The government must take necessary steps for the supervision, preservation and protection of the archaeologically important establishment that is being exposed by the ongoing excavation at Bhitargarh in Panchagar, says excavation team leader archaeologist Shahnaj Husne Jahan.
The excavation team over the last five years since the inception of the systematic archaeological investigation has been struggling to prevent the destruction of the historically important antiquity due to human intervention in various forms, Shahnaj told over the excavation work on the sidelines of a seminar here on Wednesday,
The excavation has largely been carried out by Shahnaj's students at University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) as well as some locals who were given some training and motivation.
"We now have a preliminary mapping of the site, spreading across a 25-square kilometre area. It’s likely that Bhitargarh is the largest fortified settlement ever found in the country, or even in South Asia," she said, adding that the structures at the settlement were possibly built between the 6th and 7th centuries.
"This must be protected. Much of the relics has already been destroyed, particularly the bricks, despite a High Court rule against any damage of the site," she said.
On June 14, 2011, the High Court issued a rule upon the government to explain within three weeks as to why direction should not be given for preserving the Bhitargarh Fort in Panchagarh and publishing the measures taken in this connection in a gazette notification.
The HC in its rule also directed the Panchagarh Deputy Commissioner and the Superintendent of Police to monitor the Bhitargarh Fort continuously for next six months so that nobody could damage the antiques at the historic fort site.
Shahnaj noted that a huge portion of the bricks from the huge ramparts, surrounding the site at four layers, have been dislodged by the locals for building new structures of their own.
"Extensive commercial plantation of Acacia and tea is also going on across the site," she complained.
"Only the government can protect the site by declaring it a protected area under the under the antiquity law (Antiquities Act 1968)," she recommended.
Talking about the progress of the archaeological search, Shahnaj said it is only the first phase of identification and excavation of the antiquities on the site that the ULAB team has completed since the systematic investigation began in 2008.
Over the next five years, paleo-environmental and geo-archaeological studies will be carried out to be more precise on the historical bearings of Bhitargarh, she said.
"We'll intensively study the bricks, potteries and other relics we've already found at the site. It'll take some time before claiming something final about Bhitargarh. You know the archaeological investigation on Mahasthan is not yet complete, although it had started ninety years back," she added.
Noted archaeologist of the South Asia region, and also the author of ‘Bangladesher Pratnasampad’, AKM Zakariah told UNB that based on the evidences so far found out at Bhitargarh, it can be said that it is one among the more ancient settlements located in Bangladesh.
"I’ve a firm conviction that Bhitargarh is a town of great antiquity of Bangladesh," he said.
Zakariah first visited the Bhitargarh site back in 1958 and had more than 50 visits there until the 80s.
Earlier, during her presentation at the seminar, Shahnaj said that until now the team discovered a number of brick-built ramparts and moats, four embankments running along the banks of the river Talma, flowing through the settlement, and on the bank of the river Korotoya, once the main channel of the Teesta River.
The seminar, titled ‘ULAB's Archaeological Excavation and Research at Bhitargarh’, was jointly organised by ULAB and Department of Archaeology (DoA) at Pratnatatta Bhaban.
Cultural Affairs Secretary Ranjit Kumar Biswas, ULAB Prof Emeritus Rafiqul Islam and DoA director general Shirin Akhtar also spoke on the occasion.
Shahnaj said the findings suggest Bhitargarh might have been an independent city-state with similar looking remnants the 6th-7th century city states in the Kathmandu valley.
So far 10 large ponds (Dighis) have been identified in the area. The largest, Maharajar Dighi, encompassing a 53-acre area, she said.
Shahnaj also pointed out the discovery of the plinth of a Buddhist stupa and a crucified temple inside the innermost enclosure of the settlement. "We also found antique potteries, seals and broken iron made plates and pitchers," she said.
Shahnaj also noted that the possibility of finding a part of the age old settlement in the adjoining areas of India cannot be ruled out.