Rock art from unknown ancient civilization in Iran discovered on top of mountain

The article below “Iran: Rock art from unknown ancient civilization discovered on sacred volcanic stone at top of mountain” penned by Léa Surugue was first published in the International Business Times (IBT) on May 30, 2017.

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In Iran’s remote north-east, the discovery of mysterious rock art is intriguing archaeologists. Strange symbols engraved on an outcrop of volcanic rock, on top of a mountain, appear particularly puzzling.

The site, known as Pire Mazar Balandar (or PMB001), is situated near a small village and is well known to the locals. They in fact consider the engraved stone to be sacred. It is covered in 16 simple symbols, including U-shapes which the villagers believe are the hoof prints of the horse of the prophet Imam Reza, who is buried at a nearby shrine.

Pilgrims had for years left offerings by the volcanic stone and had started to build a small temple around it. But it was only recently, in 2015, that archaeologist Mahmoud Toghrae discovered the site and began documenting the rock art.

The first results of these investigations are now published in the journal Antiquity.

Ancient rock art from Iran of an unknown ancient civilization (Source: Léa Surugue in IBT).

Age mystery

In August 2016, Toghrae and two of this colleagues conducted fieldwork at the site, carefully describing the mysterious symbols marked in the stone. They also conducted a survey of the area and met with local people.

This led them to discover a second nearby site with volcanic rocks covered with engravings representing animals and humans.

“We found this second rock art group after a local pilgrim invited us to have lunch at his home. There, we discovered rock outcrops with several engravings showing specific subjects – anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures. They are small in size, different from the ones documented on PMB001 but similar to other figures found in rock art all over Iran,” co-author of the paper Dario Sigari, from the University of Ferrara in Italy told IBTimes UK.

Area where the rock art was discovered (Source: Léa Surugue in IBT).

At present, it is impossible to date the engravings or to associate them with any particular culture. This is a problem that archaeologists have always almost encountered when trying to date rock art in Iran. Because similar symbols and figures have been depicted repeatedly over the years, it is difficult to link them to a specific period – unless artifacts are found nearby, helping researchers come up with a more precise chronology.

Some of the symbols at PMB001 do give some clues. For instance, circular symbols on the stone are comparable to those found at another site and attributed to the Bronze Age. However, no precise dates can be put forward by the archaeologists without conducting more in-depth excavations in the area.

“There is a lot of debate when it comes to rock art in Iran to know whether we can attribute certain engravings to a period or another. We have a dating problem, because the same figures were represented, at different points in time from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. Probably the PMB001 area was settled at different periods, and the rock art represents all these phases. But without more excavations conducted at the site, we can’t say for certain what the chronology of the two sites is,” Sigari said.

Close-up of ancient rock art from Iran of an unknown ancient civilization (Source: Léa Surugue in IBT).

The archaeologists also want to investigate what the location of the stones in the landscape can reveal about the significance of the rock art. The fact that PMB001 is located at the top of a mountain may prove important in interpreting the engravings.

It’s possible that this position gave it a greater perceived sacred value, which was later adapted by modern population, in light of their new beliefs. “Such re-purposing of rock art for new beliefs and rituals will form another part of our ongoing research,” the authors conclude.

Sheda Vasseqhi PhD Study: Positioning of Iran And Iranians In Origins Of Western Civilization

Sheda Vasseghi has completed her PhD Dissertation at the University of New England entitled:

Positioning Of Iran And Iranians In Origins of Western Civilization. PhD Dissertation, University of New England (download this at Academia.edu …)

Sheda Vasseqhi

Vasseghi’s PhD academic advising team were composed of the following members: Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi and Kaveh Farrokh.

Her study explored a number of widely taught college-level history textbooks in order to examine how these positioned Iran and Iranian peoples in the origins of Western Civilization. As noted by Vasseghi in her abstract:

“Western Civilization history marginalizes, misrepresents, misappropriates, and/or omits Iran’s positioning. Further, the mainstream approach to teaching Western Civilization history includes the Judeo-Christian-Greco-Roman narrative.”

Vasseghi used a multi-faceted theoretical approach—decolonization, critical pedagogy, and Western Civilization History dilemma—since her study transcended historical revisionism. This collective case study involved eleven Western Civilization history textbooks that, according to the College Board’s College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), are most popular among American college faculty. Vasseghi reviewed and collected expert opinion on the following five themes:

(1) terminology and definition of Iran, Iranians, and Iranian languages

(2) roots and origins of Iranian peoples

(3) which Iranian peoples are noted in general

(4) which Iranian peoples in ancient Europe are specifically noted

(5) Iranians in connection with six unique Western Civilization attributes.

Vasseghi selected experts specializing in Iranian, Western Civilization, and Indo-European studies in formulating a consensus on each theme. She then compared expert opinion to content in surveyed textbooks. Vasseghi discovered that the surveyed textbooks in her study overwhelmingly omitted, ill-defined, misrepresented, or marginalized Iran and Iranians in the origins of Western Civilization.

Readers are encouraged to visit Kaveh Farrokh’s Academia.edu profile cited in the introduction of this post to download Sheda Vasseghi’s Dissertation. Here is one of the quotes from her study:

“The researcher recommends that textbook authors and publishers engage experts in the field of Iranian studies in formulating content. A caveat for engaging those in the field of Iranian studies when writing Western Civilization history textbooks involves making a distinction between a native Iran and post-Islamic invasion and colonization of Iran in early Middle Ages (7th century onwards). That is, in the Age of Antiquity, Iran was under an Iranian governance and ancestral beliefs such as Zoroastrianism and Mithraism.”

This is an important observation given Western Media and academic outlets using sweeping (if not simplistic) terms such as “Middle East”, “Muslims”, etc. without acknowledging the context of Iran’s unique background, ancient history and language(s). Put simply, terms such as “Middle East” are not scientific but geopolitical in origin. The term “Muslim Civilization” for example serves to dilute (or even blur) the critical role of Iranian and Indian scholars in the preservation and promotion of learning, sciences and medicine. Arab historians such as Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) who in his Muqaddimah (translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; R.N. Frye (p.91) has acknowledged the role of the Iranians in the promotion of scholarship:

“…It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars…in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs…thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the prophet becomes apparent, ‘If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven the Persians would attain it”…The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts…This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana (modern Central Asia), retained their sedentary culture.”

[For more see: Farrokh, K. (2015). Pan-Arabism and Iran. In “The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism” (Immanuel Ness & Zak Cope, Eds.), Palgrave-Macmillan, pp.915-923.]

Sources such as Ibn Khaldun are now rarely mentioned in many modern-day “Islamic Studies” in Western history textbooks which may explain in part the numerous errors uncovered in Vasseghi’s study. She further avers:

“Critical pedagogy is important in transformational leadership in education. Educators are obligated to point out errors or problems in content and mainstream narratives. In regards to teaching history of Western Civilization, one should recall the warnings of its looming demotion by Ricketts et al. (2011) because unfortunately teaching it “had come to be seen as a form of apologetics for racism, imperialism, sexism, and colonialism” (p. 14). It appears that in perceiving that something is missing from or fragmented in Western Civilization history content, educational institutions are now marginalizing and omitting it from their curriculum in America, a Western nation. Therefore, the significance of this study is the need for authors and educators to shift the currently flawed narrative on the history of the West. Iran’s positioning is a key component in the study of Western Civilization. The researcher argues that Iran and Iranians not only influenced the making of the West; they are part of the West. By placing Iran and Iranians where they belong, historians may also address concerns about teaching the history of the West (Ricketts et al., 2011).”

In her final PhD defense session with her research committee (Marylin Newell, Laura Bertonazzi and Kaveh Farrokh) on Monday, March 20, 2017, Vasseghi noted that she plans to author books tailored to Western audiences to help educate with respect to the role of Iranians in the formation of European civilization. Vasseghi’s books would also be geared towards a lay (non-academic) audience.

Chaharshanbeh Soori ceremony of ancient Persia: Links with Spain?

As reported by the Persian-language Topnaz outlet, every year towards the end of winter approaching the spring season, a festival takes place between March 15-19 in Valencia, Spain.  What makes the Valencia celebrations remarkable are their striking similarity to the rituals of the ancient Chaharshanbeh Soori celebrations practiced in Iran: citizens celebrate by jumping over bonfires in the last Wednesday before the Iranian Nowruz (New Year) on March 21. Similar rituals are seen among the Kurds of Iraq, Syria and Turkey and other Persianate countries such as the Republic of Azerbaijan (known as Arran until 1918) as the Nowruz approaches. Like the Chaharshanbeh ceremonies, the Valencia celebrations build bonfires and jump over these  …

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Jumping over bonfires in Valencia, Spain during celebrations spanning March 15-19 (Source: Topnaz.com). Note the proximity of these dates to the actual Nowruz celebrated on March 21 …

In this regard, these traditions are identical to these of the Chaharshanbeh celebrations…

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 Youths celebrating the Chaharshanbeh-Souri in Tehran in 2010; for more see here …

Valencia riders on horseback also partake in jumping over (or riding through) the bonfires…

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Valencia citizens on horseback jumping over bonfires during celebrations on March 15-19 for the impending spring season (Source: Topnaz.com). Note the proximity of these dates to the actual Nowruz celebrated on March 21 …

Firecrackers and other celebratory incendiary devices are used to highlight the festivities, again in striking similarity to those of the Chaharshanbehsoori…

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Pyroworks display on a caricature image – the Valencia citizens also design caricature images of people (often contemporary  famous persons like politicians, etc.) (Source: Topnaz.com).

The Valencia celebrations, like the Chaharshanbehsoori, witness the participation of citizens of all ages, with one distinguishing feature being the wearing of traditional local dress:

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Valencia women and young girls celebrate the festivities with local traditional dresses (Source: Topnaz.com).

Ancient Settlement Uncovered In West-Central Iran

The news item below was reported by the Archaeology News Network on September 18, 2016, based on a news release by Mehr News.

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Excavations at an ancient hill in Shazand in Iran’s Central Province have found evidence of a settlement which dates back 8,000 years.

Ghafour Kaka, head of excavation expedition in the site of Sarsakhti Castle Hill in an eponymous village in Shazand said that the evidence found at the site included simple and adorned pottery, bone and stone tools, counting tools and animal figurines, human skeletons, spindle whorls and casting moulds.

Our excavations reveal that the site had been settled at least 8,000 years ago (Neolithic Age). According to stratigraphic work carried out in 2012, the site was occupied in the Neolithic, Eneolithic, Bronze and Iron Ages, as well as in the Parthian, Ilkhanid, and Qajar periods. In the spring of 2016, our excavations sought to delve deeper into the oldest human settlement in this area and revealed important Eneolithic and Neolithic remains in a small trench of 6.4 metres. The last archaeological excavations go back to before the Revolution of 1979 and the lack of systematic dating methods had given rise to considerable confusion in the archaeological examination of this part of Zagros massif…”

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The Sarsakhti Castle Hill in Shazand village, located in west-central Iran (Source:Mehr News).

Kaka further avers:

The 3 metre deep deposit teeming with artefacts of the Neolithic Age is invaluable. Among the finds is a human skeleton, buried in a crouching or squatting position, which gives us important information about the burial practices during this period. The early inhabitants of this region clearly believed in an afterlife as the items buried with the deceased, which included tortoiseshell, as well as stone and bone tools, suggest“.

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Excavation work at the site of Sarsakhti Castle Hill in Shazand (Source:Mehr News).
Kaka summarizes and concludes:
Numerous clay animal figurines, mostly broken and fragmented, were also been found at the site and may have functioned as objects in rituals. It seems probable that the hill had long been settled in the Neolithic Age and had been connected to Central Zagros especially in the east of the mountain chain. The geographical position of the hill bestows a central position to the site where Zagros and the eastern half of the Iranian plateau meet, thus harbouring elements of both cultures.”
Sarsakhti has located in a high plain and dominates the river Merchaleh, which has fresh water most time of the year.

Display and Reconstruction of Remains of 7000 Year Old Woman in Iran

The Tehran Times on January 8, 2016 has reported of the remains of a 7-millennia-old woman that will remain on display at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran (see Tehran Times report for more details regarding the exhibition “Molavi Street Discoveries and Tehran 7,000-Year-Old Woman”).

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The 7000 year old remains on display at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran (Source: Tehran Times).

The discovery of the remains of the 7000 year old woman was made in November 2014 by Iranian archeology student Mahsa Vahabi whose keen observation of her surroundings led to the discovery of ancient stone foundations, samples of pottery, human bones. This is all the more remarkable as Mahsa Vahabi had made this discovery as she was walking along Tehran’s Molavi Street near the city’s Grand Bazaar. She found the items situated at the bottom of a construction site excavated by a Tehran-based Water and Wastewater Company. Mahsa Vahabi rapidly reported her discovery Siamak Sarlak a well-known Iranian archaeologist. Vahabi and Sarlak then successfully appealed to the Water and Wastewater Company to suspend its works in order to allow for a professional excavation to take place. 

The bones discovered by Vahabi have been scientifically proven to have been the skeleton of woman who lived sometime 7,000 years ago. Mehr News reported in mid-June 2015 that the face of the skeleton had been reconstructed with the help of 3D imaging technology by Mohammad Reza Rokni of the Archaeology Research Center and his research team.

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3D imaging Reconstruction of the 7000 year old woman discovered in the construction site along Tehran’s Molavi street in November 2014 by Mahsa Vahabi (Source: Archaeology.org). As reported by Mehr News Agency Mohammad Reza Rokni’s team based the appearance of the woman’s hair on the pottery images from Cheshmeh Ali (dated to the late Neolithic and Chalcolithic village, situated in northern Iran)

For more on a thousands year old civilization based in Iran, consult Archaeology.org: The World in Between