Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
& CULTURAL NEWS OF THE IRANIAN WORLD
City, Key to Lost Civilization
16 April 2007
(CAIS) -- The city, called Shahr-e-Sookhteh, sits on the banks of
the Helmand river along the Zahedan-Zabol road in the southeast province of
Covering an area of 151 hectares, the city was built around 3200 BCE and
abandoned over a millennium later in 2100 BCE. The city experienced four stages
of civilization and was burnt down three times. It took its eventual named
because it was never rebuilt after the last fire.
The oldest known backgammon, dice and caraway seeds and numerous metallurgical
finds, such as pieces of slag and crucible, are among the city's excavated
artifacts. The unearthed game of backgammon is made of 60 pieces from turquoise
and agate, and has a rectangular ebony board.
Other objects found at the site include a human skull with signs that suggest
brain surgery was conducted on it in this prehistoric city.
The striking find reminds one of “The Story of Sinuhe”, written in
hieroglyph during the Egyptian Middle Kingdom around 2000 BCE, in which Sinuhe,
an Egyptian nobleman and a physician in the court of Amenemhet I, gives an
account of open brain surgeries. The unearthed skull in Iran's Burnt City has
discredited the belief based on Sinuhe's account that brain surgery originated
More than 600 skeletal remains have also been unearthed so far from the Burnt
City's necropolis. The remains had been buried in more than 108 graves with some
of the remains grouped together into graves containing three to eight bodies. At
least two of the multiple graves were family plots apparently intended for
family members who had died within a short period of time of each other.
The deceased residents of the Burnt City were buried in different positions -
some were buried prostrate, some in a supine position and some lying on
one-side. The most frequent position in burial was to lay the corpse on its side
or to position the body into a kind of squat. Scientists believe that the
variety in burial methods implies that different cultures coexisted within one
society at the Burnt City.
The Golden-eyed Woman
In December 2006, archaeologists discovered the world's earliest artificial
eyeball in the city's necropolis, thought to have been worn by a female resident
of the Burnt City. The artificial eye is a hemisphere with a diameter of just
over 2.5 cm (1 inch). It consists of very light material, probably bitumen
paste. The surface of the artificial eye is covered with a thin layer of gilding
and is engraved with a circle at its center to represent the iris. The eye
includes gold lines patterned like the rays of the sun. A hole has been drilled
through the eyeball, through which a golden thread is thought to have held the
eyeball in place.
Microscopic research has revealed that the eye socket of the female remains bear
clear imprints of the golden thread, suggesting that the woman must have worn
the eyeball during her lifetime. With her shining golden eye she must have been
a striking figure, perhaps a soothsayer or an oracle. The woman with the
artificial eye was 1.82 m tall (6 feet). She was aged between 25 and 30 and had
dark, exotic skin.
Experts say that her skeleton dates to between 2900 and 2800 BCE, when the Burnt
City was a bustling, wealthy city and trading post at the crossroads of the East
and the West. It is thought that the woman may have arrived at the city on a
caravan from Arabia. Archaeologists have not yet revealed the cause of the
The Ancient Courier
In one of the most recent discoveries from January, a team of Iranian and
British anthropologists, working on human remains in the city from the 3rd
millennium BCE, identified a male camel rider who they believe was a messenger
in ancient times.
Studies of the skeletal remains belonging to the man reveal evidence of bone
trauma, suggesting that he was a professional rider who most likely spent most
of his life on camel back.
Indications of riding are seen on the right leg bone of the man, who died at the
age of 40 to 45. The swellings show that he continuously worked as a
professional rider since he was a teenager. There are blade-shaped swellings on
the lower part of the leg bone which indicate that he used to gather up his
right leg while riding, suggesting that he rode on a large animal like a camel
or ox. Although there is evidence showing that smaller draft animals were also
used in the Burnt City, the act of gathering up a leg while riding is something
that one does while riding a camel over long distances. Scientists, then,
believe that the man was probably a courier who travelled regularly on
Some paleoanthropologists believe that mothers in the Burnt City had social and
financial prominence. 5000 year-old insignias, made of river pebbles and
believed to belong only to distinguished inhabitants of the city, were found in
the graves of some female citizens. Some believe the female owners of the
insignias used them to place their seal on valuable documents. Others believe
the owners may have used the seal to indicate their lofty status in society.
Paleopathological studies on 40 teeth unearthed in the Burnt City's cemetery
show that the inhabitants of the city used their teeth as a tool for weaving to
make baskets and other handmade products.
"More than 40 teeth lesions have been identified, the most prominent of
which belongs to a young woman who used her teeth as a tool for weaving baskets
and similar products," said Farzad Forouzanfar, director of the
Anthropology Department of Iran's Archaeology Research Centre and head of the
anthropology team at the Burt City in an interview with CHN.
The use of teeth as a tool in the Burnt City is seen in both males and females
of different age groups. Evidence shows that weaving was more than a hobby in
the prehistoric city. It was one of the most common professions in the city
which required a special skill. Residents made a variety of weaved products such
as carpets, baskets and other household items.
Studies are currently underway by anthropologists from Iran's Archaeology
Research Centre and England's Newcastle University. The scientists hope to study
bone fragments and teeth found in various parts of the Burnt City, especially
those unearthed in its cemetery, which may unravel the mysteries over some of
the most common occupations practiced by the region's inhabitants.
The reasons for the unexpected rise and fall of the Burnt City are still wrapped
in mystery. What seems especially bizarre about the city is its incongruity with
nearby civilizations of the time. It is as if the city just appeared out of
nowhere. Shahr-e-Sookhteh could eventually be the evidence to prove that
an ancient civilization to the east of prehistoric Persia was independent from
the civilization of ancient Mesopotamia.
The excavations at the Burnt City also suggest that the inhabitants were a race
of civilized people who were both farmers and craftsmen. No weapon has ever been
discovered at the site, suggesting the peaceful nature of the residents.
The Burnt City has been continually excavated since the 1970s by Iranian and
Italian archaeological teams, with new discoveries periodically reported.
From/Source: Press TV
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