8th season of excavations in the 5000-year-old
Burnt City in the southeastern province of
Sistan-Balouchestan is wrapping up, providing
new information on the history of the area.
Archeologists now know that the residents of the
Burnt City had great skills in weaving tissues,
creating fine arts such as decorative objects,
stone carving, and painting their pottery. They
also enjoyed a rich diverse variety of food,
evidence of which, including a piece of bread,
have been found in the area and undergone
studies by an Italian archaeobotanist team,
headed by Professor Lorenzo Costantini,
researcher with the Oriental Museum of Rome,
Prof. Costantini, 53, who had also travelled to
the archeological site last year, has taken
samples of all botanical evidence and studied
them with his three-strong team of
archeobotanists and a photographer specializing
at taking pictures of archeological
He stayed in Iran for two months and left the
country on 3rd of February. In an exclusive
interview with CHN before leaving, Prof.
Costantini talked of his love for the ancient
city and called his days there some of the best
of his life. “The Burnt City is one of the
greatest archeological sites of the world. It
won’t let any archeologist down,” he added.
Costantini, what exactly did your team looked
for in the Burnt City?
Jointly with the Iranian team of archeologists,
we studied our findings of plants, wood, straw,
and all other organic discoveries. The items
found in the cemetery of the area have been well
preserved against the climate conditions and
help us more.
During the season we studied all the discoveries
made during the previous two years and aimed to
examine the soil found inside the pottery
burried in the tombs, with regard to the food
remains. In these pottery we found grains such
as corn, wheat, and also grapes.
-One of your discoveries was a piece of
bread. How possibly has the piece survived over
a 5000-year-old period, and how can you make
sure that it actually is bread?
The discovery of this small porous piece of
bread was one of the most significant
achievements of our work on the site. The bread
had changed a lot during time and we could only
find out about its true nature with microscopic
examinations. We studied the piece under
microscope and compared it with the wheat grains
taken from tomb no. 1400 which was well
preserved; we found traces of flour that had not
yet lost its quality. We are now sure that the
piece is bread, and what makes this discovery
more amazing is that we had not to day found any
bread among the food buried with the dead, and
this adds a new aspect to our previous
information of the city.
-In your studies of the tombs, have you come
across any commanalities, with respect to the
food and pottery?
Some food are shared among all tombs, which
include a handful of wheat, a handful of millet
or brook, a bunch of grapes, and a piece of
bread. We moreover found out that the dishes
prepared for the dead were not filled to the
top, which was probably a symbolic gesture.
-You carried out some studies on the insects
found in the tombs. What do these creatures
Some of the insects living 5000 years ago are
now extinct. In the Burnt City, insects have
been the primary reason of the extinction of
organic and botanic materials. Our studies show
that more than 70 % of grains and foods are
destroyed by insects and without them, maybe
just 20-30 % of the herbal food would be gone
today and we could have found them almost
-Last year you found out about one or two
kinds of the dishes of the residents of the
Burnt City and you succeeded to cook them too.
Would you tell us what were these dishes?
One of the dishes is a combination of lentille,
fish and coriander which gave the food a good
taste. We found out that the residents did not
use oil to cook food, or at least we did not
find anything with oil qualities in their food
Another food of theirs was something like
today’s pottage (or more specifically Aash)
which the modern Iranians eat too, and it is
interesting to know that the traditional Iranian
foods of today are similar to the ancient ones.
-Your team has carried out a comprehensive
study on the cloths found in the site. Would you
explain a little bit about your work on them?
The Burnt City is the only archeological site in
which a large diverse collection of cloths with
different textures, forms, and designs have been
unearthed. These cloths have been studied under
microscope, but they should undergo
documentation and further studies which we hope
to have completed by next year when we return to
-Considering the fact that you have worked on
many archeological sites around the world, can
you compare the Burnt City with any other?
The Burnt City is not comparable to any other
site in the world. The climate conditions are
such that the soil, objects, and foods are
preserved in a good condition, and from this
point of view, it is only comparable to the
archeological sites of Egypt.