Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
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is threat to Iran's heritage
than 100 of Iran's potentially most important but least examined
archaeological sites, including fringes of Pasargadae, the city
built by King Cyrus the Great, will be flooded in the next two
years according to the UN, which appealed yesterday to
international scientists to try to record what they can.
The flooding of the eight-mile Tang-e-Bolaghi gorge because of
the construction of a dam will destroy ancient Persia's imperial
road which ran from Persepolis to Pasargadae.
The Sivand dam has been planned for 10 years as part of a
project to provide irrigation water for farmers in the parched
south of the country.
But the speed of its construction and the scale of what will be
lost have surprised scientists and the UN.
Iranian archaeologists have pinpointed 129 sites of interest in
the gorge, ranging from prehistoric finds to remains of the
Qajar monarchy which fell in 1925.
Stretches of the cobbled road have already been unearthed but
caves, ancient paths, burial mounds, canals and other sites
which have never been excavated will also be lost. There are
also legends of a long underground "king's passage".
UNESCO said yesterday it was hopeful that the world heritage
site of Pasargadae, Cyrus's capital city, renowned for its
palaces, gardens and the tomb of the founder of the Achaemenid
dynasty, would be only marginally affected.
The city, which was included in UNESCO's
world heritage site list last year, is less than three miles
from the end of the gorge.
It was built on the site where Cyrus defeated Astyages, the
leader of the Medes, in 550BC. It has added importance today
because it is believed to be the capital of the first Asian
empire which respected the cultural diversity of its people.
"We understand that only the buffer zone will be affected
by the flooding. There is no immediate physical risk but the
site's potential [heritage] value will be shrouded in mystery
for ever", said Junko Taniguchi, a UNESCO
officer in Tehran.
UNESCO and Iran have called on
international archaeologists to go to the sites and eight teams
of Iranian, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish and others
are expected to arrive next month. "But they will only be
able to do initial research. It is unfortunate but the work is
very urgent," said Ms Taniguchi.
Mohammad Hassan Talebian, the Iranian director of the group
conducting the "rescue archaeology", said the sites
held a wealth of information on Iran's past.
"One clearly sees the unspoken thoughts of past peoples in
Tang-e Bolaghi. We are not in a position to say 'don't do that
project', but we can delay the construction process," he
The dam's opening was planned for next March but the Iranian
energy ministry has delayed it to early 2006 to give the
archaeologists more time to examine the sites.
Masoud Azarnoush, director of archaeological research at the
Iranian Cultural Heritage Organisation in Tehran, was stoical
about the flooding of the valley. "We are losing
irreplaceable human heritage here but we have to take into
account the fate of the country and people as well," he
is the Light on the Path to Future"
British Institute of Persian Studies