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Shahr-e Sookhteh (Burnt City); an Interview With Mansour Sajjadi


News Category: Prehistory

 Tuesday, 31 December 2001


The head of excavation team in Shahr-e Sookhteh (Burnt City), Dr. Mansour Sajjadi said that this southeastern town dates back to 3200 BC and was destroyed in 2000 BC. Physicians in this town had the ability to conduct brain surgery some 4800 years ago and the city was a bustling trade town between the east and the west in its hay days.


Dr. Mansour Sajjadi the head of excavation team in Shahr-e Sookhteh talks quite enthusiastically and excitedly about his findings in that ancient city. However, he does gripe and complain about severe lack of funds for archeological excavations, maintaining and safeguarding already discovered archeological sites and artifacts as well as for introducing these ancient remains to the rest of the world.

Dr. Sajjadi has a bachelor's degree from Tehran University and a Ph.D. from an Italian university. His life is spent between Shahr-e Sookhteh where he spends half of the year, and Italy where he spends the other six months of the calendar year with his children and Italian wife.

Q: First and foremost, please tell us where exactly is Shahr-e Sookhteh located at? Kindly give us some precise details of the city as well.
A: Shahr-e Sookhteh refers to the ancient hills situated in the road between Zabol and Zahedan. Any ancient hill usually has two names. An original old name usually given to it in ancient times and a new name given to it by us today. The name Shahr-e Sookhteh is a designation given to this place by the local people. The reason being that people passed by this place and saw the ruins of broken clay, destroyed walls and demolished structures and since they figured there once a city stood here and it was burned down and destroyed, hence they called it Shahr-e Sookhteh (Burnt City).

Q: What do you mean by a new name? How long ago?
A: Approximately 200 years ago.

Q: When you say new, nobody immediately thinks of 200 years ago, what's new about 200 years ago?
A: For us archeologists 200 years ago is just a blink of an eye and is not old at all. In fact, it is very new. In any event, there is a writing dating back to 200 years ago from an archeologist called Goldsmith in which he refers to this area as Shahr-e Sookhteh.

Q: What was Shahr-e Sookhteh called before then?
A: We do not know yet. However, a British archeologist had suggested that Shahr-e Sookhteh is the ancient city of Arata, which the Sumers had trade and other dealings with. There are some written evidence from the Sumeri civilization that refers to the city of Arata, which was located in eastern Iran. However, a few years ago, one of my professors, Dr. Majidzadeh proved beyond any practical doubt that Shahr-e Sookhteh could not be Arata and Arata is the archeological find of Shahrdad City near Kerman.

Q: Is there any way to find out what the original name of Shahr-e Sookhteh was?
A: There is only one way remaining and that is to get access to the archives of Shahr-e Sookhteh. Like any other ancient city Shahr-e Sookhteh must have an archive where documents were filed.

Q: How can you be so sure that this city had an archive?
A: We have already found a tablet here as an artifact, which was most probably a receipt or evidence of a transaction that was recorded on this tablet.

Q: What does the text say?
A: A "five" is written there which is visible, but everything else is unreadable. Nonetheless, five is a unit of grain. It was probably either wheat or barley. There are also other artifacts unearthed by us as well as other archeologists that strongly suggest that an archive did in fact exist in Shahr-e Sookhteh. All we have to do now is to find it. However, the truth is that finding an archive in a city as large as Shahr-e Sookhteh (151 hectares) is not an easy task at all.

Q: Shahr-e Sookhteh dates back to which era?
A: This city was established sometime in 3200 BC and was burned to the ground in circa 2000 BC. The city was a bustling town for a 1200-year period. Back then, there were only 5 or 6 towns like Shahr-e Sookhteh in the entire world.
When founded the city was only about 15-16 hectares, but it gradually developed and grew into a larger town. By 2700 BC, Shahr-e Sookhteh was a major city. Some 100-200 years after that, the residents of the city began to migrate from the city and the city became smaller and smaller. The reason for the people leaving Shahr-e Sookhteh was more due to political and governmental crisis than geographical or climatic.

Q: Please elaborate on your claim that Shahr-e Sookhteh was deserted because of political crisis
and not geographical factors and kindly provide some evidence.
A: It was definitely not a geographical issue, because the region had sufficient water during that era.

Q: Dr. Sajjadi, how can you tell a city that stood thousands of years ago in this spot faced a political-governmental crisis?
A: An archeologist looks at a number of different factors and surrounds himself with various possibilities and asks a number of questions. By a process of elimination, we deduce the likeliest scenario possible. This method is utilized when we find an artifact such as a bowl or saucer and we try to determine for what purpose it was used for all the way to deducing why a city such as Shahr-e Sookhteh was abandoned, deserted, destroyed, etc.

Q: Your response didn't completely convince me. How on earth is it possible to speculate and determine that 5000 years ago a political crisis or a war took place.
A: When a city grows and develops like Shahr-e Sookhteh did a long time ago, it is evidence that the city had a strong central administration. When you talk about an administration the discussion naturally turns political. This administration had an administrator such as a king, mayor, etc. as well as many advisers and aides who would be considered his cabinet and government members.

This is not just guesswork. Hard evidence of such administrations exists in similar archeological finds and ancient cities previously dug up by scientists. We still haven't found all the relevant signs, signals and evidence in Shahr-e Sookhteh, but indirect evidence bear witness to the fact that Shahr-e Sookhteh had an administration and a government. Various industries, trade and other business thrived in Shahr-e Sookhteh.



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