Scholars rethink the beginnings of civilizations following discoveries in Burnt City of Iran
Archaeologists digging in the Burnt City of southeastern Iran have excavated a piece of leather adorned with drawings from the Bronze Age. The Burnt City, known as Shahr-e Sukhteh in Persian, is a 5,200-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site in Sistan-Baluchestan Province.
“Due to extensive corrosion, some experts and the archaeologists are trying to save the leather,” the lead archaeologist, Professor Seyyed Mansur Sajjadi, told the Research Centre for Cultural Heritage.
It is extremely rare to find organic material from more than 5,000 years ago. Environmental and chemical factors make delicate items decay and deteriorate rapidly. The leather unearthed is very rare and contains drawings on it.
Shahr-e Sukhteh after excavations ( Wikimedia Commons photo by Rasool abbasi17 )
“The newly found decorated leather is just one of the remarkable discoveries that have been made at the site,” a NewHistorian article says . “Artifacts recovered during excavations have displayed peculiar incongruities with nearby contemporary civilizations. In December, a beautiful marble cup was discovered with completely unique decorations. Other notable discoveries have included: a 10-centimeter (3.937-inch) ruler, accurate to half a millimeter; the earliest example of an artificial eyeball; and an earthenware bowl bearing the world’s oldest known example of animation.”
Animation pottery vessel found in Shahr-i Sokhta, Iran. A goat eats from a tree in the images. Late half of 3rd millennium B.C. ( Wikimedia Commons photo by Emesik )
Scholars have speculated that the distinctive artifacts may indicate that there was a civilization east of Persia in prehistory that was independent of the first city states of Mesopotamia, which arose about 6,500 years ago.
“Ancient Mesopotamia, corresponding to modern-day Iraq, Kuwait and north eastern Iran, is widely considered to be the cradle of western civilization,” NewHistorian’s Adam Steedman Thake writes. “If it is the case that the Burnt City had developed free from Mesopotamian influence, it could mean that the early urban era was a lot more metropolitan than previously thought. If Mesopotamia was simply one of many city-based civilizations from 5,000 years ago, we will need to rethink the origins of our urban living.”
Recent excavations also uncovered ruins of a structure in an urban part of the Burnt City. The structure has two walls, each about a yard (1 meter) thick and is supported by nine buttresses.
“The signs of fire are clearly seen in some rooms of the building,” Sajjadi said. The team had found a small adjoining room in the building. The room had pieces of colored and plain textiles. The smaller chamber may have been used as a place for conducting sacrifices, scholars speculate, and the textiles may have contained offerings.
The Burnt City became registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2014. It is 35.4 miles (57 km) from the village of Zabol.
Archaeological work began at the Burnt City in 1967. Scientists have deduced some amazing conclusions about the earliest urban settlements. At 373 acres (151 hectares), the site was one of the world’s largest cities in the era when people were just settling in urban areas. West of the city proper is a large cemetery of 61 acres (25 hectares). It contains more than 25,000 graves, giving a clue as to how populous the Burnt City was.
The city was founded around 3,200 B.C., and burned down three times before it was abandoned in 1800 B.C. Why it was abandoned is not known.
Featured image: An archaeologist works in the Bronze Age Burnt City of southeastern Iran ( Wikimedia Commons photo by Damavand333 )
By Mark Miller