Sunday, November 15, 2009
The Sialk ziggurat is a large ancient archeological site near Kashan, tucked away in the suburbs, close to Fin Garden. The culture that inhabited this area has been linked to the the Zayandeh River Civilization.
The Sialk ziggurat has 3 platforms, and was built ca. 2900 BC. However, the earliest archeological remains of the north mound date back to the middle of the 6th millennium BC; i.e. about 7,500 years ago. A joint study between Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization, The Louvre, and Institute Francais de Recherche en Iran also verifies the oldest settlements in Sialk to date back to 5500–6000 BC.
Sialk is one of four ziggurats built by the Elamite civilization. The other three are Chogha Zanbil (1250 BC), the Susa ziggurat (1800 BC), and Haft Tepe  (1375 BC), all in Khuzestan. Sialk is the 32nd and most recent ziggurat to be discovered. Sialk, and the entire area around it, is thought to have first originated as a result of the pristine large water sources nearby that still run today. The Cheshmeye Soleiman Spring has been bringing water to this area from nearby mountains for thousands of years.
What remains of this 5000-year-old ziggurat is not in a favorable condition like many other ancient ruins in Iran. There are actually two structures at Sialk situated several hundred feet from each other. While the three platforms of the larger ziggurat however still remain in place, not much remains of the smaller structure. The Louvre has also excavated a cemetery near the structures that have been dated as far back as 7,500 years. What little is left of the two crumbling Sialk ziggurats is now threatened by the encroaching suburbs of the expanding city of Kashan. It is not uncommon to see kids playing soccer amid the ruins, while only several meters away lie the supposedly "off limit" 5,500-year-old skeletons unearthed at the foot of the ziggurat. Furthermore the area has been surrounded by houses that have been constructed illegally over the few past years.
The cultural strata in the northern mound of Sialk are about 14 meters thick. A number of stone, pottery and copper artifacts as well as seashells have been found there during previous research digs. A 170-centimeter wall comprising 13 courses of mud bricks was discovered during the first season of the new excavations, carried out by a joint Iranian and British archaeological team in 2008. It is one of the earliest examples of ancient Iranian architecture.
Archaeologists have already concluded that residents of Sialk had red and white meat as the main source of their nutritious protein. According to archaeological studies, the animal bones discovered in the area are of various farm and wild animals such as cow, ship, goat, gazelle, and ram. The abundance of the bones of farm animals in comparison to those of gazelle and ram shows that the residents consumed meat of farm animals as the main source of protein, and hunted occasionally.
Experts believe that Sialk dwellers had been making all of their tools and instruments by stone, but little by little they had started to use metal for making their implements. The artistic taste of these people has been found through the engraving on bones which had been carried out for the first time and through the designs on their pottery. As recent as 2007 a large pot was discovered inside the second perimeter of Tappe Sialk with the mouth of the pot measuring 120 centimeters in diameter.
Further investigating the site, a mysterious burial ritual performed 9,000 years ago was uncovered. Based on this ritual, four bodies were burned at a heat of 400 to 700 degrees. The ash and remains of the bodies were then buried in a jar. Traces of red petals remained in the jar; archeologists believe red flowers signified life and eternity in ancient Persia. “A burial ritual encompassing burning has never been observed in Iran,” said Hassan Fazeli, the director of Iran’s Archeology Research Center. “It makes the rare discovery of great importance.”
Tappe Sialk was first excavated by a team of European archeologists headed by Roman Ghirshman in the 1930s. Grishman observed, “People of Sialk, near Kashan, were the most ancient plainsmen of the world, evidence from whose lives have been found over there. People of the time (the 5th millennium BC) were familiar with the textile industry, and all of them, both men and women, were interested in making and using ornamentations.” He considered discovered bills in Tappe Sialk belonging to the third millennium B.C are evidence of organizations for managing financial issues and accountings.
His extensive studies were followed by D.E. McCown, Y. Majidzadeh, P. Amieh, up until the 1970s, and recently reviewed by Iran's Cultural Heritage Organization in 2002 (led by Shah-Mirzadi, PhD, U of Penn). But like the thousands of other Iranian historical ruins, the treasures excavated here eventually found their way to museums such as The Louvre, The British Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and private collectors.