Shahr-e Soukhteh, A Paradise for Archaeologists
Shahr-e Sukhteh is an archaeological site of a sizable Bronze Age urban settlement, associated with the Jiroft culture. It is located in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, the southeastern part of Iran, on the bank of the Helmand River, near the Zahedan-Zabol road. It was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in June 2014.
Today, the province of Sistan and Balouchistan is renowned for being one of the most important drug transit places in the world. It also counts, despite the efforts of the state to remedy this state of affairs, among the poorest provinces of Iran. These two factors, combined with the remoteness of the province from the seat of central power, play a significant role in the steady decline in the flow of Iranian and foreign visitors. However, this region, which is a poor relation, is undoubtedly the seat of one of the most mysterious and ancient civilizations of Iran and even of the world.
Region with the thousand-year-old history, child or ancestor unloved of Iran, there was a time where the Sistan equaled in size Mesopotamia, powerful capital of the Muslim caliphate. Before that, at the time of the Provinces, it had been the elected territory of the Aryans from India. In the Avesta, it is cited as the eleventh region of the world created by Ahura Mazda. It is also the birthplace of Rostam, Iran's mythological hero. The ancient historians associated Sistan with the mythical king Garshasb, one of the descendants of Kioumars. The name of the Sistan comes from the Aryan tribe of Sakas, who occupied the Sistan in the year 128 BC. To this day, many places of the Sistan are associated with the mythological heroes. Important province of the Sassanid era, it was taken by the Arabs in 643. Zoroastrian sacred region, it is probably, in view of recent archaeological discoveries, the place from where Zoroaster began its prophetic mission. After Islam, it was this region that saw the revival of Iranian Iran and the first poems in modern Persian at the Saffarid court. It is also distinguished for being the first Shiite region, which made her the haunt of the first opponents of the Abbasid caliphate. This rich past makes Sistan, part of which is now located in Afghanistan, a favorite spot for archaeologists who have made so many discoveries that the English archaeologist Aurel Stein, at the beginning of the twentieth century, had already nicknamed the "paradise of archaeologists".
Of the countless archaeological sites found in the Sistan, Shahr-e Soukhteh (or the Burned City) is unquestionably the most famous. The discovery of the remains of this city, which is unknown why it burned, allowed archaeologists to establish the existence of a highly developed civilization, dating back more than five millennia, making it the oldest civilization of the world. is from the Iranian plateau. According to the research carried out, four civilizations would have followed in this region between 3200 and 1800 BC. The name of this city probably comes from the two great fires that ravaged the city between 2700 and 2400 BC. AD
Located 57 kilometers from the city of Zabol, on the edge of the Zabol-Zahedan road, Shahr-e Soukhteh was first mentioned in 1900 by British Colonel C. E. Yate in his travelogue Khurasan and Sistan. It is he who brings this name of Burnt City or City Burned given by the inhabitants to the hill of the site, then covered with sand. After him, an English archaeologist, Aurel Stein, visited the site but the thickness of sand that covered the site dissuaded him from deepening the excavations. It was finally in the fifties that a group of Italian archaeologists began serious excavations. This team, sent by the Italian Institute for the Middle and Far East, had already worked extensively on the sites of Pompeii and knew the exact processes of excavation of the sites covered. The Burned City was covered with a thickness of twenty centimeters of sand, which allowed this place to remain untouched for more than four millennia. That said, the people of the area had passed the name of this hill from generation to generation. According to archaeological research, for a millennium after the disappearance of this civilization, other inhabitants lived near this place, and it was finally because of the deviation of the course of the Helmand River (Hirmand) and the desertification of the region they moved elsewhere, allowing the remains of the site, slowly covered with sand, to withstand the ravages of time. This Italian team worked on this site for a decade, from 1967 to 1978. After the Revolution, Iranian teams were formed under the direction of Seyed Mansour Seyed Javadi. Twelve seasons of excavations have so far allowed the updating of many objects and the discovery of new sites.
That said, the richness of the remains to be discovered is such that the twenty seasons of excavations have finally led to the discovery of new secrets, and only a tiny percentage of objects on the site has been discovered.
The geography and the environment of Shahr-e Soukhteh
The currently updated site occupies a field of one hundred and fifty-one hectares; the remains show five residential centers located mainly to the northeast of the perimeter, the center of the site being occupied by the "industrial sector", the cemetery and the commemorative monuments, all in the form of hills close to each other. The inhabited part of the Shahr-e Soukhteh covers a perimeter of eighty hectares. Although the climate of the region is now desert and hot, it was then fertile and richly irrigated by the Helmand River. Remains of water canals and traces of crops have been discovered. In addition, during the first season of the excavations, a drainage system, a set of underground canals along the line of streets, as well as terracotta pipes were updated in the city itself. This system tends to prove the existence of a program followed by urban planning.
Between the years 1997 and 2004, fourteen yards extending over two hectares on the site of the cemetery allowed the excavation of 310 of the more than thirty thousand graves of the place. The study of these tombs shows that the inhabitants knew well the weaving and that different fabrics were used to cover the body of the deceased, either as ceremonial clothes, or as a shroud, and to cover the ground of the falls on which was deposited the dead person dressed. The dead were buried seated and the discovery of the body of an enemy executed at once in the head and buried upside down tends to show that the inhabitants believed in the relationship between the body of the deceased and his spirit. But the most common objects discovered in the tombs are the pottery, of which several thousand have been updated throughout the site.
Shahr-e Soukhteh was a city with well-developed handicrafts, and during the sixth season excavations of very beautiful samples of decorative and functional objects were updated. Remnants of jewelery workshops and other workshops that were operated on charcoal were also found.
Among the updated objects, there are necklaces and rings of lapis lazuli and gold discovered in a tomb. The artisans of the Burned City used a primary technique of thinning the gold plates that they reduced to a thickness of less than a millimeter, which they then rolled into cylinders with which they joined the two ends to place lapis lazuli stone in the center.
Thousands of pottery and stone vessels, as well as various kinds of fabrics, carved wooden objects, and wicker baskets have also been discovered. These discoveries demonstrate the existence of a developed craft, especially in weaving, since twelve different plain or multicolored fabrics have been updated there. Fishing was also widely practiced, as shown by hooks, nets and harpoons discovered. The numerous wicker baskets show that the inhabitants used the marsh reeds surrounding Lake Hamoun for the construction of the roofs of the houses.
All the discoveries made during the excavations show that the civilization of the Burned City was very developed and that it benefited from a system of urban planning and a strong social cohesion which allowed the development of the sciences, whose medicine . Thus, extensive surgical operations then took place, and some of the skeletons bear the traces of these operations. On the other hand, the discovery of the only Elamite tablet and other objects bearing the Elamite seal shows that these two civilizations knew each other and maintained commercial relations. It is likely that the trade of Shahr-e Sukhteh was controlled by the Elamites. Archaeologists also believe that the city sent artisans to Egypt and had commercial relations with that country.
Demographics of Shahr-e Sukhteh
According to anthropologists from the Shahr-e Soukhteh archaeological team, the average population of the city was six hundred large families. Until the last season of the excavations, archaeologists estimated that the population of the city was five thousand people but according to new discoveries, it would have exceeded six thousand. According to these estimates, thirty thousand people were buried in the local cemetery. It was also found that the percentage of women was higher than men. Moreover, this percentage has undergone significant variations over time, variations obviously due to migration or wars and missions.
The average lifespan was 35 to 45 years, with a longer lifespan for women, although corpses of octogenarians were also discovered. That said, we still do not know the reasons for this short life span.
The diet of the inhabitants depended entirely on natural and social conditions and there were no differences between male and female nutrition. In addition, the inhabitants suffered from a deficiency of animal proteins replaced by vegetable proteins.
The artificial eye
During the 2007 excavation season, an artificial eye 4800 years old was discovered in Shahr-e Soukhteh. This eye belonged to a 25- to 30-year-old woman, probably Métis, whose body was found in one of the city's cemetery graves. The use of this artificial eye had created a kind of plaque at the level of the lower eyelid whose trace is visible on the artificial eye. It is still unclear what this eye is made of but according to preliminary estimates, it would be made of a mixture of natural tar and animal fat. The capillaries have been represented with very fine gold threads. The pupil is drawn in the middle of the eye and parallel lines forming a kind of rhombus appear the iris. Two holes on both sides of the eye serve to tie the eye in the orbit.
The world's first cartoon
During the first excavations on this site, the Italians had fallen on a very special pottery on which were drawn some goats and some trees. At the time, this pottery did not attract the attention of the Italian teams who, without taking a closer look, archived it with the other pottery found on the site. In studies after the Islamic Revolution, it was realized that this pottery represented in five movements, following the same pattern as the first modern cartoons, a goat leaping towards a tree to tear off a leaf. This pottery is actually the oldest cartoon in the world, now preserved in the National Museum of Iran.
Another interesting discovery was that of the interest of the inhabitants of Shahr-e Sukhteh in the planning of the territory. It is indeed the first time that one sees in a city of this age such a concern for planning. In this city, each district was reserved for a certain layer of the population and the districts of craft and commercial were located according to plans reminding the modern cities.
Before the discovery of this city, it was widely believed that Iranian civilizations dating back to the Bronze Age were concentrated in the west and southwest of the country, but the Shahr-e Sukhteh civilization put an end to this theory. since this city was founded around the middle of the Bronze Age and it first developed continuously for nine centuries, then three more periods before finally disappearing.