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Iran’s Archaeology Opens its Arms to Foreign Experts


16 April 2005


By: Vali Khalili
CHN Staff Writer


International archaeologists who left Iran some 25 years ago are making a return to the land that cradles an ancient civilization, historical sites, and remnants of predecessors treasured by experts all around the world.

Many archaeologists went back home when the Islamic Revolution took place in 1978, leaving their work on the table. But since last year more than 50 experts from all around the world, including experts of universities in United States, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, Australia, and Japan, have traveled to Iran to take part in explorations of the historical sites scattered all around the country, which Holly Pittman, archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, calls “Archaeologists’ Heaven”. Last year 9 teams of foreign specialists helped Iranians excavate the sites.

Professor Frank Hole, anthropologist at Yale University, traveled to Iran first in 1958 to uncover the first evidence of farming in the country dating to some 8000 years ago. “I hope to be able to finish my work which I had to stop in 1979. I have worked in different parts of the world, including Syria and Turkey, and I am aware of the changes in these countries. But it is a while that I have not been in Iran and it is very interesting to be informed of the changes in Iranian archaeology,” says Prof. Hole.

He believes that the new discoveries in areas such as Jiroft, Kerman, provide evidence of a civilization comparable to that of Mesopotamia and the Ilamites, suggesting of a dynamite future for the archaeological activities of Iran.

The international affairs deputy of the Archaeology Research Center of Iran, Karim Alizadeh, explains about some of the joint activities carried out with foreign experts: “The Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization have so far signed agreements with the Izao Institute and the Institute of Oriental Studies of Rome for studies of the Grand Mosque of Isfahan, Gand of Belgium for excavations in Khuzestan, Sydney University for work in Nur Abad of Fars, Dartmouth College for Anshan site of Fars, the Archaeology Institute of Germany for cooperation in studying the ancient mines and metal works of Iran, Mainz University of Germany for excavation in Haft Tepe of Khuzestan, Durham University of England for work in the northern and southern coasts of the Persian Gulf in Bushehr and Hormozgan, the French Institue de Recherche for excavation in Neishabour of Khorasan, the Institute of Oriental Studies of Chicago University for work in Khuzestan, and Bradford University of France for excavation in the paleontology caves of Kermanshah. The five last agreements have been signed during last year.”

According to Alizadeh, to expand the joint activities, the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization is trying to sign four other agreements with Universities of Harvard and Pennsylvania of United States, Warsaw of Poland, and La Speninza of Rome.

When the foreign experts left Iran 25 years ago, explains head of the Archaeology Office of Iran, Jalil Golshan, they did not left reports of their incomplete studies and excavations, therefore, Iran decided to invite them to come back so that they could finish their work and the regained information could be published. Introducing Iran and its thousands-year-old sites and developing the excavations around the country have been another objective of the Iranian side, says Golshan.

The first group of foreign experts to return to Iran was of the Izao Institute of Italy who had discovered around one million pot sherds in Isfahan’s Grand Mosque before the Islamic Revolution. They entered the country in 2000 at the time Seyyed Mohammad Beheshti headed the then Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization, and their presence paved the way for the entrance of other teams, which reached its peek during last Persian year.

Iranian foreign-based experts: the bridge to international institutes
In its attempts to restart foreign excavations and studies in Iran, the Cultural Heritage Organization asked primarily the Iranian experts teaching or researching in the major archaeological institutes and universities around the world to give the experts inside the country a hand.

Abbas Alizadeh, from the Oriental Institute of Chicago University, is one of these experts who signed an official agreement with the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) last September to excavate the northern parts of Khuzestan province.

Other Iranian foreign-based experts who have come to Iran to help revive the country’s archaeology include Kamyar Abdi from Dartmouth College, Yusef Majidzadeh who lives in France and now heads the excavation team of Jiroft, Mansour Sadjadi who lives in Rome and heads the work in the Burnt City of Sistan-Baluchistan.

As Alizadeh says: “The officials of ICHTO found out that Iranian archaeology can not be developed behind closed doors. Unlike the times before the Islamic Revolution, we should now make great use of the foreign experts in Iran. These experts will not only improve their own academic knowledge, but also introduce Iran to their students and readers of their reports and related articles.”

Yusef Majidzadeh, whose team for excavation in Jiroft includes more than 10 foreign experts, says: “archaeologists love to excavate in major sites dating to several thousands years, and since much of Iran is still unknown and can yield to the discovery of splendid objects, the country is of great importance for foreign experts.”

Foreign Archaeologists eager to work in Iran
Iranian officials enthusiast to bring in international specialists are just one side of the story, and at the other end stand the foreign institutes and research centers who are looking forward to carrying out new excavations in Iran.

The Oriental Institute of Chicago University is one of such institutes which had previously discovered the most important documents of the Achaemenid government, and has during the last two years carried out some talks with the officials of ICHTO to restart archaeological studies in Iran. As a gesture to show its good intentions to Iranian officials, the Institute returned to Iran at the beginning of the previous year 300 clay tablets of the Achaemenid era which were with them for more than 70 years.

Director of Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Gil Stein, talked to Associated Press on his trip to Iran to return the tablets: “I see the move as part of a mutual relationship. I hope to talk with the Iranian officials about an agreement for new archaeological excavations and training of the Iranian students for preserving historical remains.”

For foreign experts to take part in excavating and studying the ancient sites of Iran, the agreements should be signed with permission of the Iranian Foreign Ministry. The ICHTO studies the research plans of the foreign institute willing to work on Iranian sites, and if it decides to sign the agreement, sends it for approval to the Foreign Ministry, explains the legal and international deputy of the Organization, Abdol Rasul Vatanpour.

The cooperation of Iranian and foreign experts have changed a lot compared to the time before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. According to Frank Hole, before the Revolution, all the work was done by foreign experts, but today the studies are joint ones, with domestic and foreign archaeologists working hand in hand.

The Burnt City, Jiroft, and Bolaghi Gorge
New discoveries in the eastern parts of Iran, including The Burnt City in Sistan-Baluchistan and Jiroft in Kerman, have opened new doors to a great archaeological future for Iranian and international experts.

An ancient ruler, colorful tissues, the first animation picture of the world, architectural remains of the Burnt City dating to 5000 years ago, hundreds of seal impressions, a great governmental structure and a religious one (similar to a ziggurat), thousands of stone dishes which have revealed the source of stoneware of Mesopotamia, all and all have awed archaeologists of the richness of the area. Today many of the foreign experts who have come to Iran from diverse nationalities, including American, French, Italian, Indian, and Turk specialists are working on these historical sites.

Professor Constantini, head of the Italian team present in the Burnt City, considers the site one of the most important prehistoric sites of the world due to its numerous remains discovered from a 5000-year-old civilization. “Archaeologists see Egypt as the symbol of the richest ancient sites of the world, and the Burnt City is the only historical site comparable to it,” says Constantini.

Professor Holly Pittman, one of America’s most renowned archaeology experts, has been with the excavation team of Jiroft since its second season of work, and has given several speeches on the discoveries made in Jiroft area. She told the Smithsonian magazine: “Jiroft is a wonderful site. The fact that a 3000-year-old civilization lies here adds greatly to our knowledge.”

The site of Bolaghi Gorge behind the newly constructed Sivand Dam, in Fars province, is another historical site of Iran which has recently received special attention. It is the site of remains dating to the Achaemenid period and the king Road, which is considered the most ancient road of Iran, and is to be lost forever when the Dam is flooded in one year.

Experts including more than 7 groups of foreign scientists from Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Australia, England, and Japan, plus experts from international institutes such as UNESCO have gathered in the area and have so far identified more than 100 ancient sites and remains. A village one hectare vast dating to the time of Achaemenids has been one of their important discoveries.

Head of the cluster office of UNESCO in Tehran, Junko Taniguchi, in an interview with Guardian noted the yet unknown importance of the 100 historical sites of Bolaghi Gorge, located near the tomb of Darius the Great, and asked international experts to help save the site before they are gone underwater.

Experts believe that with the presence of foreign experts in Iran in the upcoming years and the development of joint activities from north to south, east to west of the country, the Iranian archaeology will see a new blooming season. Archaeologists are yet to find treasures that will surely amaze them.



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