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The Glazed Bricks from Bukan (Iran)

New Insights into Mannaean Art

By: Yousef Hassanzadeh

Mannaean studies as an independent field began with the discovery of Ziwiye in 1936 and the initiation of scientific excavations there (Boehmer 1964, 1988; Postgate 1989; Levine 1977). The archaeological site at Ziwiye was at first identified as Izbie, one of the important Mannaean provinces in the Iron Age of Iran. After this, great efforts were made to discover Izirtu, soon identified with Qaplanto near Ziwiye (Godard 1949, 1950: 7). But these identifications have since been discarded. In 1956, R. Dyson from the University of Pennsylvania began his extensive excavations on the Hasanlu mound, proposing Hasanlu IV as a Mannaean settlement. In a short time, the presence of Mannaean at Hasanlu became abundantly apparent (Boehmer 1964; Dyson 1989; Dyson & Muscarella 1989).

Figure 1

Figure 1. Map of north-west Iran, showing the Manneaen sites mentioned in this paper.

Between 1979-1985, illegal excavations were carried out on a massive scale at the site of Qalaichi Tappe, 7km north of Bukan (Figure 1). Some unique glazed bricks were discovered, which soon found their way to antique auction rooms, and were subsequently purchased by private collectors and foreign museums (National Museum of Tokyo, Ancient Orient Museum of Tokyo, and Middle Eastern Cultural Center of Japan).

In 1985, an archaeological team under the direction of E. Yaghmaee was sent to the site. During one season of rescue archaeology the team excavated many glazed bricks and a unique 13-line Aramaic inscription (Yaghmaee 1985). Since the translation in 1988 and subsequent publication of the inscription by Bashash (1996), there has been growing interest and study by linguists, with publication of further interpretive articles (Lemaire 1988, 1998, 1999; Ephcal 1999; Sokoloff 1999; Teixidor 1999; Fales 2003).

Figure 2 (Click to view)

Figure 2. Plan of the architectural remains at the site of Qalaichi (Kargar 2004, with some modifications).

The Qalaichi inscription indicates that the place in which the glazed bricks were found was dedicated to Haldi (god of war), and Hadad (god of storm, lightening and thunder). Moreover, the Qalaichi Inscription says that the temple is located in a place called Zatar (Bashash (1996) associates the word Zatar with Izirtu the capital of the Mannaeans). In regard to dating of the inscription, Ephcal places it in the eighth or early seventh century BC (1999: 117).

Excavations at Qalaichi restarted in 1999, under the direction of B. Kargar, and have revealed architectural structural remains covering one hectare. In this complex, a columned hall of 19x35m, and some spaces thought to have religious function have been discovered (Kargar 2004) (figure 2). These buildings were decorated internally with red mud, and for external decoration of the temple, glazed bricks were used.

The archaeological site of Qalaichi and its inscription provide valuable information on the recognition of customs and ideologies of Mannaean society. This paper announces preliminary analysis of the newly accessed glazed bricks from this period.

Figure 3 (Click to view)

Figure 3. Façade of dedication platform from Qalachi.

Figure 4 (Click to view)

Figure 4. Glazed bricks from Qalaichi, showing the body of a lion, wing of an eagle, and a human face, from Urmia Museum, Iran (Kargar 2004).

Glazed bricks of Qalaichi
The inscription and glazed bricks from the 1985 excavation, alongside those recovered from looters total 450 pieces, now accessed by the National Museum of Iran. A joint project between the National Museum of Iran and Department of Archaeology at Tehran University started in July 2003, with the aim of studying the glazed bricks. This research programme has ten phases, of which we have completed the following four:

Laboratory study including chemical study by XRD, Pixe and Thermo luminescence.

Raw material sourcing in the Bukan area.

3D architectural reconstruction.

Drawing of all motifs seen on the glazed bricks.


The glazed bricks of Bukan can be divided into two groups from the viewpoint of placement of motifs:


A: Bricks with motifs on the lateral side.

B: Bricks with motifs on the upper face.


In terms of visual coherence, the bricks cover a wide spectrum, from those made unintelligible due to damaged glaze, to intact highly vivid images. In this research, the motifs have been divided into six different groups: A- Botanic, B- Zoomorphic, C- Anthropomorphic, D- Combination (human and animal), E- Geometric, F-Anonymous.

These artistic traits can be attributed to 'Zagross Artistic Style', which covers a vast area from Marlik, west of Alborz mountain ranges, to Luristan in the central Zagross. This style blossomed in late second millennium BC and reached its highpoint during the first millennium BC. It is seen on archaeological sites at Marlik, Ziwiye, and Luristan. Throughout its use this artistic style utilised animal motifs intensively, and arguably influenced the tastes of local governors and their supporters. This natural style with its freedom of action, contrasts noticeably with the formal and more restrictive art of Mesopotamia (Charlesworth 1980: 52). These glazed bricks are being compared with contemporary images in Assyrian and Urartian Art, and also with the newly discovered Mannaean glazed bricks from Tappe Rabat (15km from north-east Sardasht, discovered and damaged by looters in 2004, excavated in 2005 by B. Kargar).

Figure 5 (Click to view)

Figure 5. Glazed brick from Bukan depicting a winged goat from the Ancient Orient Museum Tokyo, Japan (Tanabe 1983).

Figure 6 (Click to view)

Figure 6. One of the glazed bricks being studied at the National Museum of Iran.

This ongoing research project is expected to provide new insight into Mannaean art and different influences of other regional artistic styles.


I would like to thank M. Kargar, director of the National Museum of Iran for his support and help with the project, K. Abdi, H. Molasalehi, and M. Malekzadeh for their comments, F. Biglari for his help, R. Yousefi and A. Vahdati for translation and R. Arab for correcting the translation.



BASHASH, R. 1996. Decipherment of Bukan Inscription, in Shiraz (ed.) The proceedings of the first symposium of inscriptions and ancient texts: 25-39. Tehran: Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization Press (in Farsi).

BOEHMER, R.M. 1964. Volkstum und städte der Mannäer. Baghdader Mitteilungen III: 1-24.

- 1988. Ritzverzierte Keramik Aus Dem Mannäischen (?) Bereich. AMI N19: 95-115.

CHARLESWORTH, M.F. 1980. An Ivory Plaque from Ziwiye. Kand-o Kav (journal of Institute and Department of Archaeology of Tehran University) 3: 51-56.

DYSON, R.H. 1989. East of Assyria: The Highlands settlement of Hasanlu. Expedition 30/2-3: 1-127.

DYSON, R.H. & O.W. MUSCARELLA. 1989. Constructing the chronology and Historical Implications of Hasanlu IV. Iran 27: 1-27.

EPHCAL, I. 1999. The Bukan Aramaic Inscription: Historical considerations. Israel Exploration Journal 49: 116-121.

FALES, F.M. 2003. Evidence for West-East Contacts: The Bukan Stela and the Shigaraki Beaker. Paper given at Continuity of Empire: Assyria, Media, Persia, in the Intellectual Heritage of Assyria and Babylonia in east and west, Padova, 26-28 April 2001.

GODARD, A. 1949. Izirtu, La capitale du pays des Manneens, Zibie et Armaid. Comptes de Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres: 312-313.

- 1950. Le Trésor de Ziwiyè. publication du service archéologique L'Iran.

KARGAR, B. 2004. Qalaichi: zirtu: Center of Manna, Period Ib, in M. Azarnoush (ed.) Proceedings of the International Symposium on Iranian Archaeology; Northwestern Region: 229-245. Tehran: Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (in Farsi).

LEMAIRE, A. 1988. Une Inscription Araméenne Du VIIIe S. AV. J.-C. Trouvée À Bukân (Azerbaïdjan Iranien). Studia Iranica 27: 15-30.

- 1998. L'inscription araméenne de Bukân et son intérét historique. Comptes rendus L Academie des Inscriptions & Belles-Lettres: 293-301.

- 1999 La stèle araméenne de Bukân: mise au point épigraphique. Nouvelles Assyriologiues Breves et utilitaires LVII: 57-58.

LEVINE, L.D. 1977. Izirtu. Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie. Bd, V, life.3/4: 226.

POSTGATE, J.N. 1989. Mannaer. Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie. Bd.7, life.5/6: 340-342.

SOKOLOFF, M. 1999. The old Aramaic Inscription from Bukan, A revised interpretation. Israel Exploration Journal 49: 105-115.

TANABE, K. 1983. Animals in the arts of ancient orient. Catalogue of the Ancient Orient Museum. Tokyo: Ancient Orient Museum.

TEIXIDOR, J. 1999. L'inscription araméenna de Bukân, relecture. Semitica 49: 117-121.

YAGHMAEE, E. 1985. Discovery of a three thousand year old temple at Bukan. Keyhan newspaper Thursday, 12th March, p.6.

Yousef Hassanzadeh: Researcher

History & Luristan department

National Museum of Iran








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Extracted From/Source: Antiquity Vol 80 No 307 March 2006



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