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The deformed human skull as it was recently found at the Tepe Ashraf mound.           Source: Tehran Times / CC BY 4.0)

Bizarrely Deformed Human Skull Found In Iranian Death Mound


Iranian archaeologists in search of ancient “death archaeology” at a prehistoric mound have recently unearthed the bizarrely deformed skull of an ancient human. In ancient archaeology, deformed human skulls are rare and generally reveal incredible insights into life in prehistoric times.

Isfahan’s Tepe Ashraf Mound Is Huge In More Ways Than One

Ancient burial tombs and cemeteries are cultural bridges linking the living with the dead. In Iran they represent tangible connections between present and past cultures. Located in the northern part of the country, Isfahan is a historical Iranian city renowned for its Persian architecture and 17th-century Imam (Shah) Mosque, whose dome is covered with mosaic tiles and calligraphy. However, this region was an ancient cradle of civilization and home to the world’s oldest urban settlement, dating back over 7,000 years.

Excavations at the ancient Tepe Ashraf mound in the city of Isfahan initially began in 2010, when professor Alireza Jafari-Zand announced that his team of archaeologists had found evidence at the 32 acre (13 hectare) archaeological site suggesting that it had been used during the Buyid dynasty (945-1055 AD), but they were to discover it was much, much older.

Isfahan And Its Jar Tombs Tell Of Pre-Islamic Practices

The joint team of Iranian researchers, led by Alireza Jafari-Zand, have discovered a range of artifacts and human remains at what they describe as the “prehistorical mount in Isfahan,” including the remains of a four-year-old horse that was unearthed near a giant “jar tomb.” According to the archaeologist, Tepe Ashraf, is only the second place after the Tepe Sialk (in Isfahan province) where similar jar tombs have been found, which the researcher says offers valuable clues in the uncovering of “the obscure history of pre-Islamic Isfahan.”

The remains of the four-year-old horse as they were found at Tepe Ashraf. (Tehran Times / CC BY 4.0)

The remains of the four-year-old horse as they were found at Tepe Ashraf. (Tehran Times / CC BY 4.0)

In a recent Tehran Times article, Alireza Jafari-Zand, who still leads the archaeological survey at Isfahan, said a skull has been discovered that had “no lower jaw and had been halved,” and furthermore, this half-skull was described as being “very strange” because it was physically incomplete. He said it was a “bizarre shape.” It was concluded that the skull belonged to a disabled person who lived during the Parthian Empire, also known as the Arsacid Empire (247 BC to 224 AD), that stretched from the Mediterranean in the west to India and China, encompassing Persian and Hellenistic cultures.

More Death Rituals And Tombs, But Little Official Action!

Also discovered in Iran just a few weeks ago, the Tehran Times reported on the unearthing of “13 ancient skeletons in the olden water ducts of Persepolis,” which archaeologists said shed new light on the ways of life and death in the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire. What’s more, in July this year IRNA announced that a skeleton belonging to a lady from the Parthian era had been unearthed from the northern part of Ashraf Hill whose face had been “directed towards the side of the sun.” Together, these finds are helping scientists better understand the afterlife in pre-Islamic Isfahan.

One of the earlier burial discoveries of this year (2020) at the Tepe Ashraf site and also an extremely valuable find. (Tehran Times / CC BY 4.0)

One of the earlier burial discoveries of this year (2020) at the Tepe Ashraf site and also an extremely valuable find. (Tehran Times / CC BY 4.0)

Last week, again in the Tehran Times, it was announced that at the end of the seventh archaeological season at Tepe Ashraf “the third skeleton found so far” will be transferred to a room in the Museum of Decorative Arts in Isfahan, because, according to the scientist, “there is no museum dedicated to these valuable ancient monuments in Isfahan.” The senior archaeologist was clearly being critical of Iranian provincial officials of the cultural heritage department and the Isfahan municipality by telling press that they have not taken any practical steps to inject funds and [help to] expand the excavation area. The scientist also said, “They have only given speeches about the importance of Tepe Ashraf and its discoveries.”

Death Rituals And Practices In The Heart Of Ancient Iran

This entire article is related to “death” and over the last two decades numerous archaeological surveys in Iran have unearthed tombs and cemeteries containing evidence of ancient burial rituals and artifacts of the afterlife. And a thriving tourist industry is now being built around “death archaeology” in Iran.

In northwest Iran, Shahr-e Yeri, the “city of the mouthless,” is a unique archaeological site and cemetery encompassing 988 acres (400 hectares) of small hills with an Iron-Age fortress, three prehistoric temples and carved stones depicting mouthless faces from other-worlds.

In contrast to the “ancient experiences” on offer in cities of the Western world, here in Iran, tourists are encouraged to visit centuries-old tombs and cemeteries where they can interact with the smells, feelings and surrounding landscapes of ancient death dramas that are imprinted in the crumbling architecture. In Europe, on the other hand, people must go to museum exhibitions to see ancient death artifacts and in these settings only their eyes and wallets are stimulated.

Top image: The deformed human skull as it was recently found at the Tepe Ashraf mound.           Source: Tehran Times / CC BY 4.0)

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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