Prehistoric Karachi

Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro offers an overview of ancient structures from the region

Prehistoric Karachi
The urban sprawl in Karachi is devouring its cultural landscape. While traveling in the purlieus of Karachi, one comes across many prehistoric sites – particularly rock art sites and ancient burials which have either been damaged or completely destroyed due to unplanned growth and mushrooming of housing schemes. The so-called development has played havoc with the heritage of Karachi and devoured some of the megalithic and rock art sites, not to mention the Chaukhandi tombs.

Rock paintings and petroglyphs have never been explored earlier in Karachi district. During my frequent visits to Gadap, Karachi, I found many rock art sites which date back to the prehistoric period.  Some painted rock shelters are located in different valleys of Karachi district, the prominent one include the painted rock shelter of Lahaut in Maher valley. There are some anthropomorphic figures and some signs painted in black and red ochre colour  at Lahut Jhudo rock shelter. One of the most prominent painted figures in the rock shelter is a deity. This figure is very expressive, with two circles on either side of the chest of the figure -  which may represent that it is female and hence I called it a ‘Deity of Maher’ in my book Symbols in Stone: The Rock Art of Sindh (2018). This Maher Deity was worshiped by the people who inhabited the Maher valley in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods.

A menhir of Thohar Kanaro

The Mesolithic site of Babro is close to this painted rock shelter, where one finds cherts, stone blades and numerous cup-marks which might have also played an important role in the ancient cosmology of the people of the Maher valley. The figure of the Maher Deity was retouched with white colour in a later period  and was venerated in the medieval period by Nath Yogis. There is also an anthropomorphic figure on another panel which might have been associated with Nath Yogis and I also called it the Deity of Nath in my book. It was painted in ochre colour, which symbolizes renunciation and is associated with world-renouncers particularly the Nath Yogis and other Hindu ascetics. There are also many other anthropomorphic figures which have been superimposed with white colour. Close to these rock paintings are  also located cup-marks which I  discuss in detail in my forthcoming book: Rock Art of Karachi-Sindh.

Apart from prehistoric rock paintings and petroglyphs, Karachi also boasts a large number of megalithic sites which are located in various valleys of the district. A prominent feature of the Megalithic burial practices are dolmens which were in vogue during the Iron Age in Sindh.  Dolmens are found across the globe. In India they are mainly found in Andra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. In Pakistan, there are megaliths, especially stone circles and menhirs but not a single dolmen has been reported from other provinces of Pakistan other than Sindh. The most magnificent menhir which is covered with petroglyphs is located at Thohar Kanaro near Gadap.

Image of a 'Nath' deity in the Maher Valley, Karachi

Apart from menhirs, dolmens are also numerous in the Sindh-Kohistan region  which comprises three districts – Karachi, Thatta and Jamshoro. In this region of Sindh, one finds a large number of megaliths which are still unknown to heritage enthusiasts of the country. A megalith is a monument made of large, rough and undressed stone alone or together with other stones. The menhir is a single standing stone, stone circle, stone alignment or row. The dolmen is also associated with such sites. In Sindh all these types of megaliths are found. The largest stone circle of Pakistan is also located at Thohar Kanaro village, about 40 km north of Karachi City, which I call the Stonehenge of Karachi.

In Karachi, predominantly in Gadap,  there are a number of dolmens. By definition, a dolmen is a single chamber with one, two, three or four large vertical stones supporting a large capstone as a lid.

The local people call these “Kafiran jo qabrun” (the graves of unbelievers). Interestingly, knowing that these are the graves of unbelievers, not a single dolmen has been damaged by the local community of Gadap and other tehsils of Karachi. The damage and destruction has been done by the owners of the farmhouses and housing schemes. One of the largest dolmen sites is located on Garhi Buthi (hill) near Kathore. There are more than 40 dolmens and 7 menhirs. Capstones of a majority of dolmens are lying at the site. Vertical slabs of some of the dolmens are badly weathered. Some recumbent monoliths carry ancient symbols which might indicate the ancient cosmology of those who built these dolmens. Apart from this dolmen site, there is another at Umeed Ali Gabol village in Gadap which is also in a bad state of preservation.

The valleys of Maher, Moidan, Mol and Malir in Karachi are also famous for   dolmens. One of the dolmen sites at Malir which was excavated by archaeologists of the Department of Pakistan Archaeology in 1982 has now become history – as a majority of dolmens became victims of development and encroachments.

The Culture, Tourism and Antiquities Department of the Government of Sindh with the collaboration of the Endowment Fund Trust for the Preservation of the Heritage of Sindh (EFT) should chalk out a strategy to document and immediately declare all the megalithic sites in Karachi as protected monuments, and promote them as potential tourist sites.

The author is an anthropologist and he may be contacted at

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