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Durham University

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Publication details for UNESCO Professor Robin Coningham

Ali, T., Coningham, R.A.E., Connan, J., Gething, I., Adam, P., Dessort, D. & Heron, C. (2006). South Asia's earliest incendiary missile? Archaeometry 48(4): 641-655.

Author(s) from Durham


A small burnt ball was recovered in 1995 from the basal fills of a ditch surrounding the Bala Hisar, or High Fort, of Charsadda, Pakistan. Associated by Sir Mortimer Wheeler with the siege of the ancient site by Alexander the Great in 327 bce, the ditch forms part of the city's defensive circuit. Using geochemical and microscopic techniques (X-ray diffraction, micro-FTIR, SEM and GC–MS) the ball is identified as an artificial composite of mineral (mostly barite) and flammable resinous organic matter originating from conifers from the Podocarpaceae, Araucariaceae and Cupressaceae. The physical and chemical nature of the find suggests that the ball was ignited in a fire, although whether this was a deliberate or accidental occurrence is impossible to establish. The analytical data, combined with the archaeological context of the find, leads us to evaluate whether the find represents southern Asia's earliest incendiary missile.