Category Archives: IRAN

A 4,000-Year-Old Writing system that finally makes sense to Scholars

A 4,000-Year-Old Writing system that finally makes sense to Scholars

You could be forgiven for never having heard of the civilization of Elam. Elam flourished in southern Iran, in the modern state of Khuzestan, about four or five thousand years ago. The Elamites had close cultural ties to the Mesopotamian civilizations to the west, like the Babylonians; they built ziggurats, for instance (via Britannica).

They had a number of unique customs, though, including royal succession, and possibly property rights being passed down matrilinearly, from mothers to sons (instead of fathers to sons), which suggests that Elamite women enjoyed a degree of importance. The Elamites were eventually swallowed up by other cultures, and their capital, Susa, would become the home of the kings of Persia.

But what vexed archaeologists and philologists for centuries was the Elamite language. They simply couldn’t read it. According to Smithsonian, the earliest Elamite script looked like Mesopotamian cuneiform, but no one could quite decode it.


Smithsonian notes that only 43 examples of this early script, called Linear Elamite, have ever been discovered. It had fallen out of use by about 1800 B.C., replaced by western forms of cuneiform and then by Greek. It wasn’t clear whether the words expressed or depicted by Linear Elamite were words of the same language as the later, readable texts. Perhaps it was a different language altogether.

In 2015 came a breakthrough. A certain François Desset, professor of archaeology at the University of Teheran, was curious about the inscriptions on a collection of silver beakers once thought to be a hoax to fleece collectors, but recently confirmed as genuine.

On many of them, he found two parallel inscriptions: one in the familiar Elamite language, and another in Linear Elamite. He had found the key to the puzzle.

The Linear characters were pictograms, rather than alphabetical letters, which made them hard to translate, but Desset guessed from the context that some of them stood for names. Slowly the language revealed its secrets. Desset would translate 72 Linear characters, leaving only a handful still unclear.


Desset’s work bears a remarkable resemblance to the translation of the Rosetta Stone.

The first archaeologists could not decipher Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, with their suns and birds and abstract shapes instead of letters. But when Napoleon invaded Egypt, his men found a tablet inscribed with three languages (shown above) in the Nile mud near the town of Rosetta. 

According to the British Museum, this was one of many “mass-produced” tablets from the year 196 B.C., a kind of public bulletin. It repeated the same message in three kinds of script: hieroglyphics, “demotic” Egyptian, and Greek.

A Frenchman named Champollion realized that the names of non-Egyptian people were recognizable in the jumble of hieroglyphics. Slowly, he began to pair Greek words and phrases with ancient Egyptian ones, eventually unravelling the code.

It is remarkable that another Frenchman, 200 years later, should use exactly the same method to decode Linear Elamite: recognizing names in the band of script and deducing the rest from there.

Medieval subterranean corridors were found by accident in northeast Iran

Medieval subterranean corridors were found by accident in northeast Iran

Medieval subterranean corridors were found by accident in northeast Iran

The workers working on a routine road construction project near Shahr-e Belqeys (City of Belqeys) in northeast Iran made an unexpected discovery.

Shahr-e Belqeys is a castle located in Esfarayen County in North Khorasan Province, Iran. The fortress dates back to the Sasanian Empire. It is the second largest adobe fort in Iran after the UNESCO-registered Bam Fortress. Belqeys archaeological site has an area of over 51,000 square.

“Remains of ancient underground corridors were discovered a few days ago during a road construction project in Bam village of Esfarayen county,” an expert with Belqeys archaeological site said on Monday.

“The total length of those corridors is 18 km, and there is a bathroom and a mill on the way, which has not been opened yet,” the expert said. “Last years, traces of this underground city had been discovered but to protect it, these remains were blocked by the local cultural heritage directorate.

Now we reached these ancient structures from another place, which confirms the statements of the local people,” the expert explained. “The ruins have yielded potteries estimated to belong to the Seljuk period, IlKhanid, and even earlier periods. However, an extensive archaeological excavation is needed to delve into its secrets.”

Belqeys Castle.

Shahr-e Belqeys was prosperous during a period from the late Sassanid era to early Islamic times. Historical evidence, including a book on the history of Nishabur (Middle Persian: Nev-Shapur), suggests that Shahr-e Belqeys won special attention from Sassanid monarchs of the time.

Archaeological excavations at nearby mounts and hilltops put the antiquity of Belqeys in some 6,000 years.

These Medieval subterranean corridors in Iran are not a first. Nooshabad, known as Ouyi to locals, is an underground city with many passages and chambers in Isfahan Province in central Iran.

Nushabad or Nooshabad Underground City.

Nooshabad, which was discovered by chance during a construction project, was initially built to protect city dwellers against invasion and plundering, particularly during the Mongol invasion of Iran.

The construction of this man-made subterranean city, called Ouee (or Ouyi), dates back to the Sasanian (or Neo-Persian) Empire that ruled from 224 to 651. Inhabitants would dig underground chambers as hideout spots for women, children, and the elderly in the event of an attack by foreign invaders.

The fact that these newly found underground tunnels were built in the same way reveals their intended use. In the future, it will be possible to have more information about the tunnels if the Iranian government allows the excavation works.

Have Scholars Finally Deciphered a Mysterious Ancient Script?

Have Scholars Finally Deciphered a Mysterious Ancient Script?

A mysterious writing system that is nearly as old as cuneiform but used a different set of symbols and that has remained undeciphered for centuries may have finally been deciphered.

Have Scholars Finally Deciphered a Mysterious Ancient Script?
Over the past century, archaeologists have uncovered more than 1,600 Proto-Elamite inscriptions, but only about 43 in Linear Elamite, scattered widely across Iran.

Based on ancient silver vessels, the researchers propose a new method for decoding the Linear Elamite script, which contains 80 symbols written left to right in vertical columns.

Ancient writing systems are among the most difficult to crack.

The Rosetta Stone, which translated a Demotic decree (the language of everyday ancient Egyptians) into Greek and hieroglyphics, gave us an understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphics in 1799. Had a French soldier not stumbled across it by chance, we would have had a pretty difficult time understanding Egyptian writing. But even with the discovery of the precious stone, Jean-Francois Champollion spent over two decades trying to decipher the strange Egyptian symbols.

Among millennia-old scripts, only a few are unreadable. An obscure system used in what is now Iran might finally be deciphered thanks to a team of European scholars led by French archaeologist Francois Desset.

“This is one of the major archaeological discoveries of the last decades,” explains Massimo Vidale, an archaeologist at the University of Padua who was not involved in the research. “It was based on the same approach of Champollion’s breakthrough—identifying and reading phonetically the names of kings.”

Proto-Elamite, derived from Linear Elamite, was used between 2500 and 2220 BC and is named such because its registers are similar to Linear Cretan. Inscriptions on 40 documents from Susa, the ancient urban oasis and capital of Elam, a bustling society that was once one of the first to use written symbols, are the only indications of its existence. Only a partial decipherment of this writing had been accomplished.

Those circumstances have now changed, according to Desset, who gained access to an unusual collection of silver vases encircled with cuneiform and Linear Elamite script.

They were excavated in the 1920s and sold to Western merchants, so their authenticity and provenance have been questioned. Nevertheless, analysis of the vessels revealed that they were ancient rather than modern forgeries.

This image depicts the 72 deciphered alpha-syllabic signs used in Linear Elamite’s transliteration system.

It is thought that they were discovered in a royal cemetery hundreds of kilometres southeast of Susa, dating back to around 2000 BC, as for their origin. According to experts, Elamite linear script was in use around this time.

The silver vases, according to the study, contain the oldest and most complete examples of Royal Elamite inscriptions in cuneiform script. They belonged to two different dynasties.

According to Desset, the vessels were ‘the jackpot’ for deciphering Linear Elamite due to their juxtaposition of inscriptions.

Several cuneiform names, including those of well-known Elamite kings, could now be compared with symbols in Linear Elamite, including Šilhaha. The French professor used repeated symbols that are likely proper names to interpret the geometric shapes of the inscriptions. The verbs “made” and “gave” were also translated by him.

More than 96 per cent of known linear Elamite symbols were able to be read by Desset and his co-authors. “Even if a complete decipherment cannot yet be claimed, mainly due to the limited number of inscriptions, we are not far away,” the experts write in their study.

These findings may shed light on a previously unknown society that flourished between ancient Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley in the dawn of civilization if the researchers are right and their peers are debating the claim hotly.

The paper describing the discovery was published in the journal Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und vorderasiatische Archäologie.

As per experts, this analysis could also rewrite the evolution of writing itself.

5000-Year-Old Water System Discovered In Western Iran

5000-Year-Old Water System Discovered In Western Iran

Ancient Water System in Iran

Archaeologists in Iran made an unexpected discovery during excavations at the Farash ancient historical site at the Seimareh Dam reservoir – a 5,000-year-old water system.

The research team is working hard to recover the water pipes, along with hundreds of other artefacts, before they are submerged by the new dam.

The Persians are one of the earliest cultures to implement advanced systems of water distribution and are among the greatest aqueduct builders of the ancient world.

They are particularly well-known for their construction of qanāts, a series of well-like vertical shafts, connected by gently sloping tunnels, which were used to create a reliable supply of water for human settlements and for irrigation.

The water system comprises a small pool and a long earthenware pipeline. Each earthenware conduit measures about one metre in length and the team leader Leili Niaken said it is likely that the structure was made and baked in the region.

The newly discovered water system.

In addition to the ancient water pipes, the team of archaeologists from the Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research (ICAR) have also uncovered more than 100 sites dating back to the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Copper Age, Stone Age, Parthian, Sassanid and early Islamic periods. Signs of the Mesopotamians’ influence in the region were identified by studies carried out on the ancient strata at the reservoir.

The archaeological team is now working hard to unearth the rest of the pipeline, which may lead archaeologists to its source. 

The aim is to recover as much as possible before it all goes underwater when the filling of the dam is complete.

Archaeologists unearth ‘great’ Sassanid fire temple in northeast Iran

Archaeologists unearth ‘great’ Sassanid fire temple in northeast Iran

Archaeologists have unearthed the ruins of what they believe was one of the greatest fire temples in Iran during the Sassanid age.

“We have probably discovered the third greatest fire temple that existed in ancient Iran,” ILNA quoted archaeologist Meysam Labbaf-Khaniki as saying on Wednesday.

Labbaf-Khaniki leads the fifth season of an areological survey, which is currently underway in a valley near the village of Robat-e Sefid/Bazeh Hur, northeast Iran.

“During this archaeological season, we have gathered considerable evidence such as engraved plasterwork and inscriptions that suggest the ruins are related to an important fire temple.”

Inscriptions and their fragments that bear Pahlavi scripts should first be arranged and categorized till they could be read (and deciphered) by linguists and cultural heritage experts, he explained.

These fresh discoveries are expected to open a new chapter in the history of Iranian arts during the Sassanid epoch, the archaeologist said.

Exquisite stuccoworks embellish capital columns that support the main hall of the fire temple, he said.

Since 2014, Labbaf-Khaniki has taken part in previous excavations conducted at the ancient site. In 2018, a joint Franco-Iranian mission was tasked to study the whole valley, its human occupations, its geomorphology, and its implication in the large territory of Khorasan Razavi province.

The Sassanid age is of very high importance in the history of Iran. Under Sassanids, Persian architecture in addition to arts experienced a general renaissance.

Architecture often took grandiose proportions such as palaces at Ctesiphon, Firuzabad, and Sarvestan which are amongst the highlights of the ensemble.

Sassanid archaeological designs typically represent a highly efficient system of land use and strategic utilization of natural topography in the creation of the earliest cultural centres of the Sassanid civilization.


In 2018, an ensemble of Sassanian historical cities in southern Iran, titled “Sassanid Archaeological Landscape of Fars Region”, was named a UNESCO site. The ensemble is comprised of eight archaeological sites situated in three geographical parts of Firuzabad, Bishapur, and Sarvestan.

The World Heritage reflects the optimized utilization of natural topography and bears witness to the influence of Achaemenid and Parthian cultural traditions and of Roman art, which later had a significant impact on the architecture and artistic styles of the Islamic era.

Aside from architecture, crafts such as metalwork and gem-engraving grew highly sophisticated, yet scholarship was encouraged by the state. In those years, works from both the East and West were translated into Pahlavi, the language of the Sassanians.

Preserved by Nature: Studying the Spectacular Salt Mummies of Iran

Preserved by Nature: Studying the Spectacular Salt Mummies of Iran

In 1993, miners at the Chehrabad Salt Mine in the Zanjan province of Iran discovered a body. Clearly a man, the body had flowing white hair and a beard and was sporting a single gold earring. Though he didn’t initially appear that old, carbon dating showed he had died in 300 A.D.

The head of Salt Man 1, is on display at the National Museum of Iran.

The man had likely died from being crushed by a rock collapse, and his body had been effectively mummified by the dry salinity of the air. Unlike Egyptian mummification practices, where the body was wrapped in fabric and coated in preserving oils, the salt mummy was preserved naturally.

The salt from the mines leeched the moisture from his skin, leaving behind his dried remains. Due to the lack of fresh air, and the layers of salt in the mines, the body had gone undisturbed for centuries and was extremely well preserved.

He is now the first of a group of preserved bodies found in the mine, known as the Saltmen.

The body of Salt Man 3, is on display at the Archeology Museum in Zanjan.

Since the first salt mummy was discovered, five more have been found, all within the same area as the first. The second was discovered in 2004, only 50 feet from the first one. Two more were found in 2005, and two more in 2007 — one of them a woman.

In 2008, mining practices were halted, and the mine was declared an archaeological site, allowing researchers full access to the salt mummies.

The finds quickly became important ones for Iranian archaeologists, as they offered insight into historic mining practices, as well as natural mummification.

The find also offered new information on the ancient men’s diets. Because the bodies were so well preserved, some of their internal organs were still intact. Researchers were even able to find remnants in the 2200-year-old mummy’s stomach that contained tapeworm eggs, signalling that his diet was high in raw or undercooked meat.

It also provided the earliest evidence of intestinal parasites in Iran.

Along with the bodies, the salt also preserved the artefacts that were with them when they died. Researchers were able to recover a leather boot (with a foot still inside), iron knives, a woollen trouser leg, a silver needle, a sling, leather rope, a grindstone, a walnut, pottery shards and patterned textile fragments.

Of the six mummies discovered, four of them are currently on display. The Archeology Museum, in Zanjan, is home to three of the men and the woman, as well as some of the artefacts.

The original salt mummy’s head and left foot are on display at the National Museum of Iran, in Tehran.

Another salt mummy, on display at the Archeology Museum. The bodies are all displayed in the positions they were found.

The sixth salt mummy to be discovered remains in the mine, as he was too fragile to remove.

Researchers don’t believe the Saltmen all died together, though they do share some similarities. The first man found probably died around 300 A.D., while the oldest body found dated back to 9550 B.C.

They also believe that there could be more mummies in the mine. Though six whole bodies have been accounted for, detached body parts have also been found. Some of them were initially believed to be part of a single individual, however, they are actually from different bodies.

The number of potential Saltmen bodies is now believed to be eight or more.

8,000 years old Stone Tools Found on Iran’s Gav-Bast Mountain

8,000 years old Stone Tools Found on Iran’s Gav-Bast Mountain

Archaeologists have found arrays of stone tools and relics on top of Gav-Bast Mountain, which is situated in southern Iran, north of the Persian Gulf.

Fereidoun Biglari, an archaeologist and cultural deputy of the National Museum of Iran, briefed attendees on the discovery during the 19th Annual Symposium on the Iranian Archaeology held in Tehran.

Gav-Bast Mountain is of great importance in Iranian rock art archaeology due to the existence of a prehistoric rock shelter that contains a hunting scene including archers, animal games, and a large carnivore.

In his lecture, Biglari first reviewed the history of archaeological research in Eshkat-e Ahou Rockshelter, which began with Khaled Sadeghi’s efforts in 2001 that later led to the registration of this prehistoric site in the National Monuments List in 2005 by the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage of Hormozgan.

Regarding his motivation for starting a new study in Gav-Bast Mountain, Biglari said that the focus of previous studies was more on the rock art panel in the shelter itself and the surrounding areas have not been surveyed by archaeologists.

As a result of several short field surveys in 2010 and 2021, which were carried out with the support of the municipality and Bastak Charity Association and the permission of the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research and the General Directorate of Hormozgan Cultural Heritage, new information about prehistoric settlements on these mountain highlands was obtained.

He added that this research proved that Neolithic human groups used natural resources of these highlands- between 1,100 and 1,800 meters above sea level – probably on a seasonal basis about 7,000 – 8,000 years before present.

8,000 years old Stone Tools Found on Iran’s Gav-Bast Mountain
Archaeologists have found arrays of stone tools and relics on top of Gav-Bast Mountain, which is situated in southern Iran, north of the Persian Gulf.

The researcher also spoke about the importance of preservation of the prehistoric motifs of Gav-Bast and the measures taken to document the art and its context, including drone mapping, 3D model of the shelter, and its panel using photogrammetry, and other related measures.

In conclusion, Biglari expressed hope that in the near future, the detailed 3D model of the shelter and its paintings will be displayed in the Bastak Museum and the National Museum of Iran would allow visitors to see this remote site and its painting panel in the museum.

Furthermore, he emphasized that this research would not have been possible without the help and support of the Bastak Municipality and Charity Association.

Gav-Bast Mountain is lined with the Zagros Mountains, extending northwest-southeast from the border areas of eastern Turkey and northern Iraq to the Strait of Hormuz. The Zagros range is about 1,600 km long and more than 240 km wide.

Situated mostly in what is now Iran, it forms the extreme western boundary of the Iranian plateau, though its foothills to the north and west extend into adjacent countries.

The first well-documented evidence of human habitation is in deposits from several excavated cave and rock-shelter sites, located mainly in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran and dated to Middle Paleolithic or Mousterian times (c. 100,000 BC).

From the Caspian in the northwest to Baluchistan in the south-east, the Iranian Plateau extends for close to 2,000 km. It encompasses the greater part of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan west of the Indus River containing some 3,700,000 square kilometres.

Despite being called a “plateau”, it is far from flat but contains several mountain ranges, the highest peak being Damavand in the Alborz mountain range at 5610 m, and the Dasht-e Loot east of Kerman in Central Iran falling below 300 m.

Breakthrough in Translating Proto-Elamite, World’s Oldest Undeciphered Writing

Breakthrough in Translating Proto-Elamite, World’s Oldest Undeciphered Writing

Specialists believe that the oldest undeciphered writing system will be decoding 5,000-year-old secrets.

“I hope we are actually about to make a breakthrough,” said Jacob Dahl, a fellow at Oxford Wolfson‘s College and Director of the Ancient World Research Cluster.

Live Science has confirmed that Dahl’s secret weapons can see this writing more clearly than ever.

In a room high up in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, above the Egyptian mummies and fragments of early civilizations, a big black dome is clicking away and flashing out the light.

This device is providing the most detailed and high-quality images ever taken of these elusive symbols cut into clay tablets.

Breakthrough in Translating Proto-Elamite, World’s Oldest Undeciphered Writing
Experts working on proto-Elamite hope they are on the point of ‘a breakthrough’

It’s being used to help decode a writing system called proto-Elamite, used between around 3200 BC and 2900 BC in a region now in the southwest of modern Iran.

The Oxford team thinks that they could be on the brink of understanding this last great remaining cache of undeciphered texts from the ancient world.

Dahl, from the Oriental Studies Faculty, shipped his image-making device on the Eurostar to the Louvre Museum in Paris, which holds the most important collection of this writing.

The clay tablets were put inside this machine, the Reflectance Transformation Imaging System, which uses a combination of 76 separate photographic lights and computer processing to capture every groove and notch on the surface of the clay tablets.

It allows a virtual image to be turned around, as though being held up to the light at every possible angle.

So far Dahl has deciphered 1,200 separate signs, but he said that after more than 10 years study much remains unknown, even such basic words as “cow” or “cattle”.

Dahl believes that the writing has proved so hard to interpret because the original texts seem to contain many mistakes – and this makes it extremely tricky for anyone trying to find consistent patterns.

“The lack of a scholarly tradition meant that a lot of mistakes were made and the writing system may eventually have become useless,” Dahl said.

Unlike any other ancient writing style, there are no bi-lingual texts and few helpful overlaps to provide a key to these otherwise arbitrary looking dashes and circles and symbols.

Proto-Elamite writing is the first-ever recorded case of one society adopting writing from another neighbouring group.

However, when these proto-Elamites borrowed the concept of writing from the Mesopotamians, they made up an entirely different set of symbols. The writing was the first ever to use syllables, Dahl said.

Dahl added that with sufficient support within two years this last great lost writing could be fully understood.