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Italian archaeologists work in Swat Valley

Karachi, Dec 6 (PPI/AGI): Italian archaeologists have worked for more than 60 years, digging, finding, restoring and preserving the treasures at the point where West and East meet in the Swat Valley, Northern Pakistan, reports Italian news agency AGI from Rome on Wednesday.

The valley was an important point on Alexander the Great’s expedition to India in 327 BC. It was also from there that Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) went to Tibet to introduce Buddhism, which influenced the history and culture of the Land of Snow to the present day.

The Italian mission has not limited itself to a merely abstract scientific function, but has become an integral part of the land in which it operates. Digging resumed in 2011, thanks to the farsightedness of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, using funding from the programme for the conversion of the Italy-Pakistan debt to carry out the project.

The ACT: Archaeology, Community, Tourism Field School project was completed in autumn. Almost 300 local people were trained to work on the sites that dot the Swat Valley, creating jobs by establishing the first government recognised association of archaeological guides.

Pakistan aims to develop tourism in Swat, which could be likened to an “Asian Pompeii”. The Italian mission, led by archaeologist Luca Olivieri, was asked to rebuild and refit the museum in Saidu Sharif opened by the founder of the mission, Giuseppe Tucci, in 1963. It was damaged by an earthquake in 2005 and a bomb in 2009 when the area fell into the hands of the Taliban.

“The secret passed on by Tucci himself […] is always to stay close to human realities, not to look down on them from a presumed scientific, or other superiority,” said Mr Olivieri in an interview with AGI.

The fact that Italians have been doing this work for 60 years is in part thanks to the quiet courage of the people who have represented the country.

Olivieri, who has been working in Pakistan since 1987, stayed there during the bloody period of Taliban rule, when Swat became an important zone for Al Qaeda behind the border with Afghanistan. This perseverance through difficulties, rare skills and the ability to nurture dialogue with local people are the hallmark of Italian scientific tradition worldwide.

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