Acme of Civilization in the Driest Part of Iran

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Farzaneh Tehrani 

The 150-hectare vicinity of the Burnt City, which dates back to the Bronze Age, is one of the most unique archeological sites in the country and the whole world, and is located in Sistan and Baluchestan province near the city of Zabol. Thus far, important clues about existence of an advanced city, which existed thousands years before Christ, have been found in this vicinity including residential quarters, industrial centers and cemeteries.

The Burnt City is located 56 km from Zabol in Sistan and Baluchestan province. It is located along Zabol – Zahedan road and is 5,000 years old. The city was founded 3,200 years ago and people have inhabited it for four periods between 3200 B.C. and 1800 B.C.

No document or tablet has been found to indicate the true and ancient name of the city. The city has been called “Burnt City” because of two instances of fire accident, which had broken out between 3200 B.C. and 2750 B.C. The surprising city has been one of the most civilized cities of ancient times and has drawn the attention of many archeologists.

The studies show that the area, which is not a desert where only tamarisk trees grow, has been a green area some 5,000 years B.C. with varied plants such as weeping willow, maple and poplar trees. Archeological explorations have revealed advanced agricultural and livestock breeding systems of the city. At the same time, the region has been very warm and Hirmand River and its branches supplied needed water to farmlands. Hamoun Lake has been much bigger some 3,200 years ago and many rivers poured into it. It had been surrounded by cane fields. Excavations around the Burnt City have unearthed water canals which took water to farmlands. In the first season of explorations in the vicinity, many alleys, regular rows of houses as well as water and wastewater networks using clay pipes were found, which indicated existence of meticulous urban management plans.

According to archeological findings, the Burt City is 151 hectares in area and its remains show that the city has had five residential sections located northeast of the city as well as central parts, and industrial centers, monuments and a cemetery all of which had been built over continuous range of hills. Some 80 hectares of the Burnt City has been residential.

The area of the Burnt City and archeological findings have changed it from an ordinary archeological site belonging to the Bronze Age and have made archeologists conclude that life in the Burnt City has been concurrent with the beginning of urbanization in the central Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia.

The industrial part of the Burnt City has not been discovered yet. Dr. Mansour Sajjadi, head of the international archeological team which is exploring the Burnt City has noted that further excavations will be carried out on the northeastern side of the city in order to unearth deeper layers of the city. They hope to find vestiges of the people who inhabited the area for the first time some 5,000 years ago.

He maintains that the Burnt City is unique among other archeological sites in the world, adding, “Division of various neighborhoods including residential quarters, industrial workshops and monuments has no parallel in any other ancient city.”

Sajjadi has noted that according to studies, there have been 40,000 graves with more than 4 billion cultural material in the city’s cemetery which has had an area of 25 hectares.

The expert noted that, thus far, nine different types of graves and burial methods for the dead have been found in the Burnt City of which two types were like old water storage facilities and the rest were simple graves.

From 1997 to 2004, 14 presumed sites with an area of about 2,300 hectares were explored, and as a result, 310 graveyards were found. Some bodies found in the Burnt City had some clothes on and in some graves; vestiges of fabrics were found on the dead bodies.

Head of archeological team of the Burnt City noted that inhabitants of the city had believed in a life after death, because their tools, foodstuff, and cosmetics were buried with them.

He added that after nine seasons of explorations, no tablet or other document has been found to show the name of the city, saying, “If such a document had been found, it would have provided us with valuable information."

The head of the archeological team also noted that studies show that the Burnt City has had a population of 12,000-15,000 some 5,000 years before Christ.

Sajjadi stated that, thus far, many books have been published on the Burnt City in Russian, Persian, English, German and French.

The Burnt City has been an industrial and arts hub. According to a report issued by Iran Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, during the sixth season of explorations, interesting objects such as ornaments (including necklaces made of gold and lapis lazuli) have been found in addition to various types of pottery and stone dishes, as well as different types of cloths and mats. Studies carried out on 250 skeletons have shown that inhabitants have been probably doing hard works because various complications such as damaged lumbar vertebras, adhesions in neck bones and the back have been found on their bodies.

Head of the international anthropology team of the Burnt City noted that the historical site is the best archeological site in the world for research on human resources.

Farzad Forouzanfar added that many skeletons have been found which were worn out from 1 to 100 percent.

“Due to suitable soil, a number of skeletons have been found intact. We believe that the situation of the Burnt City, especially its cemetery, has no parallel in terms of soil quality,” he said.

Monuments are located northwest of the city and early studies have revealed a huge building with about 60 rooms as well as open and roofed spaces. The walls are 75-125 cm thick and are made of adobe. There are no signs of construction work at the bottom of room, except for one instance. New relics show that the building had been inhabited during the first and third periods after establishment of the Burnt City. However, potteries founding the building have not been completely studied yet.

The Burnt City has been undoubtedly among modern cities of its time. This has not only been seen in the relics of archeological and industrial products, but has also been observed in social organization of the city. The Burnt City had enjoyed an organized urban system whose remains show that the city had availed of wastewater disposal system and medical services some 3,000 years before the birth of Christ. Physicians in the city knew how to treat bone fractures and could have even embarked on surprising brain surgeries. They have even carried out eye transplants. On the other hand, the only inscription that has been found in the city shows that it has had trade and economic relations with adjacent cities.

Clay seals have been found in two forms: those using a stamp and cylindrical ones. Most found seals are of the first type and were used as signature by every family. They were simply used by households and were different from state seals.

Director of international archeological site of the Burnt City has noted that a comprehensive plan for the city includes different programs and measures such as classification of pottery, preparing bank documents as well as documents used to identify nearby hills.

He said that for the first time the city will be developed after its international status has been established.

Khosravi also stated that needed credits have been allocated by the governor-general of Sistan and Baluchestan province to development of the Burnt City.

He added that some of the credit will be allocated to improving the vicinity and implementing the city’s comprehensive plan.

Khosravi said international site of the Burnt City will soon become a major research center in the region.

“We are also preparing a digital map of the Burnt City and this will be done after identifying all hills that are around the city,” he said.

Khosravi noted that 103 ancient hills have been found this year. “Thus the Burnt City of Zabol holds a new record in terms of having such hills among ancient cities of Iran.”

He predicted that a total of more than 1,000 satellite hills will be found in the ancient city.

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