Ancient Zoroastrian Temple discovered in Northern Turkey

The News report Ancient Persian temple discovered in northern Turkey could rewrite Religious History” was originally provided on November 6, 2017 by the Daily Sabah News outlet based in Istanbul, Turkey. The text of the Daily Sabah report has been reproduced below with a number of edits. Included in the text below are also translated portions of the Turkish language Ana Haber Gazete News outlet. Kindly note that excepting one photo, all other images and captions do not appear in the original Daily Sabah report.

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Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient Persian temple from the fifth century B.C. in Turkey’s northern Amasya province that could rewrite the history of the region. Istanbul University Archaeology Professor Şevket Dönmez has noted that the discoveries at the ancient Persian Oluz Höyük settlement in Toklucak village have the potential to change long-held notions of religion and culture in Anatolia.

Artifacts uncovered at the ancient Persian Oluz Höyük settlement in Toklucak village, Amasya province, Turkey (Daily Sabah & AA Photo).

As noted by Dönmez during a press conference regarding his excavations at Amasya (as cited/translated from the Turkish language Ana Haber News outlet):

“The excavations proceeded to explore the Persian (Achaemenid) time period (c. 425-300 BCE) at Asmaya… Oluz tumulus, where cella with sacred fire burned, living quarters, stone pavilions, and potholes where unusable temple goods were buried were discovered … the history of Anatolian religion now has to be revised … Portable fire burning vessels (fire) and skulls used in the temples were destroyed in the course of Alexander the Great’s Asian campaign (300 BCE). Shovels and pots pointing to Haoma (holy drink) were discovered. It is the first time that the ruins of Oluz mound, which reflects the formation and development periods of the Zoroastrian religion which are understood to have come to Anatolia with the Medes and the Persians. these finds are notably unique as he richness of these finds have yet to be found in Iran itself which is the Zoroastrian religion‘s  geographical source.”

 Professor Şevket Dönmez of istanbul University presents his findings at Asmaya, Turkey in a news conference followed by questions by Turkish academics and reporters (Source: Ana Haber). Note the Zoroastrian artifacts also on display at the lower right of the photo.

In 11 seasons of excavations, the team uncovered thousands of artifacts, as well as temple structure. In respone to questions by the Anadolu news agency Dönmez noted:

“In this settlement from the fifth century B.C., we discovered a temple complex which is related to a fire culture, more precisely to the early Zoroastrian religion, or to the very original religious life of Anatolian people … They built a massive religion system here [Asmaya]… No 2,500-year-old artifacts have been found in Iran, yet they appeared in Anatolia. [With this discovery] Anatolia has entered the sacred geography of today’s Zoroastrians” 

Zoroastrianism, one of the world’s oldest extant religions, is believed to have originated from the prophet Zoroaster in present-day Iran. The discovery of a temple for fire worship suggests the religion may also have had roots in Anatolia, as well.

Professor Şevket Dönmez of Istanbul University provides the architectural layout of the Zoroastrian temple that he and his archaeological team have excavated at Asmaya (Source: Ana Haber),

Describing the temple, Dönmez said it includes a holy room for burning fires and other stone-paved areas with many goods used in worship practices. Dönmez also said Oluz Höyük is the only known Persian settlement in the region.

Excavations at Oluz Höyük started in 2007, after the site was first discovered during surface research near Tokluca village in 1999.

Dönmez and his team plan to continue research work at the site, possibly working on restoring the temple area in the future.

Remains of ancient Zoroastrian urns at Gonnur Tappeh which were once filled with the sacred drink known as “Soma/Haoma” (Source: Balkh and Shambhala). Gonnur Tappeh is situated  at approximately  sixty kilometers north of Mary in modern-day Turkmenistan.

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.

Clothing Styles of Women in Ancient Iran

Below are creations of the dresses of the ancient women of Iran from the Median, Achaemenid, Parthian and Sassanian eras. The four reconstructions depicted here were made during the early 1970s and are posted in the Iran Matlab website article entitled “مدل لباس زنان در ایران باستان [Clothing of Women in Ancient Iran]”.

Iran Women-Dress-1-MedesMede era (c. 615-549 BCE) dress reconstruction based on the silver box discovered with the Oxus Treasure now housed at the British Museum (Source: Iran Matlab).

Iran Women-Dress-2a-AchaemenidReconstruction of  noblewoman based on the Achaemenid era (550-330 BCE) tapestry from Pazyryk housed at the Hermitage Museum at St. Petersburg (Source: Iran Matlab).

Iran Women-Dress-3-ParthianParthian era (c.247 BCE – 224 CE) dress from Hatra, based on the figurine housed at the Baghdad Museum (Source: Iran Matlab).

Iran Women-Dress-4-SassanianIranian queen from the Sassanian era (224-651 CE) based on  the silver plate housed at the Walter Art Gallery in Baltimore (Source: Iran Matlab).

Fezana Journal article on Kurdish ties to ancient Iranian Mythology & Zoroastrianism

The Fezana Journal has published an article by Kaveh Farrokh on the links between the Kurds and ancient Iranian mythology, notably Zoroastrianism:

Farrokh, K. (2016). Exploring Kurdish ties to ancient Iranian mythology and Zoroastrianism. Fezana Journal (Publication of the Federation of Zoroastrian Associations of North America), Vol. 30, No.1, Fall/September, pp. 16-20.

One topic discussed in the article:

Neither Zoroastrianism nor Yaresanism believe in the “Tabula Rasa” (lit. blank slate) philosophy that humans are born with wholly “blank” minds, that subsequently acquire knowledge, wisdom and beliefs as a result of their material (or sensory) experiences with the outside world (i.e. John Locke’s 1689 “Essay concerning Human Understanding”). In Zoroastrianism in particular the notion of human choice (between evil and good) is bestowed upon the individual prior to their acquisition of physical life (Stausberg & Vevaina, 2015, p.222). Yaresanism shares the notion of divine manifestation of holy men born of virgin maidens with both Zoroastrianism and Mithraism; like the Saoshant who is to be born of a virgin (Bundahishn, 33.36-38) and Mithras born of virgin goddess Anahita, Sultan Sahak was born of the Kurdish virgin Dayerak Rezhbar (also known as Khatun-e Rezhbar).”

kurd-engaged-in-worship-of-mithras

Kurdish man engaged in the worship of Mithras in a Pir’s (mystical leader/master) sanctuary that acts as an ancient Iranian (Zoroastrian or Mithraic?) temple (Source: Kasraian & Arshi, 1993, Plate 80). Note how he stands below an opening allowing for the “shining of the light”, almost exactly as seen with the statue of Mithras in Ostia, Italy. These particular Kurds are said to pay homage to Mithras three times a day. His costume can also found in certain rural areas of Mazandaran in northern Iran. For more on Mithraism, consult: Mithra-The “Pagan” Christ?

 The following observation is made in the article with respect to Kurdish Sufi sects:

“The notion of absolute egalitarianism persists among several Kurdish Sufi groups such as the Qaderi movement in Iranian Kurdistan whose followers follow the teachings of their founder Sheikh Abdul Qadir Gilani (1078- 1166). Though nominally Sunni, the Qaderi order’s mysticism sets them widely apart from Islamic theology and practices. Their spiritual leader or “Pir” often engages his followers in repetitive mystical chants known as “Zikr” rituals. The Pir can even (especially among the Qaderis of Baiveh), be regarded as their earthly intercessor with God, somewhat reminiscent of the role of Mithra.

3-Newroz_Istanbul(4)

Kurds in Istanbul, Turkey celebrate the coming Newroz (Nowruz) by jumping over fire much like the Chaharshanbeh Soori ceremonies in Iran (Source: Photo by Bertil Videt in 2006 for Public Domain).

The legacy of Iranian mythology among the Kurds is further discussed:

The Kurdish-speaking peoples maintain strong ties to ancient Iran’s pre-Islamic Zoroastrian culture. Too numerous to list here, one of these is the Nowruz (New Year; Newroz in Kurdish), which like all Iranian peoples is celebrated on March 21. Interestingly many Kurds of Iraq and Turkey regard the Nowruz/Newroz as “the day of Kawa Ahsengar (Persian: Kaveh Ahangar [the Ironsmith])

4-sedreh-pushi-IstanbulSedreh-Pushi ceremony of a group of Turkish Kurds and Iranians in Istanbul who are recent converts to Zoroastrianism (Source: Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies).