One of Pakistan’s greatest blessings is to be gifted with an abundance of culture and history; one of our greatest tragedies is our failure in maintaining these emblems of history.

Gold ornaments dating back to BC era were stolen from Sirkap, the second city of Taxila, during the restoration work at the museum on Sunday. It was later found that the labourers stole these antiquities worth millions of rupees due to negligence and unprofessional attitude of officials of department of archaeology and museum.

Due to the seriousness of the theft and the significance of the project, the Punjab department of archaeology and museums has rightly constituted a high-level committee to probe theft of antiquities.

Sirkap, 300 kms from Lahore, is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) protected heritage site since 1980. Such a protected site requires diligence and care from the government in the event of an excavation. It was due to the negligence of the archaeology department officials, including the site attendant, site supervisor and site engineer, that the labourers managed to steal priceless antiques and valuables. To allocate the contract of restoration of the ancient archaeological site of Sirkap to a local contractor is highly negligent and the worst strategy to employ while dealing with priceless and sensitive sites.

Further disrespect to the site is evidenced by the absence of an archaeologist while conservation work was being carried out. According to the excavation manual of department of archaeology, an archaeologist should be present at the site during the preservation or restoration work. The absence of any archaeologist is sheer violation of the manual instructions. Sources indicate that a site engineer was also not present due to a holiday- which shows us the level of care and efficiency being dedicated to such a sensitive project.

Archaeological digging is being done in Taxila after 87 years; the last time was done in 1912-1930, under the supervision of Sir John Marshall. These sites are a gift to our country, giving us prestige as well as economic privilege, as the last excavation produced gold ornaments now displayed in the Taxila museum. It seems that by treating this as a throwaway project, we do not deserve such gifts. These are not roads that one can destroy and rebuild, and once damaged, they lose their value. If the government cannot ensure professionalism and security, it should leave the artefacts in the ground instead of damaging them so.