Charles Masson

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The Stupa Nb.2 at Bimaran, where the Bimaran reliquary was excavated. Drawing by Charles Masson.

Charles Masson (1800–1853) was the pseudonym of James Lewis, a British East India Company soldier and explorer. He was the first European to discover the ruins of Harappa near Sahiwal in Punjab, now in Pakistan.

Early life[edit]

British by birth, Masson joined the Bengal Artillery wing of the East India Company Army in India and served in the Battle of Bharatpur.


In 1827, while stationed at Agra, he and a colleague deserted and traveled through parts of the Punjab that were under British control at that time. At Ahmadpur, they were rescued by Josiah Harlan and commissioned as mounted orderlies in his expedition to overthrow the regime in Kabul, Afghanistan. Not long afterward, near Dera Ghazi Khan, he deserted Harlan.

Between 1833 and 1838, Masson excavated over 50 Buddhist sites around Kabul and Jalalabad in south-eastern Afghanistan, amassing a large collection of small objects and many coins, principally from the site at Bagram (the ancient Alexandria on the Caucasus), north of Kabul. From 1827, when he deserted, to his return to England in 1842, it is estimated that Masson collected around 47,000 coins.

Masson was the first European to see the ruins of Harappa, described and illustrated in his book Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and The Panjab. He also visited the North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan, serving as an agent of the East India Company.

In the 1930s, the French Archaeological Delegation in Afghanistan (Délégation archéologique française en Afghanistan, DAFA) found unexpected evidence of an earlier European visitor scribbled in one of the caves above the 55 m Buddha at Bamiyan. This stated:
If any fool this high samootch explore,
Know Charles Masson has been here before[1]


Through his wide-ranging travels, Masson built up an extraordinary collection of artefacts largely (although not exclusively) from the modern states of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Numbering about 9,000 objects, they are now held by the British Museum.[2]


Books and edited volumes:


Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]