In a public frenzy to unearth lucrative
5,000-year-old artifacts, Jiroft residents are plowing their
yards and gardens, reminiscent of scenes last seen three years
ago, Iranian Cultural Heritage News Agency reported.
The historical site of Jiroft, home to an
ancient civilization, is dubbed as "archeologists'
paradise", since it is one of the most artifact-rich sites
in the globe. Three years ago, local people, who are mostly
farmers and businessmen, lunched an artifact rush and smuggled
some priceless relics out of Iran.
"This time around, according to local
tip-offs, people have clandestinely started to dig out their
houses' yards and gardens in search of 5,000-year-old
artifacts," said Rahmatollah Raouf, commander of the
National Cultural Heritage Corps.
He said law enforcement forces could not sweep
on all suspected houses and the only solution is to increase the
public awareness. Raouf threatened perpetrators with jail
sentences, however, if they do not stop plundering national
In January 2001, a group of Iranians from
Jiroft, in the southwestern province of Kerman, stumbled upon an
ancient tomb. Inside they found a hoard of objects decorated
with highly distinctive engravings of animals, mythological
figures and architectural motifs.
They did not realize it at the time but they
had just made one of the most remarkable archeological
discoveries of recent years, one that is radically altering
accepted notions of the development of the world's earliest
civilizations in Iran and Mesopotamia between the fourth and
third millennia BC.
A few weeks after the discovery, officials
from Iran's Ministry of Culture, vastly outnumbered by local
people, watched hopelessly as thousands systematically dug up
the area. The locals set up a highly organized impromptu system
to manage the looting: each family was allocated an equal plot
of six square-meters to dig.
This organized pillaging continued for an
entire year. Dozens of tombs were discovered, some containing up
to 60 objects, and thousands of ancient objects were removed.
All of these were destined for overseas markets.
In February 2002 Islamic Republic of Iran
Police finally arrived in force to stop the destruction. Some
2,000 objects were confiscated from locals in Jiroft and other
hoards of the ancient artifacts ready to be shipped overseas
were seized in Tehran and Bandar Abbas.
The objects confiscated by the police are
unlike anything ever seen before by archeologists. Many are made
from chlorite, a gray-green soft stone; others are in copper,
bronze, terracotta, even lapis lazuli. They are now being
studied by a group of Iranian archeologists. Official excavation
of the site began in February 2003. It is focusing on both the
necropolis, which was looted extensively, and on an ancient
settlement not discovered by the looters.