By Mutasim Billah
Traces of a human presence dating back some 1,000-1,200 years have been found in the world’s largest coastal mangrove forest in southwest Bangladesh, according to local and foreign researchers.
The remains of the near-ancient buildings were discovered in five places within the Sundarbans forest, and various artifacts have also been found in forest areas up 83 kilometers (52 miles) away.
These findings were revealed in an intensely personal quest by a local independent researcher named Ism Azam.
Sufi Mostafizur Rahman, an archeologist at Jahangirnagar University and executive director of Oitihya Onneswan (Explore the Heritage), an archeological research group, told Anadolu Agency that this discovery adds a new chapter to the history of Bangladesh.
"If a deeper study of those structures is done, we may uncover many facts about the Sundarbans and the history of this land."
“More in-depth research is needed to determine how long and exactly when they were here,” he added.
Comilla University archaeologist Shohrab Uddin, also at Oitihya Onneswan, told Anadolu Agency that the discovery will add a new dimension to the Sundarbans’ history.
“Due to the remoteness of the forests of the southern region of Bangladesh, the history of the Sundarbans is quite unknown, but this discovery by Ism Azam opens the door to new possibilities,” he added.
Remote forest discovery
By observing the structures and analyzing the styles, Rahman estimated the age of the site at 1,000-1,200 years ago, around the time of India’s Pala Empire, from the 8th to 12th century, or possibly even older.
Although the structures seem geared towards trade and handcrafts, he believes there were also living areas.
In the remote areas of the Sundarbans, Ism Azam traveled for seven years to do a count of the local tigers.
While working in the forest, he came across ruins of clearly man-made materials.
When the top layer of the soil was wiped away, the foundations of long-lost structures emerged before his eyes.
“I found this archaeological site in 2015. Since then I’ve found some pottery, ceramics, and various utensils.
“Then I tried to come up with an explanation. I don’t have any academic training in this subject. Finally I got a chance to talk to archaeologists on Feb. 25 and they came to visit this site and recognized it.”
With the collapse of the riverbed, old structures have started to emerge.
The largest structures were discovered in the Khajuradana, Arpangasiya, and Shekhertake areas, while other structures were found at the Khol Patua river bank, Katka, and on the coast of the Bay of Bengal.
Asked if the tool and brick styles can help determine the age, Uddin said there were human settlements in different eras working to produce salt and engage in trade, but natural disasters and enemy invasions caused them to periodically collapse.
Help from abroad
Uddin recently worked with a team from Germany's Bremen University in Bangladesh to explore the geological structure and characteristics of the Sundarbans area.
He told Anadolu Agency that they found some ancient salt-making furnaces and utensils in the Katka area of the Sundarbans.
The German researchers examined carbon and other signs to determine the area’s age. In that study, Humayun Akhter, a professor of geology at Dhaka University, led the Bangladesh section.
According to his research, they found three salt production facilities in the Sundarbans’ Katka area. One of them was 250-300 years old, another was 600 years old, and the third was the most ancient, 1,000 years old.
The researchers found a mound in Katka called Tiger Hill. There they found signs of water purification and drainage -- signs that at that time, the local people used advanced technology. From 250 to 1,000 years ago, the people of the Sundarbans produced salt and exported it to East Asia and Europe.
The Sundarbans is a vast forest in the coastal region of the Bay of Bengal and considered one of the natural wonders of the world. It was recognized in 1997 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
*Iftekhar Mahmud from Dhaka contributed to this story