Ancient And Modern Rock Carvings At Lahut Tar, Karachi

Ancient And Modern Rock Carvings At Lahut Tar, Karachi
I discovered many rock art sites during my two decades’ fieldwork in Karachi and Jamshoro districts. Amongst these, the Lahut Tar in Mol valley in Gadap taluka, Karachi, is quite prominent. It is noted for both ancient and modern petroglyphs.

Lahut Tar rock-art site is located 15 km north of Kathore in the Karachi district. There are six huge boulders on the right bank of the Mol hill stream. All these six boulders contain ancient and modern petroglyphs. This is one of the largest rock-art sites in the Sindh-Kohistan area of the province, in terms of stupa engravings found in a single rock art site.

A boulder showing animal tracks at Lahut Tar, Mol Valley

Apart from the boulders, there are also engravings on the Lahut Buthi (hill), 200 meters south of Lahut Tar. On top of the hill are engravings made in modern times. There are seven panels on the Lahut Buthi. A majority of these engravings are of handprints, shoeprints and axes. Interestingly, the handprints are found with the names of the artists. Three of the handprints with an axe are engraved together. There are three handprints with engravings of an axe. The first hand from the top reads the name “Illyas Burfat.” There is a second petroglyph of handprints with the name of “Abdul Sattar Burfat, son of, Abdul Qadir,” and a third belongs to “Abdul.”

The name beside the axe is written “Pardesi.” This is all the handiwork of shepherds who made the engravings. They used to engrave on the top of the hill while watching their goats and sheep grazing and drinking water from the Tar (pond) below in the Nai Mol. All shepherds bring their flocks of goats and sheep to the Lahut Tar for drinking. There is a depression in the riverbed where the rainwater accumulates just below a huge boulder that had always attracted the shepherds and travelers who left their records in the form of engravings.

Camel track petroglyphs at Lahut Tar, Mol Valley

Apart from a row of three handprints and an axe, there are shoeprints and axes with the names of the artists. The axes have been engraved with attached long staff, showing the names of artists. “Fayyaz Buro” and “Abbas Burfat” are the names that appear near the engravings, apparently showing that some axe engravings were made by them. Some shoeprints appear a little bit earlier than the axes, which were not seemingly made by these two artists. Along with these, there are six axe engravings and numerous shoeprints, one human footprint and three animal footprints/tracks. The discovery of the animal footprints has not been found elsewhere in Pakistan in general and Sindh in particular. The Italian archaeologists in Swat and German archaeologists in Gilgit-Baltistan did not report any of the engravings of animal tracks. This is the first time that these animal tracks/footprints were discovered, by this author, at Lahut Buthi and Lahut Tar. Apart from these rock art sites, there are also some other rock art sites in Gadap taluka where there are animal footprints made by hunters to leave history and knowledge behind for their descendants to identify and track animals in the particular habitat in the present region of Sindh-Kohistan in Sindh province.

Entire surface of a boulder at Lahut Tar is covered with petroglyphs, Mol Valley

Two of the animal footprints appear to be feline. Apart from these feline footprints, there are three other animal footprints on panel no.3. There are two footprints, probably of a feline and a third of a camel. On panel no.4, there are six axe petroglyphs with the names of artists. The names “Aslam,” “Ismail” and “Moula Bakhsh” are written near all three axes. Three other axes also bear the names of artists with the name of the tribe as “Burfat.” The Burfat tribe inhabits the nearby villages. A majority of the shepherds come from these settlements.

On panels 5 and 6, there are bird engravings. Both appear to be engraved very recently as one of the engravings shows the name “Imam Bakhsh” as the artist who engraved the peacock. The seventh panel contains a game-board with two rows of cup-marks. Each of the rows has seven cup marks. Cup-marks are found everywhere in Sindh-Kohistan, Khirthar, Bado, and Bhit mountain ranges.
Several animal footprints/tracks also appear on the top of the boulder, apparently made by hunters to identify the tracks of each of the animals. This was one of the ways to teach novice hunters how to identify the animals' tracks before actually going hunting

Apart from Lahut Buthi, there are six huge boulders at Lahut Tar. All of these boulders contain ancient petroglyphs, and some few were made by modern artists too. The top of the first boulder is exceedingly engraved by the ancient artists of the Mol valley. In fact, the entire top of the boulder is engraved with human handprints, footprints, and animal tracks. Some handprints had been made in rows, singles or in groups. Some appear to be engraved together with shoeprints or with animal footprints/tracks.

Feline track and shoe petroglyphs at Lahut Tar, Mol Valley

Almost every animal's footprint was made on top of the boulder. However, feline footprints were engraved in good numbers. Shoeprints were made in groups and rows, appearing as if somebody just walked over them, leaving behind the tracks. This style of engraving shoeprints in a row perhaps was done intentionally by the people of Mol valley for invoking the supernatural. Along with shoeprints, several animal footprints/tracks also appear on the top of the boulder, apparently made by the hunters to identify the tracks of each of the animals. This was one of the ways to teach or share with novice hunters a knowledge of how to identify the animals' tracks before actually going hunting. Not all were made for keeping abreast of the wild animals. There are also some camel footprints. Clearly, the artists later made other animals' footprints which were not ostensibly done for communicating about hunting techniques to the later generations. Instead, it would seem that these were done as a pastime. The artists would copy the animal footprints made by the ancient hunters of the Mol valley, or by shepherds of a later period, or perhaps by travelers. Interestingly, this boulder also contains a few petroglyphs of bird tracks. In addition to prints of humans, animals and birds, there is an engraving of a wild lizard along with depictions of two egrets.

Hand and axe petroglyphs with names of the artists at Lahut Buthi, Mol Valley

Engravings of handprints are numerous at both Lahut Buthi and Lahut Tar. Handprints have been found around the world in many cultures and periods. In Asia, Australia, Africa and Europe alike, one comes to know through research studies that handprints are found in the rock art of these continents.

In Sindh, there are many rock art sites, where I have found engravings of handprints. The earliest hand petroglyphs are engraved on the walls of the caves and rock shelters at various rock art sites in Sindh. Some are also found in open-air rock art sites.

At Lahut Tar, handprints have been found on four out of six boulders. They are found engraved along with other engravings. Mostly, they are engraved with footprints and shoeprints. A few of them have the signatures of the artists and even mention dates near the engravings of handprints, making it easier to know when they were engraved and who engraved them. Sometimes, the artists only left the name of their caste. The left and right hands can be identified in the rock-art site of Lahut Buthi and Lahut Tar.

Apart from handprints, footprints also are engraved on three boulders at Lahut tar, which were carved along with shoeprints and other geometric motifs.

The shoeprint is also a recurrent motif in the rock art of Sindh. At every rock art site in Sindh-Kohistan in general and Karachi in particular, there are engravings of shoeprints. Shoeprint appears in a variety of forms and shapes in the rock art of Karachi. At Lahut Tar and Lahut Buthi, there are many petroglyphs of shoeprint which were mostly made by the shepherds who graze their animals in the nearby Mol valley.

The animal-track motif is also found in the rock art of Sindh. Interestingly, not a single scholar earlier reported the animal track/footprint from any of the rock art sites in Pakistan. Sindh is the only rock art region where there are animal tracks to be found in such contexts. Moreover, this motif is mainly found in the rock art of Sindh-Kohistan and was not reported from other parts of the Sindh province.

Shoe and axe petroglyphs at Lahut Buthi, Mol Valley

There are a large number of animal tracks at Lahut Buthi and Lahut Tar. One of the boulders at Lahut Tar is fully engraved with animal tracks. It is quite interesting to note that the ancient hunters of the Mol valley left behind valuable information for a later generation to know and identify the animals before going out for a hunt. Through these 'tracks' or footprints, one can easily make a visual identification of the type of animal that the ancient hunters or probably travelers engraved on the boulders.

Camel and feline tracks dominate at the Lahut Tar rock art site. Apart from Lahut Tar, animal track petroglyphs have also been discovered at the rock art sites of Thado Dam and Gidran Waro Gharoto in Gadap taluka. They are not as numerous as they are at the Lahut Tar. As such, the Lahut Tar rock art site is one of the largest in terms of animal tracks, foot, hand, and stupa petroglyphs in the entire region of Sindh-Kohistan. This rock art site is also the largest in terms of stupa concentration at one place in Sindh-Kohistan. Another unique aspect of this rock-art site of Lahut is the numerous representations of tamgas (tribal brands). In addition to animal tracks, there are also some bird tracks at the Lahut Tar rock-art site. Some animal engravings are also found at Lahut Tar.

Apart from foot, hand, shoe, animal, and geometric designs, Lahut Tar is also host to numerous stupa images which I have read discussed in the article that appeared on 31 December 2021 in The Friday Times-Naya Daur


Note: Excerpts have been taken from the author’s book The Rock Art of Karachi published in 2020. All photos are by the author

The author is an anthropologist. He tweets at: @Kalhorozulfiqar