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Explorer’s ancient city theory recognized



Monday, 14 May 2001



DUBLIN (AP) – It took nearly a century, but it seems the world finally is ready to accept that Raphael Pumpelly knew what he was talking about when he said ancient cities once thrived in ancient Iranian homeland in central Asia.

Though Pumpelly died long before the world would recognize his achievements, a Pennsylvania archaeologist is making sure the Dublin explorer still gets credit for his discoveries.

“Raphael Pumpelly was like my hero,” said Fred Hiebert, an archaeologist and assistant anthropology professor at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia.

A wealthy geologist who summered in a stately Dublin home, Pumpelly voyaged to Asia in 1903 at the age of 67, hoping to augment his studies of the Chinese Empire.

Pumpelly worked 14-hour days excavating an oasis plain in Turkestan, a region near the border of Iran. Sifting through the sand, his team found fireplaces, skeletons, fragments of pottery, beads, whorls and copper tools.

“These simple objects had little beauty,” Pumpelly wrote. “The interest they aroused lay in the fact that we were unearthing cultures of a remote past and in an untouched field, far distant from the sites of classical civilization.”

Before the dawn of recorded history in Babylon and Egypt, Pumpelly concluded, the people of Anau “already lived in cities, cultivated wheat and barley, began the domestication and breeding of the useful animals which are our inheritance, and possessed the fundamental individual arts.” But the Russian government didn’t buy it.

By 1907, the political climate had squelched any hopes of further exploration in the region. Pumpelly died in 1923, and his work was forgotten.

Almost. A prominent figure in the community, Pumpelly left a permanent mark on Dublin. The hill on which his house stood now bears his name.

But it took almost a century for science to realize the significance of Pumpelly’s digs.

It was during his doctoral studies at Harvard University that Hiebert looked at Pumpelly’s work.

“I sort of got the bug to see if he was correct or not,” Hiebert said.

So in 1988, Hiebert was able to travel to the now former Soviet Union to excavate an area of central Asia known as the Silk Road. There, he discovered ruins similar to those recorded in Pumpelly’s writings.

Hiebert’s latest find, a tiny seal stamped with four letter-like symbols in an unidentified language, adds new credence to Pumpelly’s claims.

“Writing is always one of those hallmarks of civilizations,” he said.

And as his studies gain momentum, Hiebert hasn’t forgotten his original inspiration. He’s met numerous Pumpelly descendants in California, Rhode Island and New Hampshire, and keeps in touch with many of them.







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