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Farming, Greatest Treat to the Ancient Gohar Tepe


27 April 2006



LONDON, (CAIS) -- The historical site of Gohar Tepe, the remains of an ancient civilization is currently surrounding by agricultural lands.

Evidence shows that from 7,000 years ago to the first millenniums BCE, a large number of people lived in the region, which were enjoying an urban life. The discovery of architectural structures and graves in this region are evidence of continual life during the later centuries there.

Gohar Tepe historical site, with a 50 hectare area, is located in eastern parts of Mazandaran province between the cities of Neka and Behshahr, north of Iran. It is one of the most important historical sites of Mazandaran province located near the Caspian Sea, which carries the secret of an ancient civilization. It is also believed that Gohar Tepe once enjoyed a complicated urbanization with a history that goes back to some 7,000 years ago. 


Based on stratigraphical studies done over the past few decades on the site, the existence of Gohar Tepe dates back to the middle Bronze Age and continued to the Iron Age. However, the most ancient cultural layers found in the area belong to the Neolithic period, some 14,000 years ago, which are very similar to those found in neighbouring areas and Central Asia. To learn more about the situation of Gohar Tepe, its background, its future programs, and the accomplishments in the area so far, in an interview with archaeologist Ali Mahforouzi, the head of excavation team at Gohar Tepe historical site, who has made extensive effort to revive this historical site.

Mahforouzi believes that most of the archaeological excavations carried out in Iran prior to the recent time were not based on scientific methods; however, during the last decades we have got closer to following scientific methods in our archaeological research and we had an astonishing progress in this respect. 


“Most of our archaeological researches were focused on southern historical sites and the northern parts of Iran were somehow neglected and abandoned by the archaeologists. However, we are doing our best to introduce potential characteristics of this part of our country such as its ancient civilization, its rich culture and art. I believe holding the first International Seminar of the Common Cultural Heritage of Caspian Sea and Central Asian Littoral States in Mazandaran province, which was held from 15-19 of April this year, provided us with a good opportunity not only to discuss our cultural heritage with former Iranian provinces, but also considering our shared historical backgrounds, to confer with the other newly formed states the ways through which we may cooperate in archaeological activities. Establishment of an archaeological research centre for the regional countries in the city of Sari, capital city of Mazandaran province, is one of the major accomplishments of this festival. This way the regional countries will have more cooperation in their archaeological studies,” said Mahforouzi.

According to Mahforouzi, considering the geographical similarities between Mazandaran and newly formed regional states, many similar cultural evidence were found in the Caspian Sea region including Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, etc. “The more we move to the west of Turkmenistan, the more we see ourselves faced with a culture which does not belong to this country alone, and it becomes obvious that it must have its roots in the land which lies just below it. Now we are looking for the original source of this culture which most probably can be traced in the Iranian Plateau, especially the Gohar Tepe historical site. In any case, we are still studying on this subject. Although we were able to find a large number of similar black and grey pottery dishes in the area, we don’t know where they are centred at. We must work harder to put the pieces of the puzzle together in order to identify the origin of this common heritage. This way we can unveil the secrets behind the origin of the culture of the area which lies southwest of what is today known as Turkmenistan,” said Mahforuzi.

Archaeological excavations in Gohar Tepe started from the year 2000. More than 130 pre-historic hills have been discovered in the area so far. Discovery of different burial methods such as pithos burial, squat burial, jar burial, fetal burial, etc., discovery of some strange burials such as the skeleton of a child wearing a necklace with the design of a cow horn, discovery of a skeleton with a bronze strap and a bronze horseshoe, discovery of a man’s skeleton inside a jar, discovery of traces of fabric on a plaster floor, discovery of big clay statuettes together with hundreds of other astonishing discoveries all have given the archaeologists loads of valuable information, yet rose new questions about the culture of people who lived in this area and how it evolved over time.

Some evidence of existence of life can be traced in Ali Tepe Cave in the vicinity of Gohar Tepe. Taking into account that the first villages were established in this area, and urbanization has been formed in Gohar Tepe, for sure this region can be considered as the origin of a magnificent cultural development in the area. “I believe that it is not far from truth to trace the origin of these changes in Gohar Tepe,” said Mahforouzi.

What happened to this area which resulted in the complete abandonment of the city is not known yet. Maybe due to the geographical changes in the area and when the Aral Lake was dried out at the beginning of the Iron Age, little by little the people moved to other places. Anyway, archaeologists believe that the people might have turned back to bury their dead in their motherland, which is somewhat clear due to the existence of a cemetery which was recently unearthed in the area. One theory that describes the reason behind this gradual abandonment of Gohar Tepe says that since during the Achaemenid dynastic era (550-333 BCE), Fars province became the main centre for the power, Iranians moved to this province which resulted in the abandonment of most of the other sites. Most probably, there must have been a power centre somewhere north of Iran during the Achaemenid period, which is not found yet and needs more excavations and studies to determine its exact place.

Anyway, the remains of industrial constructions such as clay ovens, and metal workshops indicate that the area enjoyed a very rich economical situation during the Iron Age.

“We have found a clay brick oven belonging to the Iron Age and we have constructed another clay oven similar to the original one at a 200 meter distance from the ancient oven. We are happy to announce that this year and on April 17, we produced the first series of clays simulating the ancient models to be presented to the tourists who visit the site,” said Mahforouzi.

What is obvious about Gohar Tepe historical site is that it is a mega project to be completed. Regarding the difficulties which exist in conducting archaeological studies on this site, Mahforouzi believes that there should be some supports from the government so that the archaeologists and other research groups would be able to preserve and revive this ancient area. Considering that Gohar Tepe is located in an agricultural area buried under agricultural lands, it is clear that the site is under a serious threat.

“We have bought three hectares of the area from their owners, but to tell you the truth, maybe more than 50 percent of the area that goes back to the Iron Age has been devastated under the weight of tractors. We did our best to protect it from the harms caused by the people and farmers, but without the support of the government and the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization, we won’t be able to confront with all the problems that exist here. Recently, the farmers and landowners are determined to change them into citrus fruit gardens, which will be a disaster for Gohar Tepe historical site and will result in the destruction of the remains of an ancient civilization completely. We have taken the case to the court of Behshahr at least 15 times so far to prevent this activity and to stop the locals from digging deep wells in the area, but as I told you without direct support of the government and Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization, it will be a very difficult task to accomplish,” explained Mahforouzi.

Mahforouzi strongly believes that Gohar Tepe is worth receiving a special attention by all authorities; and at the end he expressed hope that Gohar Tepe historical site with its potential characteristics change into one of the most attractive tourism destinations in the Caspian Sea region.

According to the public relations office of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization of Mazandaran province, Delavar Bozorgnia, director of this organization with the cooperation of Mahforouzi are determined to change Gohar Tepe historical site into a museum site, to give tourists the chance to observe closely the remains of the skeletons with their burial gifts and other historical remains and feel themselves in the atmosphere and historical context these objects belonged to.


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