The centre of a powerful ancient civilisation, Mohenjo Daro was one of the world's earliest cities -- a Bronze Age metropolis boasting flush toilets and a water and waste system to rival many in modern Pakistan. Some 5,000 years on archaeologists believe the ruins could unlock the secrets of the Indus Valley people, who flourished around 3,000 BC in what is now India and Pakistan before mysteriously disappearing. But they warn, if nothing is done to protect the ruins -- already neglected and worn by time -- it will fade to dust and obscurity, never taking its rightful place in history. "Everybody knows Egypt, nobody knows Mohenjo Daro, this has to be changed," says Dr Michael Jansen, a German researcher working at the sun-baked site on the banks of the Indus river in Pakistan's southern Sindh province. Jansen is at the forefront of a new effort to promote the site internationally while finding ways to protect what is left. In summer temperatures can soar above 46 degrees Celsius (115 Fahrenheit). "There is enormous thermo-stress," says Jansen, adding that salt from the underground water table is also damaging the ruins. But it's more than just the weather and time.
Pakistan's bloody fight against militancy has also raised the spectre of destruction by an Islamist group, much like Islamic State destroyed the ruins in Syria's Palmyra. Most horrifying, however, is the wanton disregard for Mohenjo Daro -- or "mound of the dead" -- by ordinary citizens. In 2014 police stood atop the main stupa as hundreds of people swarmed the site to, ironically, commemorate Pakistan's cultural heritage -- complete with scaffolding, dancing, fireworks, heavy spotlights and lasers. Sardar Ali Shah, cultural minister in Sindh province, vowed never to let such a thing happen again. "It's like you are jumping on the bed bed of a 5,000- year-old ailing patient," he tells AFP. Yet today curious visitors still roam the remains with impunity, many leaving rubbish in the once pristine-streets and wells. Jansen and his Friends of Mohenjo Daro society aim to promote the site internationally, with plans to recruit Pakistanis around the world for conferences, seminars and debates. Dr Kaleem Lashari, chief consultant to the Pakistani government over Mohenjo Daro, said they will also digitally archive the Indus script -- which has never been deciphered -- in hopes that making it accessible will increase the site's profile. At the site itself, he said, technical reviews are being held to examine the water logging issue and other ways to shore up the ruins, while exploring new, modern technology that allows researchers to ascertain what lies beneath the surface in the portions of the city not yet excavated. But, Lashari says, perhaps the biggest challenge remains Pakistan's international image, tarnished by extremism, corruption, poverty, and insecurity. "Foreigners are afraid to visit Pakistan and the site because of the chronic issue of law and order," he warns.
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