The site of Banbhore, located in the western delta of the Indus river, is one of the largest archaeological sites of Sindh, south Pakistan. Research on site was carried out by the Pakistani archaeologist F.A. Khan (Khan 1976) in the last century and resumed in 2011 by a French-Italian Pakistani joint expedition (Manassero & Piacentini Fiorani 2014, 2015; Felici et al. 2016, 2018) and from 2017 by an Italian-Pakistani team within a Memorandum of Understanding between the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart CUSH, Milan, and the Directorate General of Antiquities and Archaeology - DGAA, Culture, Tourism & Antiquities Department, Government of Sindh (Mantellini 2019a; Sindh Antiquities 2019; Mantellini et al. 2022). Most of the scholars agree with the identification of Banbhore as the prosperous harbour town of Daybul/Debol, mentioned in pre Islamic and Early Islamic written sources (Piacentini Fiorani & Fusaro 2022). Historical authors described Daybul/Debol as one of the major ports in the Indian ocean and a very active artisanal centre, manufacturing several items such as ceramics, terracotta figurines, metal items, shell ornaments and elephant ivory.

The site comprises a fortified town with a long occupation history (1st BCE-early 13th century CE). Recent excavation in the central area of the town (Trench 9) uncovered the largest deposit of ivory offcuts (about 100 kgs) ever known from a certain archaeological context, making Banbhore the biggest manufacturing centre of ivory so far discovered in antiquity (Mantellini 2019b; Mantellini et al. 2021). This ‘industrial’ production of ivory is attested by two workshops, characterised by ivory wastes, discarded semi-finished objects, very small chippings, and powder. Further evidence of ivory processing was found in three large ivory dumps around the two workshops. It is interesting to note that this ivory production can be dated to the early-middle 12th century, which corresponds to the decay and abandonment of the settlement.

The vast majority of the items found are production waste, some broken artefacts are present and very few complete pieces have been recovered up to this moment. The preliminary research confirms that the ivory comes from elephant tusks and that the bow lathe was the most used tool (Affanni 2019).

This project aims at: i) Extending the excavation in Trench 9 in order to further expose the ivory workshop; ii) Classifying the wastes into main classes and typologies; iii) Studying the ancient technology and the chaîne opératoire of the ivory industry, including the organisation of the work in the workshop and the industrial area; iv) Establishing the origin of raw material through DNA analyses.


Fig. 1 : Trench 9 at the end of the 2021 campaign with the main discoveries of ivory, aerial view from South (aerial acquisition A. Tilia, © CUSH)


Fig. 2 : Excavating the ivory workshop #1, 2020 (photo: S. Mantellini, © CUSH).


Fig. 3 : Examples of ivory offcuts from Trench 9, Ivory workshop #1, 2020 (photo: S. Mantellini, © CUSH). 



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SINDH ANTIQUITIES. 2019. Volume 05 No. 2. Sindh Antiquities.