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Latest Archaeological and Cultural News of Iran and the Iranian World


Prank or Plot: Threat looming over the Cyrus the Great' Mausoleum


08 September 2010



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Ahmadmirza Koochak Khoshnevis, the new director of ICAR


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Iranian pilgrims paying their respects to the Father of the Nation. (Click to enlarge)


LONDON, (CAIS) -- The new director of the Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research (ICAR) claimed the body of Cyrus the Great was mummified and is possibly buried beneath his mausoleum in Pasargadae, reports CAIS correspondent from Tehran.


Speaking with journalists, Ahmadmirza Koochak Khoshnevis claimed Cyrus the Great was killed by ‘Huns’ and then mummified and buried in an underground burial chamber beneath his current mausoleum.


“Cyrus the Great was killed by ‘Huns’ and according to his written will he wanted his body to be buried in Iranian-soil, therefore the body had to be mummified to prevent decomposition during the transfer”, stated Khoshnevis.


His statement came as a shock, when all historical accounts and research confirms Cyrus the Great was killed during a battle with Massagetae, who were an Iranian nomadic confederation occupying an area in the north-east of Aral Sea in modern Kazakhstan – and not Huns.


Khoshnevis whose speciality is Saudi’s Shia architecture continued: “I believe, his mausoleum is in an Egyptian-funerary stepped architecture and seeing as he wanted his body to be buried in ‘Iranian soil’, placing him in a chamber made of stone seemed unacceptable – therefore there must be a burial-chamber beneath the current mausoleum. In fact, it must be a mirror-image of the current mausoleum beneath the current structure.”


He even revealed the location and the depth of the underground burial chamber. “Based on these ‘evidences’, I believe his body is likely to be buried in an underground chamber at the depth of 35 meters, which will have to be confirmed with technical and sound tools.”


The mausoleum of the Cyrus the Great is the first and oldest free-standing funerary structure, known as the ‘gabled-tomb’ in the world. The structure though is an Iranian design, resembles and perhaps was influenced by the Elamite and Mesopotamian Ziggurats. The mausoleum had become the direct influence on the future free-standing mausoleums throughout the civilised world of that time. It is also the world’s first base-isolated method that Iranian engineers invented for its foundation to safeguard it from an earthquake.


The only reference however to Cyrus the Great having wished to be buried in the ‘ground’ comes from Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (8.7.25)[1], which some historians have challenged and believe it to be a fiction.


Khoshnevis’s claims despite being utterly-amusing and sounding like a prank, it is a warning and should be taken very seriously. The claim of the existence of a chamber beneath the mausoleum could be a prelude to a plot to dismantle and destroy the mausoleum of Cyrus the Great under the guise of ‘research’ – a plot that the Sivand dam failed to accomplish.


Nonetheless, as the result of high-humidity generated by the artificial lake formed behind the Sivand Dam, the edifices at Pasargadae including the Mausoleum of Cyrus the Great have been affected. This is while the government and the government-controlled ICHTO, including Khoshnevis reject the claim.


A few years ago the mausoleum went under crude and unprofessional restoration work that has caused damages to its structure. It is believed an extensive restoration programme is needed to rectify the damages that were caused by that ‘restoration’.


During that ‘restoration’, a number of bones were recovered in the ancient-cavity of the structure, which some claim might have been the remains of Cyrus the Great. The bones later disappeared and the Islamic Republic’s authorities claimed “they were bones of a dog.”


Who is Khoshnevis?

Khoshnevis obtained his Ph.D in Shia Architecture of Saudi-Arabia from the University of Fine Arts in Tehran in 1989. His thesis was on the historical references about the design of an Islamic Shia’ Shrine in Medina (Saudi Arabia) known as the Ahl-bayt in al-Baqi’ cemetery.[2] 


He is neither an archaeologist nor has any expertise in Iranian art, archaeology and history, particularly pre-Islamic Iran.


Khoshnevis is however a trusted figure by the hardliner government of Mahmood Ahmandinejad and is a close friend of Esfandiar Rahim-Masahei, the former-director of Iran’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organisation (ICHTO) – who was known for his notorious approach to pre-Islamic Iran. Khoshnevis was brought to ICAR by the former cleric director of the Centre, Taha Hashemi[3] during the take over of key position jobs in Iran by Mahmood Ahmadinejd and his allies.


Hashemi as the result of pressure from the cultural community lost his position to Archaeologist Dr Mehdi Kuhpar who stayed in the job until two months ago.


Appointing Khoshnvis as the head of ICAR created unease and raised concerns among the Iranian cultural and heritage figures.

[1] The entry reads: "Now as to my body, when I am dead, my sons, lay it away neither in gold nor in silver nor in anything else, but commit it to the earth as soon as may be. For what is more blessed than to be united with the earth, which brings forth and nourishes all things beautiful and all things good? I have always been a friend to man, and I think I should gladly now become a part of that which does him so much good.”

[2] The shrine was the burial place of 2nd, 4th, 5th & 6th Shia imams as well Abbas and Fatima, the uncle and daughter of Islam’s prophet Muhammad. The graves were enclosed by a domed-shrine built in 11th century and was removed in 1925 due to the Saudi’s iconoclastic policy.

[3] Taha Hashemi Toghroljerdi, was the deputy president of ICHTO and the director of ICHTO Research Centre is a politician and former editor of the conservative Persian daily "Entekhab". He is an influential cleric, protégé and close aid to Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic. Hashemi, who is cleric with no knowledge or expertise in the fields of history and archaeology, ironically was appointed as the director of Iran's archaeological research centre, an organisation that is responsible for protection of Iranian heritage - and according to Persian-daily Didar, not so surprisingly he was one of the strong supporters of inundation of Sivand dam.


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