The who’s-who of archaeology in Pakistan

Natasha Shahid compiles a short list of Pakistan's most prominent archaeologists 

The who’s-who of archaeology in Pakistan
It would not be wrong to say that in the realms of global academia, some fields of study are “more equal” than others. Scientific study, both professional and theoretical, has long been deemed as superior to studies in humanities and social sciences; only studies in finance, business and commerce have recently managed to catch up with the academic giant. The result is that while many people look up to scientists and their achievements, both in history and in contemporary life, the endeavours of social scientists go unnoticed, no matter how important. Pakistan, being one of the least educated countries in the world, naturally is no different.

If I am to ask a random group of Pakistanis how many have heard of Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, I am positive many hands would be raised. Many others would know exactly what he achieved and when. He gave us the nuclear bomb, they would say. But should I ask them if they have ever heard of Dr. Ahmad Hasan Dani – the most important Pakistani archaeologist of all time – I am positive a significantly less number of hands would be raised. This is part of the reason why Pakistanis have such little respect for culture and heritage and immense respect for militancy. It’s about time we changed that.
Many know Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, but how many have heard of Dr. Ahmad Hasan Dani?

To add my two pence to this social service, I have compiled the following short list of Pakistan’s most prominent archaeologists of all time. Since I respect each of them equally, it would be unjust and disrespectful to number the list; hence all of the mentions should be taken in no particular order.

Dr. Ahmad Hasan Dani

Born on June 20, 1920, in Basna, located in the modern Indian state of Chhattisgarh – then a part of Central Provinces, British India – Ahmad Hasan Dani was more of a polymath than an archaeologist. The prominent scholar graduated in Sanskrit – reportedly with distinction – from Banaras Hindu University, located in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, in 1944. Dr. Dani himself used to recall that since he was a Muslim and the university was essentially for Hindus, he had to – at times – sit outside the classroom to listen to his teacher’s lectures. Hard work paid off and he won a gold medal from his department and subsequently started teaching there.

It is hard to pick highlights from Dr. Dani’s illustrious career. A master of fifteen languages, Dr. Dani also worked with Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1945 on the-then unknown Indus site of Mohenjo-Daro. He was the one who uncovered many mysteries of this great civilization, declaring that it was right at par with the celebrated ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Many of the most popular artefacts associated with the Indus Civilization – such as the dancing girl with bangles – were studied by him. Never one to conform, Dr. Dani opposed the idea that the modern inhabitants of South India were descendants of the occupants of the Indus Valley, driven southward by the Aryans.

But the Indus Valley Civilization was not his only forte – Dr. Dani studied Pakistan’s Buddhist sites, too, and co-authored an extensive work on the history of Central Asia, History of Civilizations of Central Asia, printed by UNESCO. He also co-edited the massive study, History of Humanity, published by Routledge, and wrote a history of Pakistan’s northern areas up till A.D. 2000. Dr. Dani’s scholarly curiosity evidently knew no bounds.

Dr. Ahmad Hasan Dani passed away on January 26, 2009, while he was serving as the external director of Taxila Institute of Asian Civilizations, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. During his lifetime, he introduced the archaeology department in University of Peshawar, established the school of social sciences in Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, inaugurated the Islamabad Museum, and was awarded the Hilal-i-Imtiaz. His contributions to academia and culture would never be forgotten.

Dr. Mohammad Rafique Mughal, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at Boston University. Either this picture is very old, or he doesn't at all look his age
Dr. Mohammad Rafique Mughal, Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at Boston University. Either this picture is very old, or he doesn't at all look his age

Dr. Mohammad Rafique Mughal

Another feather in Pakistan archaeology’s cap is Dr. Mohammad Rafique Mughal, former Director General of Archaeology & Museums, Government of Pakistan. Dr. Rafique Mughal’s expertise is quite different from that of Dr. Dani, but, nonetheless, equally valuable to Pakistani cultural studies.

Born in 1936 in Gujranwala, Punjab, Dr. Mughal is an alumni of the Department of History, University of the Punjab, where he received his Master’s degree, and that of University of Pennsylvania, where he received his PhD. On his brief yet informative website (, Dr. Mughal states heritage conservation, archaeology of Buddhism and Islam and civilizations of Central and South Asia as his main professional interests. His lengthy and illustrious career includes conducting dozens of excavations across Pakistan, including one with Sir Mortimer Wheeler in Charsadda, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Dr. Mughal's most important contribution is his efforts for the conservation of heritage sites

However, Dr. Mughal’s most important contribution to archaeological and cultural study – especially that of Pakistan – is his efforts for the conservation of heritage sites.  Serving as the Director of Archaeology, Government of Punjab for 9 years, and as the Director General of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Pakistan for 3 years, Dr. Mughal has had a big hand in the preservation of Pakistan’s ancient monuments – something that Pakistanis aren’t exactly fond of. Monuments that he has worked on include Lahore Fort, Wazir Khan Mosque, Shalimar Gardens, Buddhist monasteries and stupas in Taxila and Swat Valley and the architectural remains of Harappa. It is not a wonder, then, that the Government of Bahrain hired him as an archaeological advisor in 1980 – perhaps because his own country could not value his heroic contributions to academia and cultural heritage?

After holding many university positions across the globe, Dr. Rafique Mughal currently serves as Professor Emeritus of Archaeology at Boston University, MA, United States.

No holds barred: Dr. Ikram, four feet underground, works at a site near Ain Dabashiya, Kharga, Egypt
No holds barred: Dr. Ikram, four feet underground, works at a site near Ain Dabashiya, Kharga, Egypt

Dr. Salima Ikram

Due to a lack of space, I am able to pick just one more name out of a number of deserving candidates who should be included in this short list. I am slightly prejudiced in picking Dr. Salima Ikram, the renowned Egyptologist, over the likes of Mr. Hifz-ur-Rehman, the Sitara-i-Imtiaz awardee, since she is the only female archaeologist associated with Pakistan who has made a name in global academia.

Born in 1965 in Lahore, the turning point of Dr. Ikram’s life came when she visited Egypt at the age of 9. Struck by the country and its ancient monuments – especially a tour inside Khufu’s Pyramid – the young Salima was so captivated that she decided to make Egyptology her career – if not her life. She subsequently went on to study Egyptology and Archaeology at Bryn Mawr University, Pennsylvania, where she received a Bachelors (A.B.) in Classical and Near Eastern Archaeology and History. Subsequently, she went to the University of Cambridge to earn herself a doctorate.
Mohenjo-Daro - the site where Dr. Dani worked with British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler in 1945

Dr. Salima Ikram’s specialty is the faunal study of the Egyptian Civilization, particularly the mummification of animals. She has also worked with the National Geographic Society (see bio: and has been teaching at The American University in Cairo, since 1995; she is currently a Professor of Egyptology at AUC. Other than authoring many research works, Dr. Ikram has also composed a number works for children including, In Ancient Egypt: Gods and Temples (1998), Pharaohs (1997), Land and People (1997) and Egyptology (1997). Her website,, is a reservoir of Egyptology that everyone must pay a visit to.