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Iran’s Heritage Fever


07 April 2006


By Sean Kingsley



LONDON, (CAIS) -- In addition to the archaeological rescue activities centred around Iran’s dams, the country is gripped in various other forms of heritage fever. A major irony of the dam development scheme is that the farming it aims to promote is a key agent in destroying ancient sites. In the Susa region, capital of the ancient kingdom of Elam and administrative capital of Persian Empire under Darius the Great I from 522-486 BC, over 80% of historical sites are currently being used for agricultural purposes. Similarly, the 300-hectare city of Gur, first capital of the Sasanian dynasty founded by Ardashir I (AD 224-241), is being irreparably damaged by irrigation, ploughing, and land leveling. Amir Piruz Daquqi, director of the Firuzabad and Gur Archaeological Project has urged heritage officials to buy up the problematic farmlands before time runs out.

A bronze Parthian coffin (above) excavated near the city of Khorramabad in Lorestan Province confirms the wealth of archaeology endangered within the farmlands. The 180cm-long four-handled coffin resembles a bathtub, and was found to contain a unique skeleton with a gold blindfold covering its eye sockets and a gold gag over its mouth. Conservators are optimistic that an inscription may be concealed beneath sulphurous corrosion staining the coffin’s surface. This unique find was discovered after a farmer reported looters using metal detectors on his land.

Excavations conducted across Iran are also revealing a wealth of fresh data, from 3000-year-old dog burials at Taleghan Tepe to the north of the country to Darius’ Palace at Bardak Siah, where a bronze eagle from an Achaemenid standard and an ivory dagger handle have come to light. The latter features an unusual hollow channel that Iranian experts suspect fed poison to a tip. Another major find are three sections of Achaemenid gold plating that once covered wooden gates. An inscription or relief awaits the unfolding of the plate under laboratory conditions. All these finds are suggested to date to c. 500 BC.

Meanwhile, Iran continues to heavily combat treasure hunting. Photographs of suspect and legal documents have been circulated between Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Interpol leading to ‘massive raids’ against 10 leading smugglers of Jiroft artefacts both inside and outside the country. The director of Jiroft’s Islamic Court has announced that illegal excavations are now completely halted. In the last two years more than 100 cases of illegal excavation and smuggling have been examined in Jiroft’s court; two of seven key arrested smugglers have been sentenced to death and 118 looted artefacts returned.

Elsewhere, looters are systematically plundering the highly remote 5000-year-old graves of the Espidej cemetery in the south-eastern province of Sistan-Baluchestan. Each grave contains 20-80 high status goods and no security measures are in place to protect the site, which is being looted at a rate of five graves every two days. Experts predict no graves will remain undisturbed within three months. A similar picture has emerged at Aveh in Central Province, where a 100-hectare site dating between the fourth millennium BC and the Early Islamic era is being targeted by what are termed an ‘international gang of smugglers’ trading on-site with looters.



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Source/Extracted From: Minerva Magazine



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