Archaeologists from around
the world have been rushing to excavate scores of newly
identified ancient sites in southern Iran before the area
is flooded by a new dam.
Iran has been planning for
a decade to build the Sivand Dam in Fars Province, between
the ruins of the ancient Persian cities of Persepolis and
Pasargadae. But the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization
knew little about the broader region until three years
ago, when archaeologists identified 129 potentially
important sites in the region that will be flooded by the
Last year, the United
Nations issued an international appeal for archaeologists
to unearth and record what they could before the flooding.
Teams from the United
States, Poland, Germany, France, Italy and Japan are
working together in the Tang-e Bolaghi Valley, looking for
the ruins of Persepolis and Pasargadae, cities that at
different times were capitals of ancient Persia, northeast
of modern Shiraz.
Construction on the dam,
planned to allow irrigation in the arid region, has been
postponed until early 2006, and the Ministry of Energy has
agreed to halt the project if a major site is discovered.
"The dam is a pity but
it has provided us with a rare opportunity to do extensive
work alongside other teams over a short period of
time," said Rémy Boucharlat, the leader of the
French archaeological team in Iran.
Pasargadae, founded by
Cyrus the Great as the first dynastic capital of the
Achaemenids and the Persian Empire, was known for its
architecture as well as its liberality and respect for
cultural diversity before it fell to Alexander the Great.
Persepolis was founded by
Darius the Great, Cyrus's eventual successor, as the
empire's ceremonial capital in 518 B.C.
The archaeologists have
uncovered a narrow nine-mile dirt road, believed to be the
Royal Passage of the Achaemenids, connecting the two
cities, that was in use until the 18th century.
The scientists dismiss
rumors that the dam will destroy the tomb of Cyrus in
Pasargadae, which is on a much higher level. However, it
is unknown how the dampness caused by the dam will affect
"We are not in a
position to say building the dam is good or bad,"
said Muhammad Hassan Talebian, the Iranian director in
charge of the excavations in the region. "But we want
the flooding to be postponed until we finish our
The oldest sites the
international teams have found are caves inhabited some
4,000 years ago.
Civilizations have nearly
always developed around areas with water. For example, in
southern Iran, Khuzestan Province, which is known for oil
wells, is home to some of the oldest archaeological sites.
But dams and constructions connected to the oil fields
have left them unexplored and shrouded in mystery.
The most important find is
a unusual water channel that the archaeologists hope will
reveal new information about the irrigation system of the
More than six miles of the
channel is cut horizontally into the rock. Other parts of
the channel, about 10 miles long, are built on a solid
stone foundation. Some parts were unfinished, suggesting
that they were never used.
"It is a huge system
and we think they wanted to build it to provide water for
the population in Pasargadae," Mr. Boucharlat said.
"They probably wanted to build a dam, too, and flood
the same region that the dam will flood today."