The final round of excavations at Purana Qila in the heart of New Delhi has unearthed traces of painted grey ware, which is believed by experts to represent the Iron Age culture of the western Gangetic plain and the Ghaggar-Hakra valley, roughly corresponding to the period between 600 BC and 1200 BC.
Confirming the find, Vasant Swarnkar, Project Director, told The Indian Express: “We have found traces of painted grey ware or PGW but not yet in the stratified layer, which technically establishes the presence of a culture. We shall be able to ascertain with surety once the digging is complete, probably by the end of this financial year.”
The current round of digging, the fourth and final round, has reached 11 metres below the ground level, and the ASI team expects to reach the final earth layer, a couple of metres deeper, within the next one month. Once the excavation is complete, the plan is to turn the monument into a world-class tourist destination to showcase the “cultural continuity” of Delhi.
The present citadel at Purana Qila is believed to have been built under Sher Shah Suri, who established the Sur empire before his death in 1545. But according to ASI’s Swarnkar, the excavations — the last one was in 2013-14 — point to traces from the 3rd century BC, the pre-Mauryan period.
“Owing to its location by the Yamuna, the Purana Qila has been an important site for trade and industrial activity in all periods, be it the Mauryan, Shunga, Kushana, Rajput or Mughal eras. During the current excavation, we have also found terracota, beads, figurines and coins belonging to these dynasties,” he said.
Swarnkar said the site is the only place in Delhi, which has cultural deposits of the last 2,500 years in its various layers, from the pre-Mauryan to the modern era. On the ASI website, the description for Purana Qila says, “Sher Shah Suri seems to have razed to the ground the city of Dinpanah built by Humayun, and on the same site, which was also perhaps the site of Indraprastha, believed to be the capital of the Pandavas, he raised the citadel of Purana-Qal’a with an extensive city-area sprawling around it.”
The first two rounds of excavations — in 1954-55 and 1969-72 — by then ASI director, BB Lal, had unearthed traces of PGW under the mound. At the time, Lal had embarked on a mission to excavate various sites mentioned in the Mahabharata text and claimed to have found such traces as a common feature at all those sites.
On the basis of PGW, which archaeologically belongs to the 6th-12th century BC, Lal had claimed that Purana Qila is the Pandava kingdom of Indraprastha, estimating 900 BCE as the period of the war recounted in the epic.
Swarnkar said that post excavations, the site will be covered with a transparent roof and exposed to the public with proper signages and maps, according to a detailed plan. Additionally, an interpretation centre will be set up for visitors, which will tell them about the history and context of the site.
In 2014, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) notified 800 acres of the Purana Qila area, with nearly 100 monuments and forest, as the Dinpanah Archaeological Park. But the ASI and the Ministry of Culture have written to the DDA saying it would be in the “fitness of things” to name the site as Indraprastha Archaeological Park. Sources in the DDA said a notification in this regard is expected soon.