(THE DISCOVERY CHANNEL) -- The remains of a
Persian woman who lived 3,000 years ago were found
buried next to 600 pieces of an ancient
"gambling game," according to a recent
Cultural Heritage News press release from Iran.
Archaeologists excavated the woman at Gohar Tepe
in Mazandaran Province, Iran, near the Caspian
Sea. Exploration of the site is not yet finished,
but it already has yielded a number of
discoveries, including the woman with the game,
called Ghap, which was played by tossing sheep
"So many pieces have never been found from
one single grave; moreover, with the large number
of potsherds found in the tomb, we assume the
woman to have had a special social status,"
said Ali Mahforouzi, who is leading the
Instead of a shyster, she may have been a
collector, according to the CHN report. It
mentions that all of the game pieces are the same
size, suggesting she could have gathered them for
a keepsake collection.
The bones also are pierced, indicating they could
have doubled as jewelry since she might have
strung some and worn them as a necklace.
Hairpins and two dress pins were found on the
woman's chest. At burial, she likely wore a dress
that has since eroded and had her hair done up in
the back. The archaeologists also found a
"huge jug with some measurement scales"
in her tomb. They are not yet certain how these
objects were used.
Shapour Suren-Pahlav, co-founder of the Circle of
Ancient Iranian Studies, an educational program
based in the U.K., told Discovery News that he
does not believe the woman was a gambler. He said
the archaeologists "have forgotten to observe
the archaeological and historical context of Ghap
and Ghap-bazi (Ghap play)."
He explained, "Ghap-bazi was quite common
among the Iranian children, even up to late 1970s
in Iran. It is possible that a child or children
placed the Ghaps in the grave as offerings to
their dead mother, or a female favorite relative.
Nonetheless, one only can hypothesize about this,
since there is no evidence to clarify the function
of the Ghaps in that grave."
Suren-Pahlav added that the game is no longer
played in Iran's major cities, but it might still
be played in small villages and towns.
At the Gohar Tepe cemetery, researchers also found
a couple from around the same Iron Age period
buried together in a joint grave. The condition of
their bones and their fetal, bowed positions
suggests to Mahforouzi that they died
simultaneously, perhaps in an accident.
Traces of unidentified fabric dating to the same
period were unearthed in what appears to have been
an ancient weavers' shop, according to CHN.
Jointly broken ceiling tiles suggest the structure
collapsed, probably from a fire. Since no corpse
was found in the ruins, Mahforouzi said the
building must have fallen when no one was inside.
Well-preserved 3,000-year-old "humped bull
statuettes" also were unearthed at Gohar Tepe.
"One of the statuettes is intact," said
Mahforouzi. "Its very realistic shape shows
the expertise of its creator. The statuette has
been baked very well and burnished, probably with
a piece of cloth-like material, in order to give
it a sparkling surface."
Since the bull representations were very realistic
at a time when abstract art was popular in the
region, he theorizes they were used as rhytons, or
ritual pouring vessels, during religious
He said the artifacts provide evidence that early
individuals at the site, which is very close to
the Fertile Crescent where agriculture likely
originated, worshipped oxen, bulls and cows. These
animals were, and still are, regarded as symbols
of hard work and fertility.
"Even today we can see some kind of respect
toward the animals in the region," he said.
The Gohar Tepe dig is scheduled to continue for
the next two months.