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What befell the ancient Elamite city of Haft Tappeh? Detail of the sack of Susa.

Human Tragedy Revealed at ancient city: Excavations uncover mass grave at Heft Tappeh, Iran

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The skeletal remains of several hundred bodies piled high behind a ruin wall are testimony to the terrible tragedy that unfolded in the ancient city of the Seven Mounds. Archaeologists have uncovered artifacts and bodies at the site of Haft Tappeh in Iran, revealing a deadly unknown event 3,400 years ago.

Archaeologists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have issued a press release describing how they have made great strides since 2003 in uncovering the many structures and historical development of the ancient city. However, the recent discovery of a mass grave with hundreds of bodies has confirmed there are many questions yet to be answered at Haft Tappeh.

Vaulted royal tomb of Haft Teppah (Haft Tepe).

Vaulted royal tomb of Haft Teppah (Haft Tepe). ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Mysterious Mass Grave

The press release reports: “A team of archaeologists from Mainz University headed by Dr. Behzad Mofidi-Nasrabadi recently discovered that the city’s population fell victim to a massacre at the end of the settlement phase. They found a mass grave containing the skeletal remains of several hundred people in a street between the dwellings of the final building layer. The dead had simply been haphazardly piled one on top of another behind a wall.”

Haft Tappeh (Haft Tepe) is one of Iran's most significant archeological sites. Dating back to the second millennium BC, it is located 15 kilometers (nine miles) south of Susa in the province of Khuzestan. The site was built upon 14 earthen mounds, the highest being 56 feet (17 meters) high.

According to archaeology website PastHorizons, monumental structures, temples and palaces, were built by the Elamite kings Tepti-ahar and Inshushinak-shar-ilani. The city flourished for a century, and stretched out across the landscape across 250 hectares (one square mile), becoming a prominent center in the empire.

Map showing the extent of the Elamite Empire (present day Iran) in red. Heft Tappeh is 15 km to the south of Susa. The ancient city traded with their neighbors, especially Babylon.

Map showing the extent of the Elamite Empire (present day Iran) in red. Heft Tappeh is 15 km to the south of Susa. The ancient city traded with their neighbors, especially Babylon. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Thriving Elamite Center with Monuments and Royal Tombs

Trade and diplomatic exchange with neighboring states was the lifeblood of the city. Excavations have revealed clay tablet archives describing vital commerce and crafts.

Researchers unearthed a large temple dedicated to Kirwashir, and Elamite deity. 

Relief of a woman being fanned by an attendant while she holds what may be a spinning device before a table with a bowl containing a whole fish. Circa 700 - 550 BC, Susa. Representational image.

Relief of a woman being fanned by an attendant while she holds what may be a spinning device before a table with a bowl containing a whole fish. Circa 700 - 550 BC, Susa. Representational image. ( Public Domain )

Early archeological research uncovered a vault built over the tomb of the Elamite ruler, Tapati Ahar. An underground funerary complex led to a royal tomb which held skeletal remains, but it is not known if they belonged to the king or his family.

IranReview writes, “The catacomb has a large platform, divided by low walls into three sections. The northern section houses seven skeletons, the southern section houses three skeletons and the middle section (smallest of the three) was found empty. Some ten skeletons were found in front of the platform in the southern part of the catacomb, which were irregularly laid on top of one another.”

It is thought that foundations, and a series of courtyards and rooms in the ruins might indicate an ancient ziggurat once stood at the site, perhaps like the ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil near Susa, a sacred city of the Elamite Kingdom.

The Ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil

The Ziggurat at Chogha Zanbil ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

In addition, many artifacts have been unearthed at Heft Tappeh, such as clay statuettes of fertility goddesses, pottery vessels, and grave goods from a tomb of a high-ranking female official, including jewelry, cups and long pins.

Many different forms of burials were discovered, including jar burials, and bodies buried in clay coffins.

Elamite burial container in Heft Tepe museum.

Elamite burial container in Heft Tepe museum. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

According to experts at the University of Mainz in Germany, the ancient site is said to have been discovered by a construction worker in the 1960’s who uncovered ancient baked bricks while making way for a street for a sugar cane plantation. This led to investigations by the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization, and excavations in 1965. Extensive sugar cane cultivation in this area over the last 40 years has reportedly destroyed some of the Haft Tappeh site.

Like so many other great cities that get lost to the sands of time, it is not known what became of Haft Tappeh, and why a once thriving city stagnated by the 14th century BC. According to JGU archaeologists, monumental structures were abandoned, and other ruins were plundered for their materials to build simple homesteads in the area.

Ashurbanipal's campaign against nearby Susa is triumphantly recorded in this relief showing the sack of Susa in 647 BC.

Ashurbanipal's campaign against nearby Susa is triumphantly recorded in this relief showing the sack of Susa in 647 BC. Here, flames rise from the city as Assyrian soldiers topple it with pickaxes and crowbars and carry off the spoils. Representational image.( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Further excavations for Haft Tappeh are planned, and it is hoped these will reveal the circumstances behind the tragic mass deaths at the ancient city, and shed light on the Elamite civilization.

Featured Image: What befell the ancient Elamite city of Haft Tappeh? Detail of the sack of Susa. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

By: Liz Leafloor      

Comments

Whenever 3400 years ago comes up we should consider the eruption of Santorini.

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