The legend continues
The discovery of Mehrgarh’s ancient civilization by the Frenchman Jean-François Jarrige and his wife Catherine Jarrige has been described as an epoch-making event.
French archaeologist couple Jean-François Jarrige and Catherine Jarrige are globally acclaimed for discovering the 9000-year-old Mehrgarh civilization of Balochistan (it is 500-years-older than Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations). Talking to this writer in Paris, Jarrige said he was born in a middle-class milieu.
“My family had a tradition of having books at home where education was considered more important than money. Any act connected with art and culture was deeply appreciated.”
Jarrige chose the theme of the Ganges for his dissertation. In lieu of mandatory military service, he had offered to teach French in Lakhnow for two years: “Students were gifted but strikes kept classes suspended. Telling pupils to let me know about opening of the University, I used to go for excavations at Indian sites.”
He said he went to Pakistan in 1963 as a 22-year-old student. “The person incharge of excavations there was looking for an assistant. As I was studying, I offered to go only for one session.” Jarrige had married Catherine, a fellow student, in 1965. She joined him in Pakistan two years later. The couple has two daughters: one is a photographer and the other a journalist. Jarrige said \their children were not interested in archaeology, “a difficult vocation in dust, mud and sun!”
Speaking about his ‘first taste of Pakistan’, Jarrige said: “Elections were being held under the Basic Democracy system. Everybody was in favour of Miss Fatima Jinnah yet Field Marshal Ayub Khan won!” About life in the metropolis in the 60s, he remembered that the French Embassy was still located in Karachi. He remembers “A small town with little traffic. You could have forgotten a suitcase and found it two hours later.” Maintaining that it was difficult for an outsider to gauge the causes and effects,
By M.M. Alam he observed that things had changed after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: “A lot of ‘traffic’ which did not exist, is here”!
Twenty three years old Jarrige was excited to discover a beautiful ceramic jar from the kulli culture - Hindowari - dating to 2300 BC. After a decade of work as an assistant to Jean-Marie Casal, he replaced him in 1973. Jarrige’s Mehrgarh historical breakthrough has a tremendous significance as it had established that Mohenjo-Daro’s history was deeply rooted in the soil.
This negated the universal belief that migrants brought the civilization to the Indus Basin. He said that there were older sites all over Pakistan that were buried under the sediment; civilizations brought to light by archaeologists that were of a later period, 3000 to 4000 BC. Speaking about the historic unearthing, Jarrige humbly said that the river had done the work for him, removing silt and exposing the 8000 BC civilization.
In 2004, Jarrige was appointed director of Guimet Museum ( a Mecca for aficionados of Asian Art, thanks to its 45,000 objects). Guimet is situated not far from the Eiffel Tower (where this interview was conducted). He had shown me around when the French public museums (including the Louvre, which houses the Mona Lisa) were closed.
Tracing back its history, Jarrige said that Emile Guimet, a French industrialist who was passionately interested in the Orient, founded the museum in 1889. Initially he brought back thousands of works of art from an 1879 scientific voyage. Later the range kept on increasing due to French expeditions to Asia, as well as donations and acquisitions. When closing in 1920, the Indo-Chinese museum at Trocadero handed all its riches to the Guimet Museum.
While the Louvre has art pieces from the western half of the globe (up to Iran), antiques from the east were displayed at Guimet. It exchanged its classical and Egyptian pieces for artifacts from the Louvre’s Asian Arts department in 1945. The director, while pointing towards objects, magnificently presented in appropriately lit spaces, said that earlier Guimet was a sleepy museum with few visitors. Many parts, including the third floor (Lacquer Rotunda), were in ruins and home to pigeons. After four years of renovation, the museum was reopened in January 2001, attracting a large number of art lovers.
A tour of the museum takes visitors to various regions of Asia covering south east, far east and central asia. The visitors are explained the civilizations of countries such as Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, China, India,