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Expert Discusses Use of Paint on Achaemenid Royal Tombs at Naqsh-e Rustam


28 September 2007




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Red cross decorations surrounded with black & azure coloured frames


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Azure coloured paint covering the cuneiform inscriptions



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Black and red pigments of the eye of Darius the Great


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Azure coloured painted bears of Darius the Great


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Red and azure pigments discovered on the lips, mustache and beard of the Darius the Great's relief


 Pictures courtesy of Persian Service of ISNA  (Click to enlarge)

LONDON, (CAIS) -- Archaeologist and former member of the Parseh and Pasargadae Research Foundation (PPRF) Mohammad-Taqi Ataii gave a series of new details on the amazing discovery of ancient paint remnants on the Achaemenid royal tombs at Naqsh-e Rustam in southern Iran’s Fars Province.


The discovery was made in 2003 when a group of experts was working on the tombs, particularly the tomb of Darius the Great in order to clean calcareous layers caused by rainfall from their surfaces, Ataii told the Persian service of CHN on Wednesday.


The operation was carried out by a team led by PPRF archaeologist Hassan Rahsaz based on a theory proposed by Majid Ayasi.  According to Ataii, no details have previously been published on the discovery.


“Letters of all the cuneiform inscriptions at the site have been coloured azure and most of the bas-reliefs, particularly the Darius the Great bas-relief in his tomb at Naqsh-e Rustam, had been painted,” Ataii said.


“For example, Darius’s beard and moustache were azure in the bas-relief. We previously knew about the use of colours in Achaemenid sites as well as in the bas-reliefs depicting Darius. On the Darius bas-relief at Persepolis, the entire beard had been made of lapis lazuli, but unfortunately it was plundered by the Macedonians,” he explained.


“In the bas-relief of Naqsh-e Rustam, Darius has black hair. His eyes were red and framed in black. The lips and shoes are red and various colours were used for his clothes.”


Archaeologists say that some coloured architectural elements of the Naqsh-e Rustam monuments have great similarities with the colour motifs used for the ancient structures of Persepolis.


“Since, the corridor of the Darius the Great’s tomb has been built based on a plan, which is similar to the one used for the corridors of Persepolis, thus we can restore the corridors by drawing the structures on a paper with the original colours… The restoration of the colours could help us create a plan from the corridors and even help us imagine the original appearance of Persepolis,” Ataii said.


From 2004 to early 2007, when the Sivand Dam began flooding the Bolaghi Valley, which is home to over 130 important archaeological sites, archaeologists participating in the rescue excavations discovered several ancient walls covered with a kind of green paint that had been used on structures in Persepolis.


“The colours, which had been used on stones during ancient times, were less resilient. Wind, rainfall, and vibrations can spoil the colours on the bas-reliefs and the structures of Naqsh-e Rustam,” Ataii noted.


The Naqsh-e Rustam perimeter has recently been invaded via the construction of a nearby railway route. Experts believe that the vibrations caused by passing trains will cause irreparable damage to the archaeological sites of the region.


A team of experts is currently studying the matter to determine how to modify the railway route. Their final decision will be announced before September 29.



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