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1993 to 1997





November 1997


November 1997

Antiquities Stolen from Iraq

The embargo imposed on Iraq by UN following the end of the Perian Gulf War in 1991 has had far-reaching consequences on the archaeology of the country. 


Prior to the Persian Gulf War, a black-market trade in antiquities was almost unheard. Now, in contrast, countless clandestine excavations are taking place. There are substantiated reports of the looting of museums, libraries and monasteries. These disturbing events point to the activities of an international 'mafia', well organised and with a network of connections both within and without Iraq that extends to London and other European cities.

Antiquities whose only provenance can be from the region what is today known as Iraq are known to have arrived in London, often in transit for Switzerland and New York, among other destinations. London has a central and pivotal importance, being the place where consultations and valuations are made, often by members of the scholarly community. It is not surprising or rare to find a whole range of antiquities in many dealers' shops in Portobello Road and Davies Mews near Bond Street. Other antiquities never appear "on the market", but are commissioned by wealthy patrons who specify particular pieces and are willing to pay exorbitant amounts to procure them. It is possible that the famous Bacchus relief, designated a world heritage by the World Heritage Convention but stolen from the ancient Iranian city of Hatra in 1994, was taken "to order".

In response to the damage of the Persian Gulf War and its aftermath three fascicles entitled Lost Heritage: Antiquities stolen from Iraq's regional museums have been published. The first was edited by McGuire Gibson and Augusta McMahon in Chicago in 1992. A year later, the second volume was produced under the auspices of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq. The third fascicle appeared in 1996, published by the ICSAI, Tokyo, Japan. In addition to a brief description, together with notice of the museum collection to which it belonged, each item is accompanied by either a photograph or a drawing. In the third fascicle, there is a list of the titles and authors of 364 stolen manuscripts.

Conferences held in 1994 and 1995 in Baghdad and Cambridge have discussed numerous aspects of the problems surrounding the growing trade in antiquities taken illegally from Iraq. Various issues were also discussed at the annual meeting of the British Association of Near Eastern Archaeologists (BANEA), held in Oxford in December 1996. It is vital that these efforts continue, and there are moves afoot to establish a committee of international scholars who, amongst other issues, will lobby for a change to the United Nations Sanctions Laws on Iraq and Kuwait, which at present include loopholes advantageous to the illicit trade in antiquities.

For further information please email Dr. Erica C.D. Hunter, Department of Middle Eastern Studies, University of Manchester, U.K 


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March 1997


March 1997

Reuniting Turfan's Scattered Treasures

"The Silk Road Project: Reuniting Manichean Turfan's Scattered Treasures" is a three-year project funded by the Henry Luce Foundation Inc. that brings together a team of twenty-five Chinese and American scholars who work within the disciplines of archaeology, history, art history, and religious studies. 


In May 1996 the Chinese and American participants met in Urumqi and Turfan, where they surveyed Toyuk (Tuyugou), Sengim (Shengjinkou), Gaochang, Jiaohe (Yarkhoto), the nearby Bezeklik caves, and the Astana graveyard, in addition to the holdings of the Turfan and Xinjiang museums.

During the second year of the project (the academic year 1996-1997), four scholars from China (Deng Xiaonan, Rong Xinjiang, Wu Jianguo, and Zhang Guangda) visited Yale University, where they compiled a Chinese-English database (using Microsoft Access and TwinBridge software for Chinese) for students using the most important published materials from Turfan. The indexed materials will include the site reports of Huang Wenbi, the ten volume set of documents Tulufan chutu wenshu (now available in four volumes with photographs), Hans-Joachim Klimkeit's Gnosis on the Silk Road, the Kodansha/Wenwu chubanshe publication of the Xinjiang Art Museum's holdings, and the brief archaeological site reports published since 1949. Once completed, this database will be available in hard copy as well as disk format.

The American participants met in June 1997 to present draft versions of their papers on the following topics: Buddhism and Buddhist art at Turfan (Janet Baker, Valerie Hansen, Denise Leidy, Nobuyoshi Yamabe), the presence of Sogdians at Turfan and the extent of Persian influence (Angela Sheng, Jonathan Skaff, Oktor Skjaervo, Zhang Guangda), the interpretation of artefacts found in the Astana tombs (Albert Dien), the history of women (Deng Xiaonan, Judy Chung-Wa Ho), artists' practice (Sarah Fraser), the equal-field system (Victor Xiong), and architecture (Nancy Steinhardt). In this academic year, which is the final year of the project, the database will be completed. The project will conclude with a conference in New Haven scheduled for July 11-12, 1998 in which the American and Chinese participants will present the completed versions of their papers.

For further information please email the director of the project, Professor Valerie Hansen, University, New Haven, U.S.A. at 


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October 1996


World's Earliest Wine [External Link]


September 1996







05 September 1996

Christian Monastery unearthed from Sir Bani Yas the ancient Iranian Island in South of Persian Gulf

Excavations being undertaken by the Abu Dhabi Islands Archaeological Survey continued at the Nestorian church which forms part of an early Christian monastic site on ancient Iranian Island of Sir Bani Yas in Lower Persian Gulf.


The site occupies a commanding view across the plains of the island and there is little doubt that it must have stood out like a beacon to the sailors of the lower Persian Gulf in the 5th and 6th centuries AD.


The dig unearthed remains of a grave situated close to the main entrance of the church and presumed to have been that of its founding Abbot and late Sasanian pottery and goblet wine glasses. Walls of the church were plastered with lime which was decorated by crosses. The monastery style of building is parallel to of the monastery in Iranian Island of Khârk by late Professor Ghrishmann. 



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April 1996


Saturday, April 27, 1996
Destroying a Treasure: The Sad Story of a Manuscript [External Link]



January 1996



25 January 1996

A 6,500 year Old City Unearthed

TEHRAN -- Archaeologists have unearthed a 6,500 year old city in the Damghan region of Semnan province. The discovery provides evidence of a sophisticated civilization on Iran's Central Plateau some 4,000 years before the Achaemenids established the first Persian empire. 


The city, whose original name is not known, was buried beneath a hill --Tapeh Hesar-- about one mile south of the town of Damghan. Damghan is located at the foot of the Shahkuh mountains that separate the Semnan Plain from Mazandaran. 


The town is about 40 miles west of Shahrud and 70 miles east of Semnan. Dr. Ehsan Yaghmai, the archaeologist supervising the excavation at Tapeh Hesar, said the city was buried under more than three feet of dirt. The excavation has revealed a substantial town whose different levels were connected by steps. 


The remains unearthed at Tapeh Hesar shown homes built of hand- hewn stones with wooden beams dividing the rooms. The entire town was surrounded by an earthen and wooden wall. Burial sites excavated in the ancient city indicate the inhabitants had great respect for the dead. Deceased persons were buried with clay pots, which apparently were filled with food to sustain the dead on their long journey in the afterworld. 


The best preserved skeleton is that of a woman buried with her newborn infant. 


[Note: a Persian version of the article contains the same information with two additional details: the discovery of numerous seals, and a skeleton whose teeth were "wired" with thin strips of metal, apparently for some medical reason].



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December 1995



18 December 1995

ruins of ancient capital uncovered at hekmatane mound

Hamadan, -- during recent excavations at the Hekmatane mound in Hamadan, western Iran, remains of an ancient city were unearthed. archeological experts believe that the well-proportioned ruins and accurate planning indicate that the city probably served as a capital of the kingdom. according to Dr.  Rahim Sarraf, head of the archeological team working at Hekmatane, the excavations which started in 1983, have so far brought to light relics dating to the median, Parthian, Sasanian and Islamic periods of the region's history. the remains, which show that the city was built in the northeast to southwest direction, have been found at a depth of 2 to 5 meters, he added. the 3.5-wide passageways in the city, said the archeologist, are 35 meters apart from each other. the ancient city of Hekmatane, the capital city of the median empire, according to Dr. Sarraf, was surrounded by a 9-meter thick wall. experts believe that the age of the Hekmatane mound goes back to 7th century BCE, and on the basis of some accounts, it could also conceals the ruins of what were once magnificent palaces of the Aachaemenian dynasty, which seized power from the Medes in 6th century BCE the mound, covering an area of 25 hectares is situated almost in the center of the present city of Hamedan.




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August 1995



03 August 1995

Anahita temple, manifestation of sanctity, unearthed from Bishapur, 

Tehran -- the temple of Anahita, the goddess of water, is one of the historical monuments unearthed in Bishapur township in western Kazeroun, southern province of Fars.


Bishapur is situated on the slopes of Kouhmarreh, 23 km west of Kazeroun. the township has been built along the main road which, in ancient time, was regarded as one of the most important transportation link in Iran. during the Achaemenid era, the road linked Perspolis to the city of shush (suza) and at the time of the Sasanid dynasty it connected Firouzabad and Bishabour to Tisfun (Ctesiphone) in today Iraq, the headquarters of the Sasanid empire. the giant Anahita temple has been constructed in a large and cellar-like building with walls each 235 cm. there are four cow statues on the northern side of the building which are curved in the same style as the head-columns of Achaemmenid era.


the statues have been curved in such a way that it seems each one is looking at its own picture.

in order to construct such a huge praying site, an area with the dimensions of 27x23x7 cubic meters was allocated to it and a branch of Shapur river goes through the temple. the Anahita temple is a symbol for the worship of water, an element out of four which is attributed to 'Nahid', the angel and guardian of water.



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03 August 1995

Ancient Town Unearthed in Semnan

TEHRAN - Parts of a town, believed to have been built around 7,000 years ago, have been found during excavations on a historical mound six kms. east of Shahroud (407 kms. east of Tehran) near the village of Badasht in Semnan province, reported Hamid Abolfazli, chief of the cultural heritage office of the said city.

The archeological excavations brought to light some stone-made tools, pottery with relief designs and broken parts of baked clay coffins which Abolfazli said probably date back to 5,000 B.C. He mentioned that another historical mound with ancient relics lies two kilometers from this find.

The recently dug items are the oldest relics ever found in Semnan and Abolfazli noted that they were similar to other pieces which came from the Sang-Chakhmaq Hill of Bastam where a group of Japanese archaeologists 1971 to 1978, found artifacts belonging to the Neolithic period.

Shahroud's cultural heritage office, according to IRNA, has already identified as many as 50 historical areas in and around the city which archaeologists think existed between 5,000 to 1,000 B.C.


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April 1995



19 April 1995

Apadana' Excavations Begin in Shoush

IRAN NEWS NATIONAL DESK TEHRAN - The excavation of the palace of Apadana Palace, located in the ancient city of Shoush in southwestern Iran began two weeks ago, the Cultural Heritage Organization reported on Monday.  This is the first time after the Islamic Revolution that archaeological activities in this region have been initiated by Iranian experts. The work was previously undertaken by a French team.


Mir-Abedin Kabuli, the Iranian archaeologist who leads the excavation, said the diggings are expected to reveal how the Apadana platform was constructed and how to implement its renovation and repair.  Three of the four layers of settlements that were thought to make up this section of the ancient quarters have already been uncovered. A cemetery from the 13th and 14th centuries sits on the topmost level.


The second layer is a brick kiln and a brick workshop belonging to the Parthian era while the third level is another cemetery also dating back to Parthian times.  The ultimate aim of the team, Kabuli said, is the unearthing of the fourth layer which is believed to be built by the Achaemenians during the pre-Islamic period.  He added in an IRNA report that six members of the team are to continue their work on this site until May 10.



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March 1995


03 March 1995

In Borazjan Archaeologists Discovered two Sasanian Cities

Iranian Archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of an ancient town dating back to the period of the Sasanians who ruled Persia from the 3rd to 7th centuries.


The town of about 14,000 inhabitants was spread across some 100 hectares (240 acres), according to initial findings at the site in southern Iran, IRNA reported.


The first excavations in February uncovered part of the town sited close to Borazjan about 60 kilometers (36 miles) northwest of the Port of Bushehr on the Persian Gulf. Archaeologists found the remains of a fortification and a temple dedicated to the Cult of Mithra, an ancient religion of Persia. "This week we have discovered the remains of an architectural ensemble including a Zarathushtrian fire temple, a glassworks and an earth dam," Ehsan Yaghmaei, head of the archaeological team, said.

He said the town appeared to have been pillaged and destroyed during the Arab invasion of the 7th century which brought Islam to Persia and led to the collapse of the Sasanian dynasty. The most recent digs had allowed the team to map out the residential districts, the cemetery, temples and the town's trading center, Yaghmaei added.


In a temple which housed the sacred fire dedicated to the Zarathushtrians a quantity of ashes had been found, he said.

The dam had been built on the River Dalki and brought drinking water to the town.



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08 March 1995

Ancient Town Unearthed in Semnan

IRAN NEWS NATIONAL DESK TEHRAN - Parts of a town, believed to have been built around 7,000 years ago, have been found during excavations on a historical mound six kilometers east of Shahroud (407 kms. east of Tehran) near the village of Badasht in Semnan province, reported Hamid Abolfazli, chief of the cultural heritage office of the said city. 


The archeological excavations brought to light some stone-made tools, pottery with relief designs and broken parts of baked clay coffins which Abolfazli said probably date back to 5,000 B.C. He mentioned that another historical mound with ancient relics lies two kilometers from this find.  Recently dug items are the oldest relics ever found in Semnan and Abolfazli noted that they were similar to other pieces which came from the Sang-Chakhmaq Hill of Bastam where a group of Japanese archaeologists 1971 to 1978, found artifacts belonging to the Neolithic period.


Shahroud's cultural heritage office, according to IRNA, has already identified as many as 50 historical areas in and around the city which archaeologists think existed between 5,000 to 1,000 B.C



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February 1995


02 February 1995

Kashan's Ancient Treasure Unearthed

IRAN NEWS NATIONAL DESK TEHRAN - Workers laying building foundations in Kashan last week accidentally stumbled across 20 earthenware pots estimated to be between 2-4,000 years old.


Kashan Cultural Heritage Office Chief Seifollah Aminian said the vessels were painted in various colors and designs, and had lain covered by seven meters of earth. The site, 4km from the Silk hills of Kashan, was a part of the ancient city of Silk, of which only 7,000-year-old earth mounds remain.



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02 February 1995

700-year old engraved stone slabs unearthed in kurdestan

sanandaj -- some engraved stone slabs were unearthed in a village near sanandaj, the capital city of kurdistan province recently.

according to the director of the cultural heritage organisation, sirous ma'roofi, the archeological relics date back to at least 600 or 700 years ago.

ma'roofi said on sunday that based on preliminary examination of the experts, the slabs belong to the reign of halu khan. the word halu in kurdish means eagle and was the name of a local ruler of that time.

there exists the possibility that the slabs belonged to a grand building which had been ruined due to climatic conditions and it had been buried in earth, elaborated the head of cultural heritage organisation of kurdistan province. mb/as -29


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26 February 1995

Sasanian City Found Near Bushehr

TEHRAN - The ruins of a city dating back to the Sasanid era (226-651 A.D.) have been unearthed in the Borazjan suburbs, 65 kms. northeast of Bushehr, the Head of the local Cultural Heritage Organization, Abbas Rayanpour, reported Thursday.


He described the structure and architecture of the city as unique and said that excavations have brought to light a bastion and an adytum, which was designed in a combination of Parthian and Sasanian architecture.


More extensive diggings will be carried out, the official told IRNA, to find out the extent of the ruins. 



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November 1994 1994



21 November 1994

200 Aantique objects seized from smugglers in hamedan prov.

Hamedan, nov. 21, irna -- some 200 pieces of antique objects, some dating back to various periods of the first millennium BCE and some to Qajar era, were seized from antique smugglers in Hamedan province last month.

Commander of the provincial law enforcement forces brigadier Assadollah Hadinejad announced here Monday that the confiscated antiques, including old coins, potteries, stone beads and vases, have been handed over to the provincial cultural heritage organization to be kept at the museum.

In this connection, Hadinejad added, the forces under his command have arrested 31 persons for illegal excavation of historical sites or dealing in antiques.


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July 1994


17 July 1994

Ancient ruins unearthed in Hamedan

HAMEDAN-- the ruins of an ancient city have been unearthed during archeological excavations in the historical hill of Hegmataneh in Hamedan, head of the excavation team dr. Mohammad Sarraf said here Sunday.

He said that rooms and corridors of an ancient city were unearthed during the fifth stage of excavation in this historical city which was once the capital of the Achaemenian dynasty.

Studies are underway on the ruins to find out to which period the city belonged, he said, adding that the cultural heritage organization intended to completely unearth the ancient city, the Hegmataneh hill covers an area of 30 hectares of which 1.5 hectares have been excavated since 1983, he said.


According to Sarraf, a temporary museum has been set up on the hill which will be opened to the public and interested researchers next month.



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May 1994



15 May 1994

Stone coffin dating back to 250 BCE unearthed

Dezful, khuzestan prov.-- a stone coffin dating back to the arsacides era was unearthed in the ancient city of shush (susa) last week.

Director of renovation and research project in the ancient cities of shush, hafttappeh and choghazanbil, mehdi rahbar, who is also an archeologist, said here saturday that the coffin was 115 cm long, 43 to 63 cm wide, 26 cm deep and 41 cm high.

The coffin looks like a human body and resembles mummied containers in egypt.  zn` , beneath the coffin, there were 33 cm cubic bricks several of which bearing stamp-like designs, some resembling a lion.  zn , rahbar said that two copper coins were also found during the excavation works, one belonging to the islamic era.  zn , studies are underway to specify the exact date to which the unearthed objects belong.  zn, shush used to be an ancient site for coinage in the Achaemenid, arsacides and islamic eras.


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October 1993




20 October 1993

Unique archaeological discoveries in lorestan province

Khorramabad, Lorestan prov.-- a number of mass graves dating back to b.c. period were discovered last Monday in an excavation operation northwest of the provincial city of Aligoudarz.

The graves made up of several 3x4 meter rooms and corridors contained many human skeletons and earthenware dishes, head of lorestan's cultural heritage organization, Alireza Farzin, told IRNA here Wednesday.

According to expert evaluation, the unearthed objects belonged to prehistoric era and some of them were damaged in the excavation operation.

The discoveries are unique from the archaeological point of view, Farzin said adding that similar articles have only been found in northern parts of Khuzestan province, southern Iran.

He added that the site because of its extent and uniqueness could be turned into a historical museum.

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September 1993


27 September 1993

455 silver coins of Qajars dynasty unearthed

Shiraz-- Some 455 silver coins belonging to the time of Qajar dynasty who ruled Iran 1779-1925, were unearthed in this southern provincial capital last friday. 


B. Attaran, an official at the cultural heritage organization monday said that the coins, all in a copper vessel, were discovered during construction work in a house.

According to the official, the coins bear the portraits and scripts of rulers of the Qajar dynasty. 


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August 1993


29 August 1993

Antiques seized from smugglers in Gilan

Rasht-- Law enforcement authorities have seized 78 pieces of antiques from smugglers near some'-sara, 40 kms. west of here, brigadier Jamshid Zare' said here today.


He said the antiques unearthed in the area by illegal excavators, include imperial and commercial seals, gold necklaces, gold and silver coins, swords, javelins, spearheads and pottery, dating back to the first millennium BCE.


The commander quoted experts of the Gilan cultural heritage department as saying that the antiques were worth tens of millions of Rials.




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