the department was set up in the Lalbagh Fort. Since then a large number of antiquities in various museums, excavated or acquisitioned artifacts, standing monuments and architectural remains exposed by excavations are being treated properly and their conservation works are being under taken.

The department was reorganized in 1983 and renamed as 'Directorate of Archaeology and Museums' with its headquarters at Dhaka and four regional offices in four divisions. Apart from the administration and accounts, 5 technical branches including publication, epigraphy and numismatics, protection and antiquities, engineering and laboratory were accommodated at the head office. Regional offices were created in the then four Divisional headquarters- Dhaka, Khulna, Chittagong and Rajshahi. But the old Exploration and Excavation Branch, Museum and Sites (Branch) and Survey of Monuments Branch were abolished. Consequently exploration, excavation and conservation works were assigned to the regional offices of respective divisions. The headquarters of the regional offices of Dhaka Division was established in Dhaka while those of Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi Divisions were set up at Comilla, Bagerhat and Bogra, respectively considering the concentration of archaeological sites in those areas. In 1992 the office of the Regional Director of Khulna Division was shifted from Bagerhat to Khulna. In 1998 a Divisional Museum was founded in Khulna.

To preserve Buddhist Vihara at Paharpur and the Historic Mosque City of Bagerhat a Master Plan was prepared by a group of national and international experts in 1983. In consequence both the sites were inscribed on the World Cultural Heritage List in 1985. Subsequently a project was initiated for the preservation, presentation and promotion of both the sites in 1987 for a period of 5 years in the first phase, which continued in the second and third phases up to 2002. Under this project excavation was resumed at Paharpur Vihara and conservation was carried out at the vihara and Satyapir Bhita of Paharpur and Shait Gumbad Mosque, Singair Mosque, bibi begni mosque, Ranvijoypur Mosque, Zindapir Mosque and Sabekdanga Monument. Replicas are being replaced around 822 in situ terracotta plaques on the temple wall of the Paharpur Buddhist Vihara. Besides, two site museums in Paharpur (1993) and Bagerhat (1999) were established. The old and small museum building at Paharpur was converted into a rest house. Bagerhat Museum was housed mainly with the objects related to Hazrat Ulugh Khan Jahan which were collected by a local enthusiastic collector from time to time and objects of Muslim period recovered form different sites of the region.'

The Survey Projects were carried out for three phases from 1981 to 1992 in Dhaka Division and in the remaining districts of Rajshahi Division. Besides survey of the greater four districts of Khulna Division (Khulna, Jessore, Barisal and Kushtia) took place. The reports of the districts of Dinajpur, Faridpur, Munshiganj, Pabna Jessore and Barisal (in Bangla), had been published.

As a consequence of reorganisation regional offices started conducting excavation and conservation works in their respective divisions. So the total volume of work per year was increased. In 1984 excavation was conducted in Rupban Mura, mainamati, Comilla. halud vihara was first excavated in 1984 and for the second time in 1993. Excavation at Bharat Bhayna Mound was started in 1985 and Harish Chandra Rajar Bari at Savar was excavated between 1986 and 1996. Excavation at Itakhola Mura was done in 1986 which continued in the next season. Excavation, along with a special training course at Mahasthangarh was resumed in 1988. The excavations continued in the eastern rampart and near the mazar area in almost every season up to 1991. In 1989 Satgachia Mosque was excavated. Simultaneously a good number of sites were explored. These include Chand Gazi Bhuyan Mosque, Khurshid Alam Mosque, Khaina Mura and Chinar Mura, Gayebi Dighi Mound, Sitanath Asram, Khelaram Datar Bari, Baruri Phulbari Temple, Murapara Palace, Balati Palace, Putia Group of Temples, Dubalhati Palace, dinajpur rajbari and Barokuthi. Conservation was carried out in many sites. These are Hatikumrul Navaratna Temple, Boro Ahnik Mandir, gokul medh, Kushumba Mosque, sitakot vihara, Shah Niamatullah Wali Mosque, Nava Ratna Temple, bagha mosque, jor bangla mondir, Sura Mosque, Mithapukur Mosque, darasbari madrasa, etc. Apart from these, minor conservation works were also carried out in many monuments.

In 1990 the department renamed as the 'Department of Archaeology'. Thus it had got the status of a department of the government. In the year some books named- An Album of Archaeological Relics in Bangladesh, Sculptural Art of Bangladesh, and Archaeological Survey Report of Bogra District etc were published. From 1992 to 1993, excavations were conducted at barobazar, in Jessore (Mahmudabad). This was the beginning of a large-scale excavation at the site. In the first season the work was carried out in three mounds namely Jorbangla Dhibi, Galakata Dhibi and Kharer Dighi or Mata Rani Dhibi. The works continued here for a decade to expose the other ruins of the city.

According to the agreement signed between the Governments of Bangladesh and France in 1992, a joint archaeological mission in Mahastangarh took place in 1993 and still it is being done in favourable season for three to four months. The excavation from 2000 to present had been conducted in the Mazar area. The long expedition had discovered the evidence of early settlement in Mahasthangarh before the Maurians. It has also provided a series of radiometric dates of different periods of Mahasthangarh habitation for the first time in Bangladesh Archaeology.

In 1994-1995, more mounds at Baro Bazar namely Noongola Dhibi, Monohar Dhibi, Sukur Malliker Dhibi, Ghoper Dhibi, Pathagar Dhibi and Pirpukur Dhibi were brought under spade. Excavation at Godai Bari Dhap was initiated in the season 1994-95 which continued for next three seasons. An excavation took place at Bhoj Vihara in 1993-94. The work continued here up to 2004 to exposed the large site. The sites conserved during this period were Jahajghata Hammamkhana, Gorar Mosque, Noongola Mosque, Pirpukur Mosque, MM Dutt's House, kantanagar temple, Raja Harish Chandra Dhibi, Sat Gumbad mosque, Lalbag Fort and Sat Gazi Bhuyan Mosque. In his period Archaeological Survey Report of Greater Dinajpur District (in English) and Greater Pabna District (in Bangla) were published.

Excavation at Lalbag Fort was initiated in 1996, which continued up to 2000, and it was resumed in 2005 and has been still continuing in every season with an interruption in 2006. Excavation at bharat bhayna was resumed in 1995-96, which continued in every winter up to 2001. Digging in three more sites at Jahajghata, Damdam and Namajgaon, were conducted. Digging at Godai Bari Dhap was initiated in 1995-96 and continued in the successive two seasons. Excavation at Ranir Banglow was resumed in 1995-96.

The department made an attempt to publish the second volume of the journal Bangladesh Archaeology. But since the reports were not available, the survey reports of only two districts Dinajpur and Pabna were published. From1995 to 2002 a good number of reports, research work and guidebooks were published. These included excavation reports of Ananda Vihara, Rupban Mura, bihar dhap, Halud Vihara etc. France-Bangladesh Joint Venture Excavation at Mahasthangarh and survey repors of Munsiganj District, research work on History of Dhaka based on Inscriptions and Architecture; A Portrait of Sultanat Period, guide book of Chittaging Ethnological Museum (Bangla) and a catalogue on Mahasthan Exhibition, Survey report of greater Faridpur and Khulna District (Bangla), a few guidebooks on Paharpur, Mainamati-Lalmai (Bangla), Lakhnabati-Gour (Bangla), and Khalifatabad, Bagerhat (Bangla) were published.

Excavation at Bharat Bhayna was resumed after more than a decade in 1997-98, and since then the work continued in every season up to 2001. The site Jagddala Vihara was first brought under spade operation in 1996-97 and resumed in 1998-99 and 1999-2000. The sites conserved were Kutub Mosque, Lalbag Fort, Patrail Mosque, Mir Kadim Bridge, Muktagacha, Shaheb Bari Mosque, etc. Excavations at Ananda Vihara and Mainamati Mound'1 were conducted in 2000-01. From 2001 to 2006 Badedihi, Bhat Bhita, Latikot Mura, Saliban Rajar Bari and kachari were excavated. The sites preserved in this period were masjidkur mosque, Barisal Old Collectorate Building, Fulchowki Mosque, Atia Mosque, Mathurapur Deul, Baliati Zamindar Bari, Hazi Khaja Shahabaj Mosque, Panam Bridge, Salban Vihara, Bhoj Viahara and Kutila Mura. During 2004-2005, the Archaeology Department of Jahangirnagar University conducted excavations at wari-bateshwar in Narshingdi District. Excavation at damdam pirsthan dhibi was initiated in 2004-05 and continued to 2009-2010. The sites conserved in this period were Hazi Mohammad Mohshin's imambara, Suvarara Mosque, Mitha Pukur Mosque, Tajhat Palace, Ulchapara Mosque, and Bithangal Akhra.

Shifting of Rangpur Museum from Rengpur Public Library Complex to Tajhat Palace was another important event. In 2006 the Archaeological department was finally shifted at Agargaon Administrative Area, Sherebangla Nagar. A new publication in Bangla named Pratnacarcha is being published from 2005.'

Excavation at Ananda Vihara was resumed in 2006-07 and continued in the following three seasons. In 2008-09 and in the following season Khan Jahan's residence was excavated. Extensive excavation works had been done by the department at Bihar Dhap in 2006-07, Salban Virhara in 2008-09 and 2009-2010, Vasu Bihar in 2007-08, Paharpur Buddhist Vihara in 2007-08. Conservation was carried out in Bihar Dhap, Paharpur, Bhoj Vihara, Rupban Mura, Latikot Mura, Panam City etc. The department has been caring out various conservation works at a regular basis in every season. [Shafiqul Alam]