The Burnt City (Shahr-e Sukhteh), UNESCO Site

One of the largest and richest Bronze Age sites in Iran and the Middle East is located in Sistan and Baluchestan. Located near the city of Zabol the Burnt City (Shahr-e Sukhteh) spans an area of more than 300,000 hectares. Founded in 3200 BC, the city fell into ruins in 2100 BC after being burnt down three times and not being rebuilt after the last fire. Four civilizations have lived in the city and its ruins show that it was once composed of residential districts in the northeastern part, an industrial area and a large cemetery along with memorial buildings. Tourists should not be worry to travel to this part of Iran, it is safe.

The city is believed by some to have been the capital of an ancient civilization that flourished on the banks of Hirmand River for more than 1,000 years and had extensive commercial, political, and social relations with other important cities in the region’s northeastern and western areas. Most of the excavated areas date back to 2700-2300 BC and have yielded hundreds of objects and relics, which are currently being studied by experts at Iran’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO). One of the most significant findings of the Burnt City is a cream-colored clay goblet. Five consecutive images drawn around the rare chalice portray a goat moving towards a tree and eating its leaves. The combined images are considered to be the oldest known piece of ‘animated’ art. In December 2006, archaeologists stumbled upon another piece of utmost significance – an artificial eyeball which subsequent research revealed was the first prosthesis to have been used by man. The eyeball was found on a 1.82-meter tall female skeleton, much taller than ordinary women of her time and dated back to between 2900 and 2800 BC.

Another medical achievement was the oldest sample of brain surgery, conducted on a 13-year-old girl suffering from hydrocephaly. Among the other valuable archaeological items that the site has yielded are the oldest known backgammon set, dice and caraway seeds as well as numerous metallurgical finds such as slag and crucible pieces. Despite the current dry weather conditions of the area, experts say it used to enjoy a moderate climate in ancient times.

Recent studies showed that female inhabitants of the Burnt City outlived the male members of their community. In June 2009, Iranian archaeologists announced that the city’s men died between the ages of 35 to 45, while women lived well into their 80s. Based on archaeological findings, the city was an industrial and artistic center and its inhabitants were a race of civilized people who were both farmers and artisans. Unique forms of jewelry and accessories found at the site prove the artistry and creativity of these people and reveal the methods they used in making such products. Golden and azure necklaces, which were discovered in a grave, helped archaeologists to find out the way people of the Burnt City used primitive tools to create such unique pieces. Upon closer examination of the necklace, experts discovered that the artisans used to cut sheets of gold less than a millimeter thin, turn them into cylindrical shapes and adorned them by placing the azure stone in the middle. Some 12 plain and colorful been found at the ancient site so far, testifying to the advanced fabric industry in the city.Among other findings are stone beads, clay Ilamite inscription, small clay figurines in the form of animals and different metal and wooden tools.

In one of the most recent discoveries, a team of Iranian and British anthropologists identified a male camel rider while doing research on human remains from the 3rd millennium BC. Further studies revealed bone trauma in the skeleton, which suggested that the man had most probably been a messenger spending most of his life on camelback. Close examinations showed that the rider used to gather up a leg while riding, which is something that one usually does while riding a camel over long distances.

A number of 5,000-year-old insignias, which were found in the graves of some female inhabitants, suggest that the women of the city enjoyed social and financial prominence.As no weapon or defensive fortress and walls have ever been discovered in the Burnt City, many experts believe that the inhabitants of the city were a peaceful people, who did not get involved in war or seek confrontation.Despite the excavations and studies carried out at the site, the reasons for the unexpected rise and fall of the Burnt City still seem to remain a mystery. The museum in a site exhibits some of the findings including pottery, icons, seals and some of the graves simulated using the human skeleton remains found in the site.


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