the naked eye, they look like mounds of soil on a plain of
flat farmland. But to archaeologists, the network of small
hills represents a treasure trove of ancient Iranian
culture now endangered by organised plunder and intensive
ICHTO, the Iranian cultural heritage
officials are on a collision course with rural communities
after embarking on a legal crusade to reclaim the hills
and nearby land on which, they believe, once stood the
city of Jondishapour, where the Persian King of Kings
Shapour I vanquished the Roman emperor Valerian more than
1,700 years ago.
have issued cultivation bans and pressed criminal charges
against dozens of farmers accused of destroying parts of
the archaeologically sensitive 300-hectare (741-acre)
site. At least one farmer has been jailed and many others
face imprisonment. The cultural heritage department plans
to issue compulsory purchase orders buying the tenant
farmers' leases, effectively expelling them from
government-owned land which their families have cultivated
since the rule of the last Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
In response, some farmers are threatening
to seize neighbouring land by force.
The row has been prompted by plans for
excavations as the first stage in a project aimed at
resurrecting Jondishapour as a symbol of national
achievement - part of a broad effort to revive Iran's
age-old Persian heritage neglected in the aftermath of the
1979 Islamic revolution.
Situated in Khuzestan province, southern
Iran, Jondishapour became the capital culture of the
Sassanian dynasty after it was built by 70,000 Roman
slaves captured in the Roman defeat. Its university [as
the oldest university in world] was renowned for science,
astronomy and philosophy, while its medical centre has
been credited with establishing the modern hospital
Farmers stand accused of threatening that
legacy by digging in the hills for relics. Discovered
artefacts are sold to organised bands who, officials say,
peddle them abroad at huge profit. The farmers deny the
charges, insisting their only income is vegetables grown
for local markets.
"To us the city of Jondishapour is of
no value," said Mahmoud Shahabadi, 35, a farmer from
Shahabad, who is among those facing criminal charges.
"I think the whole project is just a lie to weaken
the farmers and enable the authorities to do whatever they
like with our land. But even if the claims are true, do
you think it is worth depriving the 10,000 people of our
town of their means to a living just so the cultural
heritage department can see if there's an ancient city
Abdolreza Khojaste, 27, who cultivates a
strip of land with his five brothers, said: "If these
lands are taken away by the government, there are
neighbouring areas that we are going to take, if necessary
by force. Cultivating this land is our life and our sole
means of earning a living." That claim is challenged
by cultural heritage officials, who say many farmers
search for treasures late at night using metal detectors
and earth-moving equipment. Advertisements for metal
detectors are common in nearby towns and villages.
Many hills are riddled with holes, and
broken pottery and ancient stonework lie strewn around. At
least 12 hills have been destroyed by farming and
plundering since the revolution. According to local lore,
some farmers have grown rich by making multiple copies of
ancient coins, selling them as originals.
"The picture of poor farmers
struggling to make ends meet just isn't credible to
us," said Saeed Mohammadpour, legal representative
for the Khuzestan cultural heritage department. "We
are 100% sure they have been selling the items they have
found. They want to stay on this land under the excuse of
farming because digging [is] an extra source of income.
They earn much more from that than farming. They are
ruining the history not just of a nation but of human
civilisation. They think filling their stomachs is more
important than the blood of their ancestors."
The department has written to Islamic
Regime president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seeking his
Officials want to broaden their focus to
other parts of archaeologically-rich Khuzestan where
looting is rife and irresponsible farming and development
widespread. The province has some of the world's oldest
signs of civilisation, thought to date to 7000 BC.
Source: Guardian UK
Gondi Shapour, Gondi Shapur,
Jondi Shapour, Jondishapur, Gondishapur, Gundeshapur,