Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Marlik Culture

Marlik culture was discovered in the green and fertile lands of Northern Iran just South of the Caspian Sea. The amazing archeological founds on this site are associated to 10th-12th century BC. Some researchers believe that Marlik has attained its name from the innumerable snakes that have inhabited it. (As 'Mar' means snake in the Persian language). Whereas, some believe that, Marlik, the name the local villagers gave to the mound, is 'Marda-lik' (place of the Marda or Amarda), and the Greek historian Strabo describes the Marda as living in this part Ancient Persia. There are some significant similarities between the metalwork at Marlik and some of those found at Sialk near Kashan, and as the finds at Sialk are dated as slightly later than those of Marlik, it is suggested that the Amarda around Marlik and the Sepid Rud, relocated to the central Iranian plateau near Sialk where they were eventually assimilated into the general Median population. In the excuvations performed on this site, a large number of broken earthenware pieces can be noted. Moreover, two tiny statues of cows in admiralty metal, two cylindrical seals, fourteen gold buttons and other unique objects have been discovered. In this hillock, there is the remnants of a quadrangular structure with an approximate area of 30 sq. m. the same probably being a tomb or temple.
This hillock was also a site where the local commanders or princes who ruled in the 2nd or 1st millennium BC. were laid to rest. According to the tradition of the times, the dead were buried along with their treasures. About 25 tombs have been discovered, in some of which are human carcases, besides which, articles such as earthenware and bronze vessels, decorative buttons, arrows, swords, spears, bronze and earthenware statues, daggers, hemlets and ........ have been discovered. Fabrics from this site have come to hand that determine the fact that weaving was a progressive technology in Iran thousands of years ago, and more so in Gilan. About 11 seals have been discovered in these excavations, and these have interesting designs and patterns on them. There is a seal engraved in the Cuneiform script. The people who buried their dead at Marlik remain something of a puzzle for history. They seem not to have left any written records, and aside from the cemetary at Marlik there is not very much in the archaeological record to fill out their history.
If the original population abandoned the valley soon after the burials, this may explain why the cemetary was forgotten and not looted in the intervening years. This theory still remains unconfirmed, and it remains true that little can be said with any certainty about the people who buried their royalty atop the mound at Marlik. The items recovered at Marlik contain many unusual items which have helped to develop current thinking on the chronology of metal working in late bronze age cultures. It is significant to note that without scientific excavation procedures, it would have been impossible to date and locate these items, and it would have been impossible to appreciate their unique and important place in the archaeological record. After all their trials and travails, the archaeologists at Marlik were ordered to abandon the site in November of 1962 after a change in government which brought the allies of the smugglers and antique dealers, some of which were in the family of the Shah, to power. Forced to abandon the excavation, there was little that could be done other than return to Teheran to appeal the decision. When a team was permitted to return to the mound one year later, it was clear that little more could be done as the entire area had been ravaged by illegal digging. A brief survey showed some 2000 holes had been haphazardly dug around the valley, and everything that had been despoiled was now lost to history. It is difficult to say what was destroyed, and to this date the only material of the Marlik people to be available to science is the collection from the excavation which is housed at the Muzeh Iran Bastan (Archaeological Museum in Teheran).
Recently Archaeologists have gone back to this site for new excavations. Their efforts have led into new developments in our understanding of Marlik architecture and new artifact discoveries.

Picture of Artifacts from Marlik:

Friday, April 09, 2004

The Hanging Gardens

The Babylonian kingdom flourished under the rule of the famous King, Hammurabi (1792-1750 BC). It was not until the reign of Naboplashar (625-605 BC) of the Neo-Babylonian dynasty that the Mesopotamian civilization (todays Iran and Iraq) reached its ultimate glory. His son, Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC) is credited for building the legendary Hanging Gardens. According to accounts, the gardens were built to cheer up Nebuchadnezzar's homesick wife, Amyitis. Amyitis, daughter of the king of the Medes, was married to Nebuchadnezzar to create an alliance between the nations. The land she came from, though, was green, rugged and mountainous, and she found the flat, sun-baked terrain of Mesopotamia depressing. The king decided to recreate her homeland by building an artificial mountain with rooftop gardens.
The famous Greek Historian, Herodotus claimed the outer walls were 56 miles in length, 80 feet thick and 320 feet high. Wide enough, he said, to allow a four-horse chariot to turn. The inner walls were "not so thick as the first, but hardly less strong." Inside the walls were fortresses and temples containing immense statues of solid gold. Rising above the city was the famous Tower of Babel, a temple to the god Marduk, that seemed to reach to the heavens. While archaeological examination has disputed some of Herodotus's claims (the outer walls seem to be only 10 miles long and not nearly as high) his narrative does give us a sense of how awesome the features of the city appeared to those that visited it.
The Hanging Gardens probably did not really "hang" in the sense of being suspended from cables or ropes. The name comes from an inexact translation of the Greek word kremastos or the Latin word pensilis, which mean not just "hanging", but "overhanging" as in the case of a terrace or balcony.
Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian, stated that the platforms on which the garden stood consisted of huge slabs of stone, covered with layers of reed, asphalt and tiles. Over this was put "a covering with sheets of lead, that the wet which drenched through the earth might not rot the foundation. Upon all these was laid earth of a convenient depth, sufficient for the growth of the greatest trees. When the soil was laid even and smooth, it was planted with all sorts of trees, which both for greatness and beauty might delight the spectators."
How big were the gardens? Diodorus tells us it was about 400 feet wide by 400 feet long and more than 80 feet high. Other accounts indicate the height was equal to the outer city walls. Walls that Herodotus said were 320 feet high.
More recent archaeological excavations at the ancient city of Babylon in Iraq uncovered the foundation of the palace. Other findings include the Vaulted Building with thick walls and an irrigation well near the southern palace. A group of archaeologists surveyed the area of the southern palace and reconstructed the Vaulted Building as the Hanging Gardens. However, the Greek historian Strabo had stated that the gardens were situated by the River Euphrates. So others argue that the site is too far from the Euphrates to support the theory since the Vaulted Building is several hundreds of meters away. They reconstructed the site of the palace and located the Gardens in the area stretching from the River to the Palace. On the river banks, recently discovered massive walls 25 m thick may have been stepped to form terraces... the ones described in Greek references.
I included this amazing site in my weblog since Babylon was once considered a part of Persia. As a matter of fact when we reffer to Mesopotamian civilization, the main aim is the consideration of Iran and Iraq's ancient world.