The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
(CAIS) -- New discoveries at dig sites in Middle Asia are rocking the
archaeological world and redefining the origins of modern civilization.
Numerous sites in Iran and the
surrounding region suggest that a vast network of societies together constituted
the first cities, whose residents traded goods across hundreds of miles and
forged parallel but strikingly independent cultures.
Archaeologists have thought that
modern civilization began in Mesopotamia, where the large Tigris and Euphrates
rivers bounded a fertile valley that nurtured an increasingly complex society.
The social structures, wealth and
technologies of this society slowly spread along the Nile and then the Indus
rivers in the 3rd millennium B.C.E.
The findings at the new sites may
have shaken conventional ancient history to its very foundations, said Andrew
"People didn't think you could
have large settlements this early without large rivers emptying into an ocean.
No one knew of these sites," said Lawler, who reported in the Aug. 3 issue
magazine on the key findings, which were discussed at a recent archaeological
conference in Ravenna, Italy.
One site proved particularly
important for convincing some scientists of the error of the accepted history.
Locals had been digging up artefacts in an ancient cemetery just south of Jiroft
near the city of Kerman in Iran and flooding the art market with pottery and
other goods. Researchers tracked these curiously unique pieces back to their
source, where, Lawler said, they found "a vast moonscape of craters made by
But further exploration of two nearby
mounds found evidence of a large city, one that may have rivaled contemporary Ur
in Mesopotamia. "These people were trading with the Indus, with
Mesopotamia, to the north and south," Lawler said.
According to Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky
of Harvard University, the site dates back to 4000 B.C.E., signifying that the
Jiroft site and its environs were once home to a long-lived culture, not a brief
response to Mesopotamian wealth.
The entire area of interest spreads
roughly from the eastern border of Iran to the Pakistani-Iranian border, and
from the Russian steppes southward through the Persian Gulf area and onto the
Over a period of centuries in the
mid- to late-3rd century B.C.E,, a cultural awakening occurred in many cities in
this area, evidenced by the elite's showcasing of valued materials gathered
across large distances and fashioned by artists.
"People throughout this area
highly valued lapis lazuli, which came from the mines of modern-day Afghanistan,
copper from Pakistan, silver and gold," Lawler said. "They traded to
get these raw materials which artisans then worked into their own particular
Lawler added that these differences
in style testify to the individuality of each society, comparable to the
city-states of ancient Greece. In neither case were the settlements mere
satellite colonies of a larger city.
"They were in communication, but
creating their own vibrant cultures," Lawler said, "developing their
own pottery styles, art, and possibly their own writing system."
The potential discovery of a new
writing system was perhaps the largest controversy of the many discussed at the
conference. Three tablets, the first discovered by a local farmer and the others
subsequently unearthed by professional archaeologists, appear to contain a
Scepticism about the significance of
the complex symbols abounds, accompanied by more general doubts about the age
and significance of the sites in general. Some even question the authenticity of
However, the young site will see much more excavation in coming years, and further discoveries there could justify what for many is the precious new jewel in a crown of archaeological achievements in Middle Asia.
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