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Archaeological features of Kathmandu Valley uncovered

A series of post-disaster surveys and rescue excavations recently conducted by a collaborative team of international and national experts from the Department of Archaeology and Durham University, UK, have uncovered the clearest examples of archaeological features in Ground Penetrating Radar, in Bhaktapur.

Archaeological features of Kathmandu Valley uncovered
In Bhaktapur, researchers identified walls belonging to a monument 
which collapsed in the 1934 earthquake [Credit: UNESCO]
Running a trench from the stone-clad Vatsala Temple across Bhaktapur Durbar Square, the team first exposed an earlier phase of brick paving, which was laid over a series of pavements, drains and truncated walls on the north-south and east-west alignments.

They believe that these walls belonged to a two-storey rest house, depicted in a painting by Henry Ambrose Oldfield in the 1850s, which collapsed in the 1934 earthquake. On some of these walls, they tentatively identified earlier earthquake damage, including fractures, whilst also identifying the damage caused by modern pipelines.

At Hanumandhoka Durbar Square, the team focused on Kasthamandap. The monument that gives Kathmandu its name, which had completely collapsed in the April 25 earthquake and was then cleared by bulldozers. The quake had destroyed at least 30 per cent of the monument. After clearing rubble at the site, they identified the monument’s huge foundation walls. Rather than four independent corner plinths linked by double rows of timber pillars, as previously mentioned in architectural reports, they found that the main foundation was two metres deep and one metre wide, measuring 12 by 12 metres and was set in a clay mortar.

The only damage visible was from bulldozers during the emergency and the team was unable to find signs of damage related to the recent or previous earthquakes. The wall sat within a slot cut through earlier occupation levels below, illustrating the long sequence of human activity at the site.

Within this foundation, they excavated several phases of the Shah and Rana renovations and then exposed the brick cross-walls running east-west and north-south.

In addition, the cleaning of three of the four central saddle stones demonstrated that their pillars had originally rested on a copper plate on top of each stone as damp-proofing. Furthermore, each of these saddle stones had a deposit that included a gold foil mandala. Such objects are relatively rare and probably relate to elaborate construction rituals and the creation of cosmological significance, said the UNESCO Office in Kathmandu.

Offering training in rescue and urban archaeology to officers of the DoA and three municipalities, the team concluded by recognising that plans to swiftly reconstruct temples on existing ruined platforms will first necessitate detailed recording and scientific analysis of their foundations as few architectural studies of Kathmandu’s monuments have considered them.

Offering additions to the Department of Archaeology’s Conservation Guidelines for the post-2015 Earthquake Rehabilitation, they recommended that all subsurface interventions, including the rebuilding of monuments, should be preceded by rescue excavations in order to evaluate the presence of sub-surface archaeological heritage as well as to evaluate the stability of foundations to avoid a second cultural catastrophe — the destruction of the sub-surface heritage of Kathmandu Valley through rapid reconstruction. Rescue excavations and archaeological investigations are part of the remit of the UNESCO Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage.

Source: The Himalayan Times [January 16, 2016]

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