Landscape Archaeology: Cultural Continuity of the Cholistan Desert

Department of Archaeology, Hazara University, Pakistan

This paper focuses on the importance of archaeological and cultural landscapes within the Cholistan desert of Southeastern Punjab, Pakistan. The north-western part of Cholistan has been inhabited since the 4th millennium BCE. Although previous research discovered hundreds of archaeological sites based on surface collection from early Harappan period to Painted Gray Wares (3100-600 BC), no research work has been undertaken to try and understand the cultural continuity that is evident from the prehistoric past to the present in the region. Some outstanding research questions include: What is the reason for this continuity of occupation? How has the area been exploited differently through time? How is continuity and change reflected in the archaeological record? The present research project includes comprehensive survey and mapping of cultural continuity, including the dried Ghaggar-Hakra riverbed using ArcGIS. A field survey was conducted in order to collect material culture from archaeological mounds and historic forts of different periods, and GPS-generated tracks and locations, and pictures of the current situation of monuments, sites and nomadic occupation were produced. The results show three overlapping periods in the same region. Firstly, sites identified on both sides of the dried Ghaggar-Hakra River were inhabited from the Hakra ware period (3500-3100 BC) to Gray Ware Culture. Secondly, a pattern of forts, palaces, tombs, and mosques were constructed between the 3rd and early 20th centuries CE. Thirdly, a network of current nomadic settlements in the region still share many cultural traits with their ancestors. This paper will highlight the patterns emerging from the research and field data and propose interpretations of visible continuity and variation in human occupation of the region.