Saturday, December 19, 2009

Burnt City

The Burnt City is an archaeological site of a sizable Bronze Age urban settlement, associated with the Jiroft culture. It is located in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, 60 kilometers from Zabol and 6 kilometers from the Rostam Castle, on the bank of the Helmand River, near the Zahedan-Zabol road. It is comprised of hillocks with a maximum elevation of 50 meters. This vicinity was one of the vital centers of Asian civilization in the Bronze Age and dates to the 4th and 3rd millennium BC.

Covering an area of 151 hectares, the Burnt City was one of the world’s largest cities at the dawn of the urban era. The settlement appeared around 3200 BCE. The city had four stages of civilization and was burnt down three times before being abandoned in 2100 BCE. The site was discovered in 1967 and has been continually excavated since the 1970s by Iranian and Italian archaeological teams; new discoveries are reported from time to time.

The reasons for the unexpected rise and fall of the Burnt City are still wrapped in mystery. What seems especially bizarre about the city is its incongruity with nearby civilizations of the time. It is as if the city just appeared out of nowhere. The Burnt City could eventually be the evidence to prove that an ancient civilization to the east of prehistoric Persia was independent from the civilization of ancient Mesopotamia. The excavations at the Burnt City also suggest that the inhabitants were a race of civilized people who were both farmers and craftsmen. No weapon has ever been discovered at the site, suggesting the peaceful nature of the residents.

Archaeological and scientific discoveries, have revealed a rectangular structure, with square chambers, a corridor, staircase and walls to the thickness of 3 meters to the rear of this archaic structure, that show the signs of a vast fire. Another vestige of the Achaemenian period, discovered in the excavations in hillocks of this area, is a bronze statue of a woman carrying an urn on the head. Colored earthenware found in the Burnt City are related to the 4th, 3rd and 2nd millennium BC. and are similar to the civilizations of Mesopotamia and India. Archeologists have also unearthed 65 statues of human and animal figures in the Burnt City, which included a small statue of a pregnant woman and a man wearing a necklace

Paleopathological studies on 40 teeth unearthed in the Burnt City's cemetery show that the inhabitants of the city used their teeth as a tool for weaving to make baskets and other handmade products. “More than 40 teeth lesions have been identified, the most prominent of which belongs to a young woman who used her teeth as a tool for weaving baskets and similar products," said Farzad Forouzanfar, director of the Anthropology Department of Iran's Archeology Research Center and head of the anthropology team at the Burnt City. The use of teeth as a tool in the Burnt City is seen in both males and females of different age groups. Evidence shows that weaving was more than a hobby in the prehistoric city. It was one of the most common professions in the city which required a special skill. Residents made a variety of woven products such as carpets, baskets, and other household items.

The discovery of necklaces made of gold and lapis lazuli and beautiful beads indicate that the Burnt City’s inhabitants possessed high technology for producing jewelry. The materials for the jewelry were brought in from distant places such as Badakhshan in Afghanistan and Khorasan in northeastern Iran, and the finished products were later exported to other places such as Oman and the Persian Gulf islands. A comb decorated with intarsia work found at the site hints that the art of intarsia was first developed on the Iranian plateau and not in China as was previously believed.

Some paleoanthropologists believe that mothers in the Burnt City had social and financial prominence. 5000 year-old insignias, made of river pebbles and believed to belong only to distinguished inhabitants of the city, were found in the graves of some female citizens. Some believe the female owners of the insignias used them to place their seal on valuable documents. Others believe the owners may have used the seal to indicate their lofty status in society.

Furthermore, in excavations a number of graves have been discovered too. Some are of various forms such as "simple hollows or pits" which outwardly are not consistent in shape. These are square, or right angular, and even at times being close to a sphere. Most have been used once, rarely twice and sometimes two corpses have been buried together. The most interesting of these graves are the catacombs or crypts which are oval in shape and have been dug on one side and are to a depth of 180 centimeters whereas the other side is only 120 centimeters deep. The entrance to this part of the grave is blocked by a brick wall, whereas the other section remains empty. Another type of grave is similar to a crypt or is a sort of false catacomb. Here a pit was dug, and to one side a brick chamber was constructed, the walls of which were covered with a horizontal brick. These crypts have been constructed with a double row of bricks, and have encrusted walls.

In 2009 a total of 52 skeletons were discovered by a joint Italian-Iranian archaeological team in the 5200-year-old Burnt City. The discoveries were made at the cemetery of the city during the 12th season of excavation that began in late December 2008. Twelve of the skeletons belong to children and a skeleton of a newborn is among the discoveries. Three women and four men who died sometime between the ages of 45 and 60 are among the skeletons.

In December 2006, archaeologists discovered the world's earliest artificial eyeball. It has a hemispherical form and a diameter of just over 2.5 centimeters. It consists of very light material, probably bitumen paste. The surface of the artificial eye is covered with a thin layer of gold, engraved with a central circle (representing the iris) and gold lines patterned like sun rays. The female remains found with the artificial eye was 1.82 meters tall, much taller than ordinary women of her time. On both sides of the eye are drilled tiny holes, through which a golden thread could hold the eyeball in place. Since microscopic research has shown that the eye socket showed clear imprints of the golden thread, the eyeball must have been worn during her lifetime. The woman's skeleton has been dated to between 2900 and 2800 BCE.

The oldest known backgammon, dice and caraway seeds, together with numerous metallurgical finds (e.g. slag and crucible pieces), are among the finds which have been unearthed by archaeological excavations from this site. Other objects found at the site include a human skull which indicates the practice of brain surgery and an earthen goblet depicting what archeologists consider to be the first animation.

In one of the most recent discoveries, a team of Iranian and British anthropologists, working on human remains in the city from the 3rd millennium BC, identified a male camel rider who they believe was a messenger in ancient times. Studies of the skeletal remains belonging to the man reveal evidence of bone trauma, suggesting that he was a professional rider who most likely spent most of his life on camel back. Indications of riding are seen on the right leg bone of the man, who died at the age of 40 to 45. There are blade-shaped swellings on the lower part of the leg bone which indicate that he used to gather up his right leg while riding, suggesting that he rode on a large animal like a camel or ox. Scientists, then, believe that the man was probably a courier who traveled regularly on camelback.

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