Mystery of giant cross found in far north of Pakistan

·2 min read
The Kovardo cross found in Skardu valley in Gilgit Baltistan province of Pakistan - Prof Muhammad Naeem Khan
The Kovardo cross found in Skardu valley in Gilgit Baltistan province of Pakistan - Prof Muhammad Naeem Khan

A mysterious giant marble cross found high in northwest Pakistan has sparked intense debate about its origins, after scholars suggested it might be an ancient Christian cross and the largest ever found in the sub continent.

The artifact weighing an estimated three to four tonnes and measuring approximately six feet by seven was found high in the Skardu valley earlier this month.

Excited Christian scholars have suggested the carving is a centuries-old St Thomas cross, showing Christianity reached further in the region and earlier than thought. But others believe the cross is either a pre-Christian symbol, or instead a piece of stonework from the top of a pillar.

The find has yet to be scientifically dated and lockdown precautions to stop the spread of Covid-19 are likely to prevent experts visiting the site at Kovardo in the Karakoram range anytime soon.

“This needs carbon dating and exact scientific evidence, but there's a lot of excitement and a lot of division,” said Prof Muhammad Naeem Khan, vice chancellor of the University of Baltistan.

Villagers told researchers from the university they had always known about the cross, but had never bothered with it and left it where it was because it could not be moved, Prof Khan said.

When news of the find was first circulated, Wajid Bhatti, who researches ancient Christian crosses at Islamabad's Quaid-i-Azam University, contacted the university and said he recognised it at once. He said similar but smaller crosses had been found further south east in Taxila. The region's position on Silk Road trading routes could have attracted Christian travellers, he said.

According to tradition, Christianity was established in India in AD 52 with the arrival of Thomas the Apostle in Cranganore, said Dr Elena Ene D-Vasilescu, from Oxford University.

But cross symbols were also widespread in the Indus region well beforehand, she said.

“As we know, the cross with four equal arms (like the swastika) is a symbol of life and order.”