photographs of the Iranian city of Bam, which was destroyed in
an earthquake last year that killed more than 26,000 people,
have revealed important new archaeological sites.
One discovery dates from between 2,400BC and 2,600 BC, proving
the city is centuries older than experts had thought. Another
site, from medieval times, showed that the community then practiced
religious and cultural tolerance but was threatened by marauding
Turkic tribes and the Mongol invasion.
The history of the city rests on an astonishing network of
qanats, huge underground irrigation channels, kilometers long.
After the earthquake struck on 26 December 2003, aerial
photographs were taken to assess the damage. Archaeologists
working with Iran's Cultural Heritage & Tourism Organization
(CHTO) asked to see the pictures showing Arg-e Bam, the unique
mud citadel that symbolized the city. "I immediately realized
that the citadel should be seen as part of a larger site,"
said Chahryar Adle, a senior archaeologist at the CHTO and the
French Center National de la Recherche Scientifique.
"I saw that lots of the qanats came to an end right up
against the fault line and had the impression that there were
large pools alongside them. "[Then] I
discovered that the fault line itself - the tool and symbol of
Bam's destruction - had once been transformed by human genius
into an instrument of life."
Qanats tap water supplies deep below the feet of nearby
mountains. They slope down at a slightly shallower angle than
the slope of the hill, and surface kilometers away, often in
areas that would otherwise be completely dry. In Bam, the qanats
surfaced much closer to the water source because the fault line
caused a sharp fall in the ground level. So agriculture
developed along the line, eventually leading to the development
of the city.
Dr Adle says the ancient irrigation system was a wonder of
Iranian engineering, imitated from Chinese Turkistan to Egypt
and the Arabian peninsula.
As well as helping archaeologists discover the new sites, the
earthquake has revealed the historical landscape beneath the
fallen citadel, revealing a layered chronology.
Eskander Mokhtari, head of the citadel restoration effort, said:
"The quake opened up the ground in a way that tens of
archaeologists working for decades would have been unable to
Dr Adle added: "The earthquake was terrible in almost every
way, but it was a blessing for archaeology."