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Department of Archaeology




The Balar Hisar as recorded by Marshall and Vogel (1903/1904)

The Balar Hisar as recorded by Wheeler (1962)

Wheeler's (1962) "key-types", which he used to establish the relative chronology of the site

Wheeler's (1962) Ch.I sounding section showing his relative phasing on the right, and Dittman's (1984) revised periodisation on the left. Colours have been added to aid interpretation (Petrie 2007)


Sir Alexander Cunningham (1871: 89) was the first to suggest that the Bala Hisar at Charsadda was the location of Pushkalavati, the ancient capital of Gandhara, and this was seemingly confirmed by Sir John Marshall's (1904: 177) discovery of a pedestal bearing the inscription 'in the district of Pushkala' close by. Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1962) identified the Bala Hisar as potentially one of the most important ancient sites in Asia, and when he conducted excavations there in 1958, he exposed a complete cultural profile through one area of the site. Wheeler (1962: xi, 10, 33–86) described his work as 'merely a preliminary reconnaissance' and felt that 'little more could be attempted than the construction of a preliminary chronology for the growth of the great mound', yet his findings led him to argue that the site was founded in the Achaemenid period and occupied more or less continuously up to the arrival of the 'White Huns' in the 5th century AD. Wheeler (1962: 37–103) only published a 'representative selection of ceramic material' from his stratified sequence and this has since become far more canonical than he may have intended, being used to date other sites in the surrounding region (see Ali et al. 1998: 1). However, the rapidity of Wheeler's excavations, the limited size of his exposures, his concentration of a limited selection of the recovered material, and his reliance on relative dating, left behind a wealth of outstanding questions about the site and its importance in the socio-economic, political and environmental landscape of the Peshawar Valley.

As early as 1984, Reinhard Dittman (1984: 159) argued that Wheeler's suggested date for the foundation of the Bala Hisar might be up to 1000 years too late (also Vogelsang 1988). Beginning in 1994, a collaborative team from the University of Peshawar and the University of Bradford directed by Professors Ishan Ali, Taj Ali, Robin Coningham and Abdur Rehman carried out excavations at the site, pursuing answers to seven major themes related to Wheeler's work. Although the exposures were relatively limited, these excavations provided clear absolute dates from stratified deposits for the first time, and confirmed that the Bala Hisar was first occupied in the 2nd millennium BC (Ali et al. 1998: 6–14; Young 2003: 37–40; Coningham 2004: 9, in press). Young (2003: 38) noted the 'Bradford-Peshawar excavations achieved the stated project aims, allowing a re-interpretation of the chronology, and therefore complete re-appraisal of the origins of urbanisation in this region, but they have done little to increase understanding of occupation of the site itself'.


Ali T., Coningham R.A.E., Durrani M.A., and Khan G.R. (1998). Preliminary report of two seasons of archaeological investigations at the Bala Hisar of Charsadda, NWFP, Pakistan. Ancient Pakistan, XII:pp. 1-34

Coningham R.A.E. (2004). Charsadda: The British-Pakistani Excavations at the Bala Hisar. Society for South Asian Studies (British Academy) Monograph 5. Oxford: Archaeopress

Cunningham A. (1871). The ancient geography of India. New Delhi: Low Price Publications

Dittman R. (1984). Problems in the identification of an Achaemenian and Mauryan horizon in North Pakistan. AMIT, 17:pp. 155-193

Marshall J. (1904). Archaeological Survey of India Reports for the Years 1902-1903. Calcutta: Gov. of India Press

Vogelsang W.J. (1988). A period of acculturation in ancient Gandhara. South Asian Studies, 4:pp. 103-113

Wheeler R.E.M. (1962). Charsadda: A metropolis of the North-West frontier. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Young R. (2003). Agriculture and Pastoralism in the Late Bronze and Iron Age, North West Frontier Province, Pakistan. BAR 1124. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports




 Copyright © M. Nasim Khan and Cameron Petrie, 2007