Coordinates: Shahr-e Sūkhté (Persian: شهر سوخته, meaning "[The] Burnt City"), also spelled as Shahr-e Sukhteh and Shahr-i Shōkhta, is an archaeological site of a sizable Bronze Age urban settlement, associated with the Jiroft culture. It is located in Sistan and Baluchistan Province, the southeastern part of Iran, on the bank of the Helmand River, near the Zahedan-Zabol road. A proposal is submitted to include it in the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
The reasons for the unexpected rise and fall of the Burnt City are still wrapped in mystery. Artifacts recovered from the city demonstrate a peculiar incongruity with nearby civilizations of the time and it has been speculated that Shahr-e-Sookhteh might ultimately provide concrete evidence of a civilization east of prehistoric Persia that was independent of ancient Mesopotamia.
Covering an area of 151 hectares, Shahr-e Sukhteh was one of the world’s largest cities at the dawn of the urban era. In the western part of the site is a vast graveyard, measuring 25 hk.s. It contains between 25,000 to 40,000 ancient graves.
The settlement appeared around 3200 BC. The city had four stages of civilization and was burnt down three times before being abandoned in 2100 BC.
Beginning in 1967, the site was excavated by the Istituto italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente (IsIAO) team led by Maurizio Tosi. That work continued until 1978. After a gap, work at the site was resumed by the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization team led by SMS Sajjadi. New discoveries are reported from time to time.
- In December 2006, archaeologists discovered the world's earliest known artificial eyeball. It has a hemispherical form and a diameter of just over 2.5 cm (1 inch). 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 m tall (6 feet), 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 archaeologists consider to be the first animation.
The ancient courier
In one of the most recent discoveries from January, 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. The swellings show that he continuously worked as a professional rider since he was a teenager. 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. Although there is evidence showing that smaller draft animals were also used in the Burnt City, the act of gathering up a leg while riding is something that one does while riding a camel over long distances. Scientists, then, believe that the man was probably a courier who traveled regularly on camelback.
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.
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 in an interview with CHN.
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.
Studies are currently underway by anthropologists from Iran's Archeology Research Center and England's Newcastle University. The scientists hope to study bone fragments and teeth found in various parts of the Burnt City, especially those unearthed in its cemetery, which may unravel the mysteries over some of the most common occupations practiced by the region's inhabitants.
The excavations at the Burnt City also suggest that the inhabitants were a race of civilized people who were both farmers and craftsmen.
- "Shahr-e Sukhteh", UNESCO website
- Sandro Salvatori And Massimo Vidale, Shahr-I Sokhta 1975-1978: Central Quarters Excavations: Preliminary Report, Istituto italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente, 1997, ISBN 978-88-6323-145-8
- Aurel Stein, Innermost Asia. Detailed Report of explorations in Central Asia, Kansu and Eastern Iran, Clarendon Press, 1928
- Aurel Stein, An Archaeological Journey in Western Iran, The Geographical Journal, vol. 92, no. 4, pp. 313-342, 1938
- Maurizio Tosi, Excavations at Shahr-i Sokhta. Preliminary Report on the Second Campaign, September–December 1968, East and West, vol. 19/3-4, pp. 283-386, 1969
- Maurizio Tosi, Excavations at Shahr-i Sokhta, a Chalcolithic Settlement in the Iranian Sistan. Preliminary Report on the First Campaign, East and West, vol. 18, pp. 9-66, 1968
- P. Amiet and M. Tosi, Phase 10 at Shahr-i Sokhta: Excavations in Square XDV and the Late 4th Millennium B.C. Assemblage of Sistan, East and West, vol. 28, pp. 9-31, 1978
- S. M. S. Sajjadi et al., Excavations at Shahr-i Sokhta. First Preliminary Report on the Excavations of the Graveyard, 1997-2000, Iran, vol. 41, pp. 21-97, 2003
- Burnt City Broke the Record in Archeological Findings - CHN
- 3rd Millennium BC Artificial Eyeball Discovered in Burnt City -CHN
- 5,000-Year-Old Artificial Eye Found on Iran-Afghan Border
- F. H. Andrewa, Painted Neolithic Pottery in Sistan discovered by Sir Aurel Stein, The Burlington Magazine, vol. 47, pp. 304–308, 1925
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Shahr-e Sukhteh.|
- Burnt City Video, part 1 of 4 - Youtube
- Burnt City Video, part 2 of 4 - Youtube
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- Burnt City Video, part 4 of 4 - Youtube
- Shahr-e Sukhteh, CHN
- Burnt City Inhabitants Used Teeth for Basket Weaving, CHN
- World's Oldest Backgammon Set found at the Burnt City