Monday, 19 January 2015



Research Anthropologist
Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad


The paper deals with rock engravings and 'cupules' in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan. The capital territory abounds in prehistoric and historic sites. Almost every village in Islamabad boasts of historical and archaeological significance. Here several cupules and rock engravings have been discovered for the first time by the author. In this paper, I have discussed five rock art sites two situated in urban areas and three in rural villages around Islamabad.


Several prehistoric and historic sites have been discovered in Potwar/Potohar and Islamabad regions. This document is an essential addition to the history of both regions and shows that in the heart of Islamabad city and its vicinity, are many cupules and rock engravings. The discovery of pottery and engravings like cup-marks signify that these sites were sacred spaces and were held in veneration by people living nearby them.

Tracing the history of human presence in the region, one finds various prehistoric sites and historic monuments on both banks of the Soan River. For instance, at Rawat near Islamabad, Dina, Jalalpur and Rohtas in Jhelum Basin and Pabbi Hills the artifacts of the lower Palaeolithic period have been discovered (Allchin and Dennel 1989). Around Islamabad and Rawalpindi cities many sites of the Lower Palaeolithic period such as Gurha, Shahan, Dhok Haideri, Morgah, Lalazar, and Dhok Nawaz have been documented (Salim 1997). These all discoveries suggest that humans lived here long ago and left several types of remains including the rock engravings. Apart from the Palaeolithic period sites, the rock engravings from Potwar particularly at Mandori in Attock (Paterson and Drummond 1962) and petroglyphs around Gharila and Barotha in Haripur district have been recorded (Halim and Khan 1992). But nobody has documented the rock carvings in and around Islamabad which is also the part of Pothowar region.

At Pharwala, which is situated on the right bank of the Soan river, is a formidable fort of Gakhar built by Sultan Kaigohar in –1008 A.D (Hasan 2005:61)- which is believed to have been rebuilt by Hathi Khan Gakhar during the reign of Mughal emperor Babur (1526-30) (Ibbeston et al 1978: 278). On the right bank of the river is lying a fossil of an animal (possibly the leg?) and the historical monuments like mosque, tomb and graves of the Gakhars and their soldiers. To the south of the mosque are a series of the rocks where one finds some ancient geometric engravings and cup-marks. This series terminates at Peja village where the cup-marks were documented.

Since 2003, I have been travelling in the Potwar region and Islamabad in particular documenting monuments and the remains of historical significance. One such site is located near the village of Bobri in Islamabad. The site is locally called as Jira, where one finds rock shelters overlooking dry Nullah (hill stream). As regards the term Jira, there are many possible theories; it could be a phonetic variation of word jatra or yatra meaning journey or pilgrimage to tirtha or crossing place or to any of countless shrines dedicated to goddesses and gods, most often of very local origin or fame (Gold 1989). Another possible derivation of the word could be from Jiva, meaning soul. One finds there clothes of women apparently offered to the deity when their wish was fulfilled. Upon their first visit after marriage to such sites or the shrines, they used to offer their clothes to the deity. This custom is till widespread in some parts of Tharparkar, Sindh, particularly in Nagarparkar among the Meghwal women who offer their clothes to Sachia Devi, an avatar of Parvati.

A large number of China pottery and other utensils found from the site indicate that the site was the sacred space associated with the Hindus before partition. Most of the China pottery pieces bear the swastika representation thus indicating that it might have been the sacred space dedicated to Ganish/Ganpati because Swastika is associated with this deity Such sites had always fascinated certain tribes who made shrines and invoke them for the redressal of their problems.

Apart from this site, there are two other sites which surround Bobri village where one also finds potsherds and stone tools. One such site is located south of the village where there are two rock shelters. In the south-east of the Bobri village is another ancient sacred site overlooking a Nullah. This huge rock was used as shelter by prehistoric people. It is still used by the shepherds to either beat the heat or save them from the torrential rain.

Other sacred rocks are located in Phulgran village of Islamabad. These natural menhirs or standing stones and rock shelters overlook the agricultural fields. These were possibly invoked by ancient people before sowing the seeds. One finds some votive tables there indicating that ancient people offered the votive tables to their gods whenever the crop was in surplus.

A series of such sacred rocks are located in the villages of Darwala, Bora Bangial,

Fig 1

Peja (Fig.1), Gora Mast, Bhimbar Tarar and Bagh Joghian where there are a number of sacred spaces depicting geometric signs and cupules possibly for the performances of the rituals by ancient as well as modern humans. Sacred rocks emerge from the Soan River at Bagh Joghian and run east and south-west. These rocks terminate at the village of Peja in the shape of three natural menhirs/standing stones making trinity. These menhirs could be the trinity for the Hindus. These natural landscapes were domesticated by ancient people through various rituals. Through the performance of various rituals these natural landscapes were converted into cultural landscapes and a number of shrines were made to magnify the power of the supernatural. At these rocks one also finds some geometric designs particularly triangles cut deep into rocks possibly for appeasing the gods and the goddesses.

In the ancient times, it also attracted the people who worshipped the nature‟s wonder. In order to magnify the nature‟s wonders particularly the rocks and stones, people made geometric designs and cup-marks or cupules. „Cupules‟, technically, a form of rock engraving or „petroglyph‟ are more accurately categorized as a distinct category of rock and place marking that is intimately associated with inner and outer landscapes (Tacon et al. 1997). Cupules are found in some lower Palaeolithic traditions, they are very common in Middle Palaeolithic contexts, some have been reported from Upper Palaeolithic times, and they occur in numerous Holocene traditions around the world. For instance, cupules said to appear very commonly in the Neolithic and Bronze Age contexts, but also in those of Iron Age antiquity and in Europe they were still frequently made in the middle ages. In some parts of the world, notably in Australia, the production of cupules only ceased in 20thcentury (Brdnarik 2008:62)

There are many such rock- art sites in and around Islamabad where both the geometric designs and cup- marks carved on the rocks are found. The most amazing cup- mark sites are located in Bagh Joghian, Sain, Phulgran, Bobri, Gumbat and Peja. Apart from these engravings, there are some sites in the heart of Islamabad City which only depicts the geometric signs. One such site is situated in the Buland Market in the G-10/1 sector of Islamabad. The cupule sites at Peja, Gumbat, Arazi Sahal and G-13 sector of Islamabad and the petroglyphs and cupule site of G-10/1 are being discussed hereafter.


The Peja village is situated 8 km north of Airport chowk in Islamabad. The word Peja is a phonetic variation of puja meaning worship. There are three standing rocks looking like menhirs. These rocks were possibly worshipped since ancient times until the partition because one finds pottery of modern times lying close to these rocks.

The cup-marks of the Peja are pounded on the rocks which lie south of the three natural menhirs. There are three cupule sites at Peja. All the three sites are in similar horizontal style.

Fig 2

In the first site there are 16 cup marks each running in double rows. Each row has 7 cup- marks flanked by one on either side. The second has also the same pattern with 16 cup- marks running in double rows with each row bearing 7 cupules flanked by each on the either side of the row (Fig. 2). However, near these cup-marks are squares and some vertical and horizontal lines. The symbolism of 16 is very interesting. And at some sites one finds 14 cup-marks running in double rows with each row having 7 cup- marks. It may reflect the cosmology of the people in prehistoric and proto-historic periods. It might have been used for ritual purposes. Or these are the game boards. Near these cupules are the some geometric markings both ancient and modern.

Fig 3. View of the Rock shelter at Gumbat.


Gumbat is located 10 km north-east of Rawat near Luni. Gumabt might have been Buddhist site because word indicates a domed structure possibly of the Buddhist period. This Gumbat might have been either monastery or stupa. The large number of painted pottery, cooking pots and other artifacts were scattered on the surface of a ridge running north- south direction, some three hundred feet above the ground overlooking agricultural fields. The remains of foundation walls around the top of the Gumbat were observed suggesting that this ancient settlement was fortified. To the northern side of the ridge are located painted rock shelter (Fig.3) and cupules while to the southern side of the ridge is the remains of the ancient fortification walls. An eidgah of the modern period is also located on the top of the southern ridge.

The first site depicts 14 cupules in two rows with each row having 7 cup-marks.

The other site also depicts 14 cup-marks in the same style. Close to these cup-marks are the geometric designs particularly rectangles, circles, squares, vertical lines, and triangles which were engraved by people to magnify the cup-marks. The existence of triangles and squares rectangles and mandalas (circles) near the cup-marks suggest that they played a significant role in the cosmology of ancient cultures and were the sacred symbols venerated by people in ancient times.

Apart from these small cup-marks in groups there are some individual cup-marks with the traces of the colours which were possibly used for performing certain rituals or making paints.


The cup-marks have also been discovered north-east of Arazi Sahal in Kallar Syedan tehsil, now part of D.H.A and Bahria Town of Islamabad. There are some ancient graves and stone slabs, one of which depicts 14 cupules running in double rows. Another slab depicts a cross motif. Interestingly, in the south-west of the ancient cemetery, the remains of ancient fortified walls similar to Gumbat were also noticed.


Some cup-marks have also been observed on the surface of the rock shelter situated in the G- 13/4 sector of Islamabad (Fig.4). The cupules recorded here resemble with those documented at Peja and Gumbat sites. There are 14 cup-marks running in double rows and some of them are unfinished. Close to these cupules, the modern engravings were observed. To the west of 14 cupules, several individual cup-marks were recorded.

Fig 4. Modern cup-marks found in G-13/4 Sector, Islamabad.


The two rows of rocks stretch out west and east of the Usman Mosque at Buland Market in G- 10/1 (Figs 5&6). Before entering into the eastern gate of the mosque, one notices engravings on the rock shelter lying close to the gate. The eastern row of the rocks depicts some engravings. They lie on the ancient route that led to Shah Allah Ditta caves and beyond Taxila. After the development of the sectors of G-10 and G-11 many such rocks were destroyed. It is possible that some of the destroyed rocks may have depicted the engravings.

A rock shelter close to the eastern gate of the Usman Mosque in G-10 also depicts 25 geometric engravings. There are some squares with inner horizontal lines, rectangles and one cross with two cup-marks on each side.

Fig 5. Engravings found in Buland Market G-10/1 Sector, Islamabad.

Moreover, just opposite the G-10 Markaz, another boulder close to Bella Road contains cup-marks. There are six irregular cup-marks pounded on the boulder which are morphologically different from the cupules documented at Peja, Gumabt, Arazi Sahal and G-13 sites.


In Pakistan, there are many regions where there are the cupule sites. Of these, Kandak valley in Swat (Olivieri &Vidale 2004, 2005), Gaj in Johi Tehsil of the Dadu district of Sindh (Personal Observation), in Chilas, Diamer district of Gilgit Baltistan (personal observation), Tor Derai in Duki tehsil of Lorali district (Qamar 1974-1986) are quite prominent. I have seen a similar pattern of the cup-marks in the Tor Deari where there are numerous other rock carvings and inscriptions. There are two cup-mark sites. One site has 14 and the other 16 cupules. In Gaj River in Johi tehsil of Dadu, Sindh, there are cupules pounded on the rocks close to the geometric figures.

Fig 6. Engraving of Cross on Rock shelter at Buland Market.


The discovery of rock carvings in Islamabad is testimony to the fact that the history of Islamabad goes back to antiquity. The fifty-year old city indeed holds a long history which is depicted on the boulders and rock shelters scattered in and around the city.

The cupules documented at Peja, G-13, Arazi Sahal and Gumbat in Islamabad show similarity with those recorded in different parts of Pakistan and have either been used for rituals or for recreational purpose. The pattern of the horizontal cupules running in double rows suggested that they may have been used for certain sport by the people. However, those of G-10/1 are carved in a vertical style. There is only one row depicting six cupules of irregular shape and cannot be used for any sort of game. Those of Peja, G-13 and Gumbat are of a hemispherical shape and carved in horizontal style.

More importantly, the symbolism of 14 and 16 was important in the cosmology of the ancient tribes, hence, I invite rock art scholars to carry out further research on cupules of Islamabad.


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