Fascination of Iran from an Archaeological Point of View


In recent years Iran became again a quite frequently visited destination of foreign cultural tourist from all over the world. This is not just because of the famous Iranian hospitality and its delicious, traditional cuisine or handicraft products like for example textiles, metalworks, and miniature painting but more for its unique landscape and eye-catching nature where you can experience snow covered mountains, arid desert areas, green endless meadows and thick forests during one visit. Another very important aspect of Iran is the wealth of historic sites from almost every phase of mankind of which 22 sites are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites and other 56 sites are already on the tentative list. ( http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/ir )
Besides the splendor of Islamic historical sites like for example the Meydan Naghshe Jahan and further architectural remains of the Safavid Period in Esfahan, the historical city of Yazd or the remains of the capital of Mongol Ilkhanid rulers of Iran in Soltaniyeh there is further evidence of every period of human living around the country.
Archaeological remains from the earliest phases of mankind, the first phases of agricultural development and sedentarism between the 8th and the 6th millennium B.C.E. until the rise of earliest city-states and state-like entities during the time from the 4th until the 2nd millennium B.C.E. to empires from the 1st millennium B.C.E. onwards can be visited on site, in collections of different local museums around the country or in the National Museum of Iran in Tehran
With regard to archaeological research in the Near and Middle Eastern regions, Iran belongs to the first places where since the Mid 19th century foreign archaeologists and diplomats started research during the phase of the so-called European Orientalism. It was the German scholar Georg F. Grotefend who initially did first translations of the Bisotun inscription of Dariush II. by identifying the rulers´ names and later the British diplomat and archaeologist Henry C. Rawlinson who fulfilled the decoding of the whole inscription at Bisotun. This led to the birth of Assyriology, the science of Ancient Near Eastern Languages, as an academic discipline. Based on the decoding of the Old Persian language even earlier languages like Akkadian and further Semitic languages and dialects, Sumerian and last but not least Elamite or other early Indo-European languages were able to understand. But some of these early languages are still not deciphered in total. Naramsin-Stele at the time of its finding in 1898; Codex Hammurabi Since lwwate 19th century until the dawn of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 French missions conducted excavations at Susa. During the first years of excavations unique objects of Ancient Near Eastern history like for example the Victory Stela of Naramsin and the Codex Hammurabi, one of the first codes of law in human history, were discovered.
These objects besides a large number of other extraordinary artifacts which were discovered at Susa are kept in the Louvre Museum at Paris and are some of the most important relics of ancient Ancient Near Eastern art and history. Some of these objects were brought already at the end of the second millennium. B.C.E by the Elamite ruler Shutruk-Nahunte II as booty from Mesopotamian centers like Babylon, Sippar and Akkad to his capital Susa and have been put there on display in his palace.
The ruins of the ancient Achaemenian capital Parseh which nowadays are better known as Persepolis or Takht-eh Jamshid (Engl. “Throne of Jamshid) were known from the early Islamic times and called “Chehel Monar” (Engl. “40 minarets”) according to their still standing columns which appear like minarets. The German archaeologists Ernst Herzfeld and Friedrich Krefter were the first researcher who conducted scientific excavations at site in the 1930s. During these activities the remains of the palace were excavated and also a large amount of written documents as well as precious objects were discovered. The latest archaeological research is conducted by a joint Iranian-Italian team under the directorship of Alireza Askari Javerdi and Pierfrancesco Callieri and focuses on the lower town of Persepolis. There, with the help of geophysical investigations different living quarters were located as well as a large system of channels to irrigate the extensive allotments. At the site of Tall Ajori which is situated in close distance to the palace ruins of Persepolis they also discovered a large gateway similar to the famous Ishtar Gate from Babylon. Their results by recent excavations are leading to the assumption that Persepolis might be founded earlier than Dariush II. probably at the time of Kurosh II. about 537 B.C.E. after his return from the campaign from Mesopotamia.
Next to the palace ruins of Persepolis in a distance of about 12 km to the northwest the royal graves of the first Achaemenian rulers are cut into the cliff face of the mountain at Naqshe Rostam. Well below the Achaemenian royal tombs there are stone cut bas-reliefs dating from the late Elamite period and Sasanian period until the Ghajar dynasty as well as the remains of the Ka’ba-ye Zartosht (meaning the “Cube of Zoroaster”). These historic remains from different periods of the Iranian history can be traced back from the late 2nd millennium B.C.E. until the 19th century and are underlining the extraordinariness of the site.
There are more unique archaeological sites in Western Iran like the ruins of Elamite centres in modern Khuzestan province (Chogha Zanbil and Haft Tappeh), the first evidences of Zoroastrian Fire temples at Nush-i Jan in Hamedan province or Godin Tappeh in Kermanshah province
but also in Eastern Iran ancient sites have been discovered which are of particular historical relevance. In the provinces of Sistan & Baluchestan as well as in Kerman there are for example the sites of Shahr-eh Sukhteh (Engl. “burnt city”), Shahdad, as well as the settlement, remains in the area around Jiroft. At Shahdad, inside of a burial, the famous “Standard of Shahdad” was found. This is so far the worldwide first evidence of a representative flag. According to archaeological record all the mentioned sites were important trading points for example semi-precious stones like Agate and Carnelian from local deposits and Lapislazuli from Badakhshan in modern Afghanistan.
But also other raw materials like copper from local mines, their alloys and finished objects derived from production centres which were located in the regions. Around Jiroft thousands of distinctive chlorite objects where brought accidentally to light by disastrous floods of the local Halil Rud River in early 2000 which are supporting the hypothesis of the identification of an important production area/center for carved chlorite vessels. By way of an analogue comparison there is also important archaeological evidence for early extensive production of copper alloys next to the village of Arisman which is situated in next vicinity to Tappeh Sialk (Kashan), the major archaeological site in Central Iran.
All these articles of daily use as well as prestige goods and the raw materials were manufactured and traded between remote regions of Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Southern coast along the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia as proven by archaeological research.
These observations are also indicating the international trading system of the so-called “silk roads” already existed in pre-Islamic periods but maybe on smaller dimensions.
Settlement sites like Dahan-eh Gholaman and Kuh-eh Khwaja in Sistan which are belonging to the millennia around the beginning of the Common Era (C.E.) are of great significance and further testimonies that this in the modern time’s arid area was of particular importance once.
Other testimonies of these periods are distributed all over the country like for example the impressive architectural complexes of Takht-eh Soleyman in West-Azerbaijan or Bishapur, Firuzabad, and Sarvestan which are located in Fars province.
With the help of these historical monuments, it is possible to trace a line of historical and cultural continuity through almost 3000 years of Iranian presence. Starting from the first evidence of fire temples at Tappeh Nush-i Jan, the extensive palatial complexes at Bishapur, the site of Naqshe Rostam with its achaemenidian necropolis and bas-reliefs from different periods towards the area of Yazd province. There, the Tower of Silence (“Dakhm-eh Zardosht”) and the modern fire temple (“Atashkadeh”) in the city itself as well as in close vicinity located old Zoroastrian places of pilgrimage at Pir Sabz and Chak Chak are testifying the impression of this early faith communities.
In addition to these relics of pre-Islamic civilizations in Iran there is further evidence from all periods after the advent of the Islam in Iran with even more architectural structures like for example uncountable remains of historical caravanserais, important early Islamic metropolises like Shadyakh (Neyshabour) and Shahr Belches (Esfarayen) or Deqyanus (Jiroft) which are still under archaeological excavations
towards the modern Iranian metropoles of Qom, Shiraz, Tabriz, Mashhad, Esfahan and last but not least the capital Tehran.

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