Italian-Iranian Joint Mission in Khuzistan
Vito Messina (CRAST), Jafar Mehrkian (RICHT-ICAR)
The Iranian-Italian Joint Expedition in Khuzestan conducts research in the area of the modern city of Izeh, on the road through the Baktiari mountain from Ahwaz to Isfahan and Shiraz. Fieldwork started at Hung-e Azhdar, a village located at the entrance of a Valley about 17 km north of Izeh, and continue at Kal-e Chendar, in the valley of Shami, about 15 km further to the north. This project, which purposes to investigate the traces of ancient Elymais, falls within the frame of cultural agreements renewed through 5 years Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (ICAR) of the Research Center of the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization of the Islamic Republic of Iran (RICHT) and the Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino per il Medio Oriente e l’Asia (CST). Other Institutions involved in the project are the Dipartimento di Architettura e Design, Polytechnic of Torino (DAD, former DITAG), and the Dipartimento di Studi Storici, University of Torino (DSS, former SAAST). The expedition is partially financed by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE) and has been financed by the Fondazione CRT up to 2010.
Laser scanning of the Hung-e Azdhar rock relief and preliminary survey of the surrounding area (March 4 - 12, 2008)
The aim of the Expedition was the acquisition by laser scanning of a Parthian rock relief, depicting a scene of homage or investiture (?), and carved on the surface of a large boulder close to the southern slopes of the valley. This relief is is about 5.40 m long and 2.10 m high, while its lower edge is about 1.50 m from the soil. The sculpted surface covers about 11 m2 and ranges from about 1 to 15 cm in depth. The sculpted scene shows a bearded horseman followed by an attendant and four standing men. This rock relief is of special interest within the art of ancient Elymais, since the iconography and the style of the figures in the scene are very different: whilst the four standing men in the right half of the relief are depicted in a frontal position and in Iranian dress, the horseman and his attendant in the left half are the only figures among the whole set of Parthian rock reliefs to be depicted in profile. Because of these contradictions, the chronology and the interpretation of the scene are still under discussion and completely change the historical framework of the sculpture and of the commission of the relief: some scholars refer the execution of the horseman and his attendant to the conquest of Elymais made by Mithradates I in 140-139 BC, or rather in the following decades; others refer the standing figures to a production –or to an addition (?)– at the request of a local ruler of the 2nd-3rd century AD. The Hung-e Azhdar rock relief has been already surveyed with traditional methods in the past years. These researches provided a number of photographs and drawings which, even when of high quality, do not allow for a more in-depth examination. For this reason, the present project aimed to increase information by the use of a laser scanner. This technology can allow to conduct a detailed examination of the sculpted surface and a precise measurement of the carving’s depth in different points of the scene, and so shed new light on the carving techniques of all the represented figures. The erosion of the surface could also be detected, updating the acquired information with further periodic scanning, in order to make comparison with previous data. The sculpted surface of the boulder has been divided into 34 squared sectors, each of 60x60 cm. About 15,000 markers were placed on the surface, at a distance of no more than 5 cm one from the other, in order to allow the scanner to recognize its position in a 3D model. Each sector has been separately scanned with a high definition handyscan 3D (model HZ), perpendicularly moved at about 15-20 cm from the rock surface: 34 frames have been acquired as digital files at the highest resolution (1,95 mm), and an overlap band has been saved between adjacent sectors, with a 10% tolerance. The scanner never touched the surface during operation. Images with a pthotogrammetric digital camera (model Kodak DCS PRO 14m) have also been acquired in order to update the information provided by the laser scanning: 22 frames have been photographed twice, at a distance of 5,3 and 1,3 m (for details). Vertices have been located on the ground by a GPS receiver (model Topcon Hiper PRO) and by traditional topographic method, while 70 ground control points, placed on the sculpted surface, have been located by a total station (model Topcon Get 3005N), in order to define a network for further topographic surveys. This allowed to relate the numerical and tridimensional nature of the acquired information to a known reference system. The acquired frames have been merged and elaborated in the laboratory of the DITAG, and allowed to create a 3D digital model of the rock relief consisting in 7.692.104 points, with an accuracy of 0.2 mm approximately. The images acquired by the digital photogrammetric camera have been elaborated to obtain a digital orthophoto and “Solid Images” of the scanned surface. Solid Images are digital images where all pixels contain x, y and z coordinates, providing information in a known reference system, so that it is possible to measure angles, distances and areas. These are high resolution RGB files (non orthorectified), integrated by a numerical matrix of the same resolution, containing tridimensional data of the scanned surface. A specific software (SirIO) has been created for the analysis of these data. This software allows to manage all the elaborated files –the 3D model, the orthophoto and solid images– on a unique digital platform: traces of tools on the sculpted surface, differences in the depth of the carving, and the natural conformation of the rock have to be examined in order to verify whether in the two halves of the sculpted scene, besides the evident contradictions in iconography and style, there are also differences in the carving technique and evidence of re-sculpting. Because of the lack of no detailed surveys in the Hung-e Azhdar valley, a preliminary archaeological survey of the surrounding area was also planned, with the purpose of discovering traces of further archaeological remains. A small area of about 4.400 m2, very close to the boulder carrying the reliefs, has been surveyed, revealing the presence of pottery, broken in sherds, and very few fragments of bones, gathered with rubble in small groups of different size. These groups surround the boulder in all direction: they have irregular shape and seem to belong to a disturbed archaeological context. At least 19 small groups of sherds and rubble have been recognized.
Laser scanning of the Hung-e Azdhar, Hung-e Yaralivand, Hung-e Kamalvand rock reliefs, topography of the valley of Hung-e Azhdar and trial trenches near the boulder of Hung-e Azhdar (February 9 - March 2, 2009).
The Iranian-Italian Joint Expedition in Khuzistan started the 2nd campaign in the area of Hung-e Azhdar, in order to develop the research begun in the 1st campaign (2008). Members of the Expedition were Mr. Jafar Mehrkian (ICAR, archaeologist and co-director), Mrs. Yalda Sourani (ICAR, architect), Mr. Mehdi Faragi (ICAR, archaeologist), Mr. Neamatollah Salashoor (archaeologist), Mr. Mojtaba Shokrollahi (photographer) and Mr. Ali Reza Ismaili (technician), for the Iranian side, Mr. Vito Messina (CST, archaeologist and co-director), Mr. Paolo Ardissone (DITAG, archaeologist and topographer), and Mrs. Cristina Bonfanti (DITAG, architect), for the Italian side. Supervisor of CST was Prof. Antonio Invernizzi. Supervisor of the DITAG was Prof. Fulvio Rinaudo. The aims of the Expedition were:
1. Laser scanning of the Hung-e Azhdar, Hung-e Yaralivand, Hung-e Kamalvand rock reliefs
1a. Previous situation
The preliminary survey of the Hung-e Azhdar, Hung-e Yaralivand and Hung-e Kamalvand rock reliefs revealed the presence of targets for photogrammetry on the rock surface of all the sculpted reliefs. These are rectangular targets made of paper that have been fixed to the rock surface by a strong glue. These operations do not pertain to the present project and the relevant targets have been previously fixed on the rock. The presence of these targets has been reported to local Authorities by the Iranian co-director before starting our operations. During the preliminary survey of the Hung-e Azhdar rock relief clear traces of rainwater erosion have been detected on the surface: these are originated particularly by a long crack on the upper part of the boulder, that works as a natural pipe for the water flowing from the top of the boulder when it rains.
1b. Laser scanning
Acquisition by laser scanner lasted 4 days. The natural surface framing the sculpted relief of Hung-e Azhdar has been scanned with a resolution of about 1 mm. The acquired surface will be merged with the information provided by laser scanning of the sculpted surface, completed during the 1st campaign, in order to upgrade the 3D digital model of the boulder. The rock relief of Hung-e Yaralivand depicts two standing men in frontal position, each dressed in a tunic with trousers. The lower part of each tunic is bell-shaped and the feet of the figures are turned in profile. The right figure has his left hand at his hip, while the left figure has his right to his hip. This relief is interpreted as a scene of investiture where the right man is investing a prince with his authority (Mathiesen, 1992, 123-124). The sculpted surface of the rock relief of Hung-e Yaralivand has been divided into 9 squared sectors, each of about 60x60 cm. Markers were placed on the surface in order to allow the scanner to recognize its position in a 3D model. These markers are circular spots with a diameter of about 5 mm that have been completely removed after acquisition. Each sector has been separately scanned with a high definition handyscan (model HZ), a self-positioned hand-held scanner, perpendicularly moved at about 15-20 cm from the rock surface. The scanner never touched the surface during operation. The rock relief of Hung-e Kamalvand has been acquired with the same technique and the sculpted surface has been divided into 9 square sectors each of about 50x50 cm. It depicts a standing figure wearing a long belted robe and facing a horseman proceeding to right. An Elymaean inscription runs on the upper part of the scene: “Phrates the priest, son of Kabnuskir” (Hinz, 1963, 171). It is generally assumed that this inscription refers to the horseman (Kawami, 1987, 72-73) and claims to a royal descent, while the standing figure remains unidentified. But it is possible that the inscription refers to the standing figure rather then to the horseman. According to T.S. Kawami (ibid., 73) this relief may depict a member of the Kamnaskired dynasty who retained some power perhaps religious, rather then political, in the Izeh valley. The acquired frames of all reliefs have been merged in the laboratory of DITAG, with an accuracy of 0.2 mm approximately. Images with photogrammetric digital camera (model Kodak DCS PRO 14m) have also been acquired, that will update the information provided by the laser scanning. These have been elaborated in Turin, in order to obtain digital orthophotos and “Solid Images” of the scanned surface. Solid Images are digital images where all the pixels contain x, y, z coordinates, providing information in a known reference system so that it is possible to measure angles, distances and areas. Control points on the sculpted surface of the reliefs have been acquired by total station, in order to locate the merged frames in the same reference system. The accuracy of the grid has been verified by triangulation and intersections of the control points.
1c. Elaborated data
The complete 3D digital model of the Hung-e Azhdar sculpted relief and of the natural surface of the boulder is composed by 7.712.000 points, and is rendered by the software SirIO. The 3D model of the Hung-e Yaralivand rock relief consists of 2.467.745 points, the 3D model of the rock relief of Hung-e Kamalvand consists of 2.378.347 points. The preliminary elaboration of the data acquired in Hung-e Yaralivand revealed traces of an inscription on the upper part of the sculpted scene, that was no visible by the nude eyes: indeed, this inscription has been deeply eroded and only scanty traces of some letters are detectable. It is an Elymaean inscription in Aramaic language of the south Mesopotamian group very similar to the well known inscription in Hung-e Kamalvand. This inscription has not yet been detected by other previous surveys and is still unpublished. The correct and final reading will be provided afterward by Prof. F. Pennacchietti (University of Turin) and Dr. Marco Moriggi (University of Catania).
2. Topography of the valley of Hung-e Azhdar
A main network of 6 vertices has been fixed by total station (model Leika) following the valley ground: 5 of these vertices have been also acquired by GPS receivers (model Topcon Hiper PRO). Starting from these vertices a further network consisting of 2462 ground control points (GCP) has been fixed by total station on the ground and on the slopes of the valley: these points have been acquired in reflector mode (360° prism) and with reflector lens in order to define elevation by various levelled sections. Vertices and GCP have been acquired in a known reference system. The relevant map shows that the valley ground is at an elevation of 836-837 m above the sea level (ASL), approximately, and that the investigated area is at an elevation of about 842 m ASL, on the southern slope of the valley (maps 1-3). The area of archaeological interest covers about 4.200 m2 around the sculpted boulder and is located between 3533070-3533130 N and 392610-392690 E m UTM (corresponding approximately to LL: 31°55’43.58’’ N, 49°41’40.96’’ E coordinates).
3. Trial trenches near the boulder of Hung-e Azhdar
3a. Previous situation
The area selected for trial trenches is located at the foot of the mountains surrounding the valley of Hung-e Azhdar, south from the sculpted rock relief depicting the scene of homage or investiture, and extends for about 140 m2. Here the ground slightly slopes towards the centre of the valley and a number of huge boulders, collapsed in antiquity from the mountains’ cliffs, stand over the present surface or are partially wedged in it. This area, denominated Area 1, was partially surveyed during the 1st campaign, revealing clear traces of unauthorized excavations. The first remark has been confirmed by a preliminary reconnaissance during the present campaign: at least 5 irregular holes and 1 trench were still visible on the ground near and far from the boulder, with loose earth heaped in small mounds beside each hole. This situation deeply disturbed the archaeological context.
3b. Trial trenches in Area 1
Three small test-trenches (two of 4 m2 and one of 6 m2) have been opened and proceeding with the excavation two of these trenches have been unified in one trench of about 17 m2. These trenches, denominated HeA 1 001, HeA 1 002 and HeA 1 003, are close to the sculpted boulder: trench HeA 1 001 is about 3,5 m southeast of the boulder, trench HeA 1 002 is at its foot, on its western half, and trench HeA 1 003 were about 5 m south, almost in the centre of Area 1, but have been widened up to 1,5 m from the sculpted surface. Trench HeA 1 001 is a squared trench of 2x2 m, where the surface seemed untouched in modern times: here excavations started from the surface’s elevation of 842.208 m ASL. The presence of two huge stones hindered the prosecution of the works, while a further stone is of particular interest because it seems to have been placed on purpose, as it covers a layer containing potsherds that continues beyond the excavations’ limits. A gravel layer was reached below the potsherds layers: this covered a layer containing only stones at an elevation of 841.203 m ASL. Trench HeA 1 002 is a square of 2x2 m as well. Here a modern unauthorized trench deeply disturbed the archaeological context. In this trench a number of iron arrowheads and a ring with an engraved male head were found, but their pertinence is uncertain because of the modern hole. The same gravel and stones layers of trench HeA 1 001 have been reached at an elevation of 841.258-841.138 m ASL. Trench HeA 1 003 is the largest of Area 1, since it has been widened up to 5x3 m towards trench HeA 1 002 and unified with it, starting from a 1x2 m trench. Surface in this area revealed 4 modern holes that disturbed the underlying context. For this reason, potsherds were no clearly stratified on the whole area, even if at least 3 main levels have been recognized in proximity of the eastern excavation limit. A number of arrowheads have been found in the northern part of the trench, close to the limits of trench HeA 1 002, together with fragments of handmade terracotta figurines representing horses. In this area, which is the nearest to the sculpted boulder, structures made in undressed stones have been unearthed close to the surface and also at a deeper level, but, since their remains continued beyond the excavation limits, they have not been completely cleared. Structure SU 11 is the closest to the surface, being at an elevation of 842.178 m ASL, and it consists of quite large stones gathered together in a quadrangular shape. This structure has been partially destroyed by the modern trench cutting the archaeological layers of trench HeA 1 002. SU 11 lies on structure SU 12, which is almost unknown because it is widely hidden below it. Structure SU 13 is the most ancient of them, being partially covered by SU 12. It has a rectangular shape and it is made of undressed stones smaller than those of the upper structures, probably cut for this purpose. Three corners of structure SU 13 have been cleared, showing that it recalls a small platform of 1.3x2.2 m, following the same orientation of the surface of the boulder and being less than 2 m from it. Potsherds were found in situ between the stones of the structures: they belong to a particular class of organic temper with dark core which indicates incomplete oxidation. All trenches have been covered.
Hung-e Azhdar, Hung-e Yar alivand, Tang-e Sarvak (April 10 – May 7, 2010).
The Iranian-Italian Joint Expedition in Khuzistan conducted the 3rd campaign in Hung-e Azhdar, Hung-e Yar alivand, Tang-e Sarvak. Members of the Expedition were Mr. Jafar Mehrkian (ICAR, archaeologist and co-director), Mrs. Yalda Sourani (ICAR, architect), Mr. Mehdi Faragi (ICAR, archaeologist), Mr. Neamatollah Salashoor (archaeologist) and Mr. Loghman Karimi, Ebrahim Ahmedian, for the Iranian side, Mr. Vito Messina (CST-SAAST, archaeologist and co-director), Mr. Paolo Ardissone (DITAG, archaeologist and topographer), and Mrs. Cristina Bonfanti (DITAG, architect), for the Italian side. The Expedition was supported in Izeh by the Ayapir Cultural Heritage CHB.
The aims of the Expedition were:
Operation on the field has been planned in Tehran from April 10th to 14th, 2010, with the full support of the ICAR, and started on April 17th.
1. Unearthed structures
1a. Unearthed structures
The topographic surveys carried out in the 1st and 2nd campaigns revealed that a step of about 80 cm separated the small area in front of the Parthian rock relief by the valley: this area was named Area 1, the outer area was named Area 2. Both Areas 1 and 2 were disturbed by unauthorized trenches opened in modern times (at least 7 in Area 1, several in Area 2), that were already surveyed during the 1st and 2nd campaigns. For this reason, the archaeological context is unclear in many points of the investigated area, even if small parts have been found untouched during excavation. Excavation in Area 1 exposed about 100 m2 and allowed to brought to light 2 structures in undressed stones, which revealed different phases. The largest structure develops for about 9 m and is oriented East-Westward. The stones were aligned on two parallel rows and formed a front opened to the N, containing a filling of loose earth, stones and rubble (SU 15, SU 16), which creates a sort of terrace in front of the valley. This low terrace risen for about 30 cm from the supposed floor’s level and the stones aligned on its front were both uncut and cut in regular shape, the latter being probably reused on purpose. On this terrace a row of stones was laid to create a sort of step of about 30 cm with the same orientation (SU 14). This terrace was superimposed on an older structure, probably smaller, that was partially discovered during the 2nd campaign (SU 8). This has the same orientation, is built with smaller stones and was laid on a layer of rubble that revealed no potsherds. Below this layer, there is a thick layer of sediment that contained no potsherds as well and has been perforated in different points up to 1 m in dept (SU 32). This terrace is aligned with the step separating Area 1 from the rest of the valley (Area 2), which was created placing two big boulders of regular shape (SU 6-HeA 1 001 and SU 18) against the boulders collapsed from the mountain's cliffs and laid on the natural slope of the valley. At the foot of the sculpted boulder there is a rectangular platform already discovered during the 2nd campaign, which revealed 3 phases (SU 11, 12 and 13). This is also built in undressed stones and is not oriented on the same direction of the terrace, being aligned with the sculpted surface of the boulder. As a vast part of these platforms were cut by a modern unauthorized trench, the upper platforms (SU 11 and 12) were removed in order to clear the most ancient of them and collect stratified pottery: a portion of these structure was indeed untouched. In Area 1, 2 deep trenches were opened in order to reach the deeper layers: the first trench, is a square measuring 1x1 m, which was opened into the disturbed point of the terrace, the second is a rectangle, measuring about 1,5x2 m, which was opened in the eastern part of Area 1, close to one of the stones creating the step which separates Area 1 from Area 2 (SU 18). Both of these trenches were covered at the end of the excavation. In front of the platforms (SU 11, 12 and 13) several arrowheads were discovered during the 2nd campaign. During the present campaign further arrowheads were found loose in surface or in the layers close to the surface, while other objects such as small bronze bells and terracotta figurines, broken into fragments, were discovered near the 2nd platform (SU 12). The tempers of the collected potsherds revealed that a peculiar class of pottery, characterized by a dark core temper, largely prevails on the others.
1b. Proposed restoration
The more recent structure unearthed in Area 1 is preserved for almost all its extension. For this reason both co-directors decided to propose its restoration instead of covering the whole excavated area. It is very clear that the front develops following a straight line, so it is possible to restore it by placing stones of the same size of those in situ and integrating the filling by loose earth in its upper part and by stones or rubble in its lower part. At the same time, the step originating by SU 4 can be integrated by a row of uncut stones in order to recreate the original layout of the structure: in this way, the terrace can be clearly visible to visitors and the archaeological context in front of the Parthian rock relief can be better understood.
2. Laser scanning at Hung-e Azhdar
Laser scanning at Hung-e Azhdar was planned with the purpose of verifying the erosion of the sculpted surface after 2 years from the first acquisition. A single box of about 50x50 cm corresponding to the head of the horse represented in the left half of the scene has been acquired by handy-scan at the same resolution of the former acquisition (2008). This portion of the relief was selected because is particularly exposed to rainwater erosion. The data acquired will be elaborated in the laboratory of DITAG.
3. Laser scanning at Tang-e Sarvak
Laser scanning at Tang-e Sarvak was planned as practice of the training course "Geomatics and Archaeology" held in Turin from January 18th to 29th, 2010. The rock relief selected for acquisition is the so-called relief II (or IIA), representing a scene of investiture. The sculpted surface has been divided into 32 square sectors of about 50x50 cm and acquired by handy-scan at a resolution of 1.17 mm. Both the operations of acquisition and preliminary elaboration of the data were executed by the participants to the course, supervised by specialists of the Polytechnic of Turin. The acquisition lasted 5 days in the period from April 26 to 30, 2010.
Marvdasht (Persepolis), Shiraz, Bishapur (December 27 2011 – January 4 2012)
In the 4th campaign, the Iranian-Italian Joint Expedition in Khuzestan conducted the study of archaeological materials discovered during excavation at Hung-e Azdhar. This project falls within the frame of a 5 years Memorandum of Understanding undersigned by the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (ICAR) of the Research Organization of Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization (ROCHHTO) and the Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino per il Medio Oriente e l’Asia (CST). Other Institutions involved in the project, as partners of the CST, were the Dipartimento di Ingegneria del Territorio, dell’Ambiente e delle Geotecnologie, Polytechnic of Torino (DITAG), the Dipartimento di Scienze Antropologiche Archeologiche e Storico-Territoriali, University of Torino (SAAST). Members of the expedition were Jafar Mehrkian (ICAR, co-director), for the Iranian side, Vito Messina (CST-SAAST, co-director), for the Italian side. The aims of the expedition were:
1. Cleaning and preservation of the structures unearthed at Hung-e Azhdar
In the 3rd campaign the excavation of the area at the feet of the sculpted boulder at Hung-e Azhdar was completed. There structures dated to the Parthian period were unearthed that could be interpreted as what remains of a small open-air sanctuary composed by a low terrace and a rectangular platform built in undressed stones. Given that these structures were in quite good conditions, lacks in their masonry were integrated and they were left exposed in order to be seen by visitors. Maintenance works and periodical cleaning of the area have been carried out in 2011 according to what decided by both parties.
2. Filing of the archaeological findings
Archaeological findings were filed and catalogued on digital support after their preliminary listing followed to fieldwork. A dBase has been made for queries and cross-references of these findings, and, particular, for their comparison with edited materials with the purpose of writing the final report of the Hung-e Azhdar excavation.
Valley of Shami – Kal-e Chendar (September 10 – 17 2012)
The Iranian-Italian Joint Expedition in Khuzistan started its 5th campaign in the area of Kal-e Chendar, in the Valley of Shami. This project falls within a 5 years Memorandum of Understanding, signed between the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (ICAR) of the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) and the Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino per il Medio Oriente e l’Asia (CST). Other institutions involved in the project, as partners of the CST, are the Dipartimento di Architettura e Design, Polytechnic of Torino (DAD) and the Dipartimento di Studi Storici, University of Torino (DSS). In Izeh, the Expedition has been supported by the Ayapir Cultural Heritage NGO. Members of the Expedition were Mr. Jafar Mehrkian (co-director, ICAR), Mr. Ali Berouzi and Mr. Fraydoun Taghmassevi (Khuezestan ICHTO), for the Iranian side, Mr. Vito Messina (co-director, CST-DSS), for the Italian side. According to the program defined by both parties, the aims of the Expedition were:
The Valley of Shami extends about 30 km north of the modern city of Izeh. The site of Kal-e Chendar was investigated in 1936 by Marc Aurel Stein, the famous Hungarian-British explorer, who remained few days in the village after he was acknowledged that ancient marble statues, broken into fragments, and a well preserved and known bronze statue, portraying a nobleman in the s.-c. Parthian dress, larger than life size, now preserved in the Iran Bastan Museum of Tehran, were discovered there. The excavation he conducted allowed him to bring to light the remains of a rectangular religious (?) building and several stone bases, which appeared to be related to ancient statues now lost. Both the structures and findings seem what remain of an ancient sanctuary, probably one of the most reputed religious places of the region in the Hellenistic and Parthian periods. Despite the importance of the site and findings, no further research was systematically carried out after the Stein’s fieldwork terminated The survey was conducted by GPS locator on an area of about 0.34 km2, and allowed in the first instance to recognize that the archaeological site seems to extend for about 50 ha on the western slope of a narrow valley, having the shape of a triangle with its narrower vertex to the west, being apparently delimited on the north and south by the beds of two streams flowing west-eastwards into a small river flowing north-southward, and delimiting the site on its eastern side. The valley slope approximately ranges from 1040 to 920 m ASL and is crossed by a modern road, running at about 980 m ASL, parallel to the river’s course. To the south, a hill rising up to ca. 1070 m ASL supports the remains of a very small qala of about 210 m2. The surveyed slope revealed traces of ancient structures made in undressed stones that can be identified as wide terraces progressively allowing the ascent to the highest terrace: the latter extends for about 4,600 m2, having an irregular quadrangular shape and overlooking the southern stream: its central part must correspond to the area investigated by Stein. Cultivated fields extend over the rest of the slope and are delimited by low enclosures made in undressed irregular stones, which are sometimes superimposed on the remains of more ancient walls. At least 3 subsequent terraces have been recognized. The most impressive of the ancient structures is the southern wall of the upper terrace, which appears to be more than 90 m long and, in some points, up to 3 m high. Its façade has collapsed, probably in ancient times, but it is possible to see that its lower part is made by a row of huge irregular stones, onto which cut stones of smaller size are arranged in courses. In the area of its southeast corner, which has been used as foundation for a modern house, a squared and a rounded ancient column bases have been recognized, while ancient stone blocks of masonry have been re-used in the walls of modern houses. A further rounded column base was found loose on surface. The latter findings are particularly important for they testify to the fact that a monumental building was risen on the top of the upper terrace, at about 1015 m ASL, and confirm the preliminary results of Stein’s research. A total of 18 ancient architectural elements have been recognized on the ground, in the same area as well as in the cultivated fields, or re-used in the walls of the modern houses. The possibility that many other ancient elements, re-cut or broken on purpose, were used during the building of modern houses and field enclosures cannot be ruled out, however, for it will be not surprising that the site, during the ages, was used as an emerging quarry of easy-access stone materials. Remains of other structures of unclear purpose have been even recognized in the northernmost part of the valley slope and east of the modern road. It is noteworthy that even a number of tombs of different types have been recognized. These are located on the whole area surrounding the terraces, but have been particularly recovered east of the modern road. Tombs are underground saddle-roofed chambers built in undressed stones, or simple graves, and generally leans against the gentile slopes of the ground, even if they can also be placed against rock cliffs or near the steams. While chambers are easily recognizable in spite of their bad state of preservation, graves can be identified only when they have been completely filled in modern times by rubble and stones with the purpose of avoiding incidents during agricultural works or hide unauthorized excavation. Sometimes, the stones filling the graves can be part of a collapsed roof. 19 tombs have been marked by GPS, but it must be stressed that their number could be considerably higher.
Valley of Shami – Kal-e Chendar (October 14 – November 12 2013)
The Iranian-Italian Joint Expedition in Khuzistan started its 6th campaign in the area of Kal-e Chendar, in the Valley of Shami. This project falls within a 5 years Memorandum of Understanding, signed between the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (ICAR) of the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO) and the Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino per il Medio Oriente e l’Asia (CST). Other institutions involved in the project, as partners of the CST, are the Dipartimento di Architettura e Design del Politecnico di Torino (DAD) and the Dipartimento di Studi Storici dell’Università di Torino (DSS). In Izeh, the Expedition has been supported by the Ayapir Cultural Heritage NGO. Members of the Expedition were Mr. Jafar Mehrkian (co-director, ICAR), Mr. Alireza Bagherian (ICAR) and Mrs. Mana Rohani (student), for the Iranian side, Mr. Vito Messina (co-director, CST-DSS), Mrs. Alessandra Cellerino (CST-DSS), Mr. Enrico Foietta (DSS) and Mrs. Ilaria Bucci (DSS), for the Italian side. According to the program defined by both parties, the aims of the Expedition were:
The site of Kal-e Chendar was investigated in 1936 by Marc Aurel Stein, the famous Hungarian-British explorer, who brought to light the remains of a rectangular enclosure of unclear purpose. Despite the importance of the site and findings, no further research was systematically carried out after the Stein’s fieldwork terminated. The site has a triangular shape, and it appears to be a dejection cone originating in ancient times by the changing watercourses of two streams.
1. Trenches at Kal-e Chendar
Six trenches have been opened during the 6th campaign: four on the top of the Stein Terrace, one at the feet of the so-called ‘Terrace 2’, one west of the south stream bed. These have been named ‘Trench 1’, ‘Trench 2’, ‘Trench 3’, ‘Trench 4’, ‘Trench 5’ and ‘Trench 6’. Trench 1 is located in the centre of the terrace, in an area that could be identified, approximately, as the area already investigated by Stein. Trench 2 is located at the south-west corner of the terrace, in a point that seems to correspond to the ancient enclosure of the terrace itself. Trench 3 is north-east of Terrace 2, not far from its NE corner. Trench 4 crosses the presumed NE wall of the Stein Terrace. Trench 5 is at the terrace presumed NW corner. Trench 6 is on the other bank of the south stream. Trench 1 was a square of 4x4 m oriented to the N, which has been widened up to 6x8 m east-westwards having the shape of a T. On the surface, traces of mechanic cultivation were clearly visible: excavation revealed that cultivated soil reaches a depth of about 30 cm. Below it, a layer of deposits, containing very few potsherds and baked brick fragments covered the remains of a structure made in undressed stones. The latter appears to be a wall or the foundation (?) of a wall, measuring far more than 8 m in length and 0.7 - 1 m in width, and is built by stones roughly cut or re-cut on purpose, as is shown at least by two fragments having a regular rectangular shape. It is a retaining wall almost perfectly north-south oriented, which contains a filling of stones and rubble extending beyond the western limits of the excavated area. Excavation was suspended at about 2 m below the surface Trench 2 was a square of 4x4 m oriented to the N, which has been widened up to 6x5 m. Just below the surface, a huge structure has been unearthed. This is made of undressed roughly cut stones that appear to have been disposed, at least, on 7 rows and seem to retain a filling of rubble. These rows could be interpreted as a huge retaining wall, approximately oriented to the NE, measuring at least 3.8 m in width and extending for more than 5 m in length. Given that this wall is very close to the supposedly identified corner of the Stein Terrace, it could be stressed that these rows are what remain of the terrace west wall and that two huge boulders still in their position at the west limit of the trench could be part of the terrace west façade. In any case, the upper rows of this structure appear to be partly loose and decayed. Excavation in depth was hindered by the presence of rubble and stones over all the exposed area and has been stopped at about 50 cm below the surface. It must be remarked that no potsherds have been found in Trench 2. Trench 3 is a roughly rectangular trench, measuring 2.5 x 7 m and oriented east-westwards. Here a complex structure made in baked bricks has been unearthed immediately below the surface and partially below a modern retaining wall of undressed stones. This structure, which is oriented to the E and is preceded on its east side by a paved baked brick floor measuring 2.5 x >1.8 m, is a rectangle measuring 2.5 x 1.8 m. It has been partially destroyed, probably in modern times, by the opening of an unauthorized trench of irregular shape. In the filling of the trench and the disturbed layer on the paved floor, several baked bricks fragments have been found and, among them, 5 complete baked bricks having the shape of a column segment: these are of two sizes, the bigger measuring 34x35x30x8 cm (35 being the radius), the smaller measuring 30x32x29x6 cm (32 being the radius). The function of the whole structure is still unclear and needs to be more accurately investigated by widening the trench limits to the north, east and south, but it could be supposed that it must have been a kind of platform that supported another structure (an altar?). Bricks of two sizes have been recognized in their original position: the standard is a square brick measuring 36 x 36 x 8 cm, but even some rectangular samples measuring 36 x 16 x 8 cm have been found. Very few potsherds have been found in the surface layer covering the paved floor. Excavation has been stopped at the paved floor level, which is about 60 cm below the surface. Trench 4 is a narrow rectangle, measuring 1 x 10 m. It has been opened across the presumed NE wall of the Stein Terrace. Only the surface layer has been removed in order to clarify the position of some huge stones that appeared to be part of ancient wall masonry. These have been cleaned and seem to be in their original position, being aligned on 3 rows at least with the purpose of retaining the terrace filling: the latter is composed by rubble and soil. No potsherds have been found. Trench 5 is a rectangle measuring 3 x 10 m, roughly oriented east-westwards. It follows the same orientation of a modern retaining wall, which could have been built over the remains of a more ancient structure. The surface layer revealed the presence of few potsherds and, among others, many fragments of a big storage jar decorated with a ribbing. Given that no old structures have been discovered during the present fieldwork, excavation stopped at 50 cm below the surface and Trench 5 has been covered. Trench 6 has been opened on the place of a tomb already identified during the 5th campaign and named T9. This is a chamber of 4.5 x 2.4 m, made in undressed stones and roughly oriented to the east, which has been partially excavated by an unauthorized trench opened in modern times. Part of the collapsed saddle (?) roof has been removed and half of the chamber has been plundered. The remaining part has been excavated by the present expedition, starting from the surface, by removing the remaining part of the roof, which was instable and endangered the whole structure. Below this debrise-filling, a floor made in cut and flat stones has been reached. On the chamber N wall a rectangular low bench, made following the same technique of the floor has been discovered: this has been broken by the trench that also destroyed the roof and its top is at about 20 cm over the floor. The chamber must have been at least 2 m high and, given the present sloping surface, it could be assumed that part of the chamber itself, likely its façade, now lost, emerged from the ground level and could be seen by arriving in the area: this area seems to have been part of one of the cemeteries surrounding the terraces complex. In any case, this type of chamber (maybe a family tomb?) appears different from other known tombs recognized on the site.
2. Survey in the Bileva area
In the upper part of the Kal-e Chendar slope, a very small valley was supplied by a spring now dried: this is known as ‘Chesmeye Sar-e Murd’ (the spring flowing in the Murd plain), and can be reached by a well preserved stone-paved road running from the Stein Terrace to the spring itself via two large terraces. The road continues up to the mountain cliffs that rise west of Kal-e Chendar and are known as Bileva peaks. Survey has been conducted also on this area: here, at an elevation of about 1709 m ASL, archaeological remains has been marked by GPS receiver as GCP at 32°04’03.1’’ N, 049°40’50.2’’ E. In this area, huge walls made in undressed stones still emerge from the present ground level. These walls appear to be related to one great qala or, maybe, a complex of small qalas that overlooks the Shami valley and allows to look at the Susan plain: it is remarkable that the area is known as ‘Char Qala’ (the four fortresses). Surface potsherds, which have not been collected, appear to be dated from the Parthian to the Islamic period. On the road that reaches the Char Qala area, a rock grave (Bard-e Gawri) has been recognized: this is a small chamber carved into a boulder having a polished façade and a small squared opening, once blocked by a flat stone cut on purpose, now lost.
Valley of Shami – Kal-e Chendar (September 26 – November 14 2014)
The Iranian-Italian Joint Expedition in Khuzistan started its 2nd season of excavation at Kal-e Chendar, valley of Shami (7th campaign). This project falls within a renewed 5 years Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed in Tehran by Seyyed Mohammad Beheshti, for the Research Center of the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (RICHT-ICAR), and Vito Messina, for the Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino per il Medio Oriente e l’Asia (CST). Other institutions involved in the project, as partners of the CST, are the Dipartimento di Architettura e Design, Politecnico di Torino (DAD), and the Dipartimento di Studi Storici, Università di Torino (DSS). In Izeh, the Expedition is supported by the Ayapir Cultural Heritage NGO. Members of the Expedition were Jafar Mehr Kian (co-director, RICHT-ICAR), Mehdi Faraji (archaeologist, representative of the ICHTO, Khuzestan), Mhoammad Reza Bagherian (archaeologist, Gilan ICHTO), Mana Rohuani (archaeology student, ICAR), Mojtaba Shokrollai (photographer), and Leyla Sharifi (ethnologist), for the Iranian side, Vito Messina (co-director, CST-DSS), Alessandra Cellerino (archaeologist, CST-DSS), Enrico Foietta (PhD candidate, DSS), Ilaria Bucci (archaeology student, DSS), and. Cristina Bonfanti (topographer DAD), for the Italian side. According to the program defined by both parties, the aims of the expedition where:
Excavation was planned with the purpose of enlarging two of the trenches already opened during the 1st season (6th campaign), conducted in 2013, Trench 1 and 3, given that these allowed us to expose interesting structures in undressed stones and baked bricks that needed further investigation. The opening of further trenches was scheduled on the known terraces as well, however, and also on the area where a number of tombs were discovered during the survey conducted in the 5th campaign, east of the modern road reaching the village of Kal-e Chendar, and updated during the present season. Indeed, the position of the structure discovered on the central part of the so-called Stein Terrace, in Trench 1, demanded further investigation in the surrounding areas, for verifying the presence of other structures eventually connected with it, while the structure already discovered in Trench 3 gave clear indication on the possibility that in many points of the site the present surface approximates the ancient ground level: this induced us to open a new trench on the top of Terrace 3, east of Trench 3, for verifying if in that point archaeological layers could be reached immediately below the surface. Trench 7, on Terrace 3, and Trench 8 on the Stein Terrace were opened for these reasons. Trench was widened to the north and south up to 20 m, with the purpose of discovering the limits of the main structure discovered there. The latter is a great retaining wall, north-southward oriented, delimiting the east side of a platform, which has not yet completely exposed and was re-used in modern times as the foundation of a small enclosure and walls. It develops for at least 20 m, but exceeds the excavation limits. Trench 8 is a rectangle of 9 x 4 m east-west oriented and opened east of Trench 1. Trench 8 is located on the part of the Stein Terrace that appears to be almost the same area on which Stein opened its trench in 1936. In this point, the terrace’s surface gently slopes toward the east, indeed toward the lower part of the site. Excavation conducted there allowed us to discover a large wall having the same alignment and north-south orientation of the retaining wall unearthed in Trench 1. These structures seem to be part of the same monumental complex located on the top and centre of the Stein Terrace. The structure discovered in Trench 3 was cleared in all directions and allowed us to verify that the present surface approximates the ancient ground level. Trench 7 was opened on Terrace 3, in its north-west corner, not far from Trench 3. This location has been selected for verifying whether the same stratigraphic context already discovered in Trench 3, which revealed a baked brick structure immediately below the surface could be identified also on Terrace 3. The baked brick structure unearthed in Trench 3 has been built, indeed, between the west limit of Terrace 3 and the sloping surface that leads to the upper part of the site and, southward, to Terrace 1. Furthermore, the survey conducted in the 5th campaign revealed that clusters of baked brick fragments were diffused in different areas of the present surface of Terrace 3 and this induced us to think that other baked brick structures stood-up on the terrace in ancient times. Trench 7, a square of 7x7 m oriented to the north, has not been excavated on the whole delimited area. Only the surface layer was removed completely, for a depth of 15 cm (SU0). Subsequently, the area was investigated only in the north half of the original square, delimited for 3.5 m north-southward and 7 m east-westward. In this area a structure of unclear purpose was discovered, which is composed by stones are aligned on many rows, made in the same way in all its parts. Given their north-south orientation, which follows in this point the natural slope of the ground, the possibility that this stones’ alignment was built in modern time as a kind of retaining wall for the cultivated fields cannot be ruled out completely. It is however unusual to have found SU 2 down to a depth of about 2 m from the present surface. Furthermore, the recognition of several tombs damaged by looters during unauthorized excavations conducted in modern time induced us to rescue four of them (T7, T20, T 23 and T24), in order to acquire data and information on their archaeological context and prevent further lootings. The excavation of these tombs was conducted as a rescue operation at the decision of both co-directors and Iranian Authorities accordingly: for this reason, particular emphasis was given to the rapidity in concluding fieldwork and re-covering the unearthed structures.
Valley of Shami – Kal-e Chendar (October 1 – November 25 2015)
The Iranian-Italian Joint Expedition started the 8th campaign at Kal-e Chendar with the purpose of:
Excavation was planned with the purpose of enlarging two of the trenches already opened during the 1st season (6th campaign), conducted in 2013, Trench 1 and 8, given that these allowed us to expose interesting structures in undressed stones that needed further investigation. The opening of further trenches was scheduled on the known terraces as well, however, and also on the area where a number of tombs were discovered during the survey conducted in the 5th campaign, east of the modern road reaching the village of Kal-e Chendar and Dali Abghar, and updated during the present season. Indeed, the position of the structure discovered on the central part of the so-called Stein Terrace, in Trench 1, demanded further investigation in the surrounding areas, for verifying the presence of other structures eventually connected with it. Unfortunately, fieldwork induced us to postpone the enlargement of Trench 1 to the future. Trench 8 on the Stein Terrace was opened for these reasons. Furthermore, the recognition of several tombs damaged by looters during unauthorized excavations conducted in modern time induced us to rescue four of them (T7, T20, T 23 and T24), in order to acquire data and information on their archaeological context and prevent further lootings. The excavation of these tombs was conducted as a rescue operation at the decision of both co-directors and Iranian Authorities accordingly: for this reason, particular emphasis was given to the rapidity in concluding fieldwork and re-covering the unearthed structures.
Trench 8 is a rectangle of 9 x 4 m east-west oriented and opened east of Trench 1. Trench 8 is located on the part of the Stein Terrace that appears to be almost the same area on which Stein opened its trench in 1936. In this point, the terrace’s surface gently slopes toward the east, indeed toward the lower part of the site. Excavation conducted there allowed us to discover a large wall having the same alignment and north-south orientation of the retaining wall unearthed in Trench 1. These structures seem to be part of the same monumental complex located on the top and centre of the Stein Terrace.
Trench 9 was opened immediately south of T23, already excavated in the past season. Tomb T23 is the most impressive tomb discovered during the past season. It is composed by a main underground funerary chamber, a stepped corridor, having a rectangular niche, and a small chamber, which appears to have been used for funerary rituals. The corridor leading to the entrance measures at least 4 m in length and 1.4 m in width, but to the south it is probably connected with a further structure that still remains undiscovered and demands further investigation. It has 5 steps, the higher being at about 50 cm below the present surface. On its west side, a small niche contained the bone remains of a puppy sacrificed at a given moment, likely during the last funerary ritual performed in the tomb: it seems to have been a ship or goat. On its east side, a small chamber covered by a saddle roof also contained very few fragments of animal bones and, even if its entrance was blocked by irregular stones and rubble, it must be supposed that it was opened many times during the centuries. Probably, this small chamber was also used for funerary rituals with animals. During the tomb’s building, the corridor was excavated in depth south-northward and its vertical limits were covered by roughly cut undressed stones in order to create two walls. These walls and steps have been laid at the same time. The corridor appears to have been open in ancient time and not covered by soil. It leads to the entrance of the main funerary chamber.
Trench 10, immediately south of T24, already excavated in the past season. Walls of T24, built in the same manner of T23, are very wide and a low funerary bench lays against the north wall. It is also remarkable that no funerary objects or bones were found during excavation: this must be completed however. Tomb T24 has been completely covered at the end of fieldwork, even if its excavation is not completed.
Trench 12, south of trench 9, revealed the presence of walls made in undressed stones at least belonging to two phases of occupation. These seem aligned with the wall unearthed in trench 9 and could belong to the same context. A Wall placed in the western part of Trench 12 is approximately north/south oriented. It is built with medium and small size stones, and in connection with the wall east-west. The first upper row of stones is smaller than the second deeper one, which lays on a layer of arrangement. The first row shows stones c. 25 cm width, while the second one c. 55 cm width. A further wall, placed in the south part of Trench 12, is connected to the preceding and with the eastern wall, which is deeper. Its direction is approximately east-west, and is built with three superposed rows of irregular stones, being 50 cm high.
Trench 13, north-west of trench 9, revealed the presence of two squared platforms of about 5 x 5 m and a further structure developing south of the former. These two high platforms are aligned east-westwards, the eastern being articulated in small niches. There are made by walls in undressed squared stones that retain a filling of loose earth and rubble. The platform to the west is slightly larger than the other. Its walls are laid in deep foundation, which go down to about 70 cm below the present surface. It must be said that the latter seems quite to correspond to the ancient ground. To the corners, particularly the north-west corner, very huge and regular stones were laid for supporting the whole structure. On these foundations, rows of stones were laid in one course. These stones, unlike those often found in the discovered structures, are well cut and polished usually. Particularly the stones laid in the lower rows follow this trend. The most superficial could be roughly cut. This seems to imply that the best cut stones were laid in low courses, namely the points of higher stress for the structure static. The walls made in this technique, which describe the perimeter of the platform, retain a filling of loose earth and rubble, which was compressed to be retained. The surface of the platform was likely covered by a layer of stones in order to provide a quite regular ground. This must have been at least 1-1.5 m below the surface and could be reached by a small and quite irregular stair indented into the north wall. Of the latter, only the cut remains and the two lower steps, which are completely ruined unfortunately.
These two structures are of pivotal importance, for they testify to the fact that religious practices or ceremonies could be performed in an area very close, and thus directly connected with, the many tombs so far identified.
Valley of Shami – Kal-e Chendar (September 23 – November 16 2016)
The Iranian-Italian Joint Expedition in Khuzestan conducted the 9th campaign at Kal-e Chendar with the purpose of:
During the present campaign the area N of Trench 13 was particularly investigated. Trench 13, located not far from Trench 9, revealed the presence of a structure similar to the two platforms already discovered during the last campaign.
These three platforms have all a squared layout, one being decorated by niches, the other revealing the presence of an indented stair, the third, identified in the present campaign, being stepped. It is already unclear whether these platform can be interpreted as support for small altars, thus having a cult purpose, or rather like funerary markers, like a kind of epitymbia.
Future excavations will focus on this area with the purpose of investigating these structures in depth.
North of Trench 13 the Iranian members of the expedition investigated two monumental tombs (T26 and 28, in Trenches 14, 15 and 18) which were heavily pillaged. At the entrance of one of them, the stone door closing the tomb’s entrance was still in situ, however, with heavy hinges and carved façade similar to those already found close to T24. These tombs were placed one by the other and were reached by a path or corridor, thus showing that in the Kal-e Chendar cemetery tombs were interconnected, being part of huge complexes, and their façades well visible.
Topographic and ground surveys allow us to see a cluster of ruins in an area known as Saleh Vand. These are modern houses that overlap more ancient structures that require further investigation, for they appear to have been probably part of a dwelling area along the exhausted bed of the Rud-e Shami.
September – November 2017)
In this campaign our activity was focused on the preliminary study of the excavated materials. During excavation different types of potsherds were found that can be dated from the end of the 4th cent. BC to the end of the 2nd cent. AD. Potsherds were found in strata only sporadically, because of flotation and compressed stratigraphy of the site, while almost complete or complete vessels can be found in tombs as funerary objects.
Diagnostic sherds were classified on the basis of their type and ware: 4 classes were identified including common and glazed ware. Fragments belonging to the latter class are particularly interesting for they appear very similar to those produced in the plain of Susa and/or Mesopotamia.
Further studies will allow us to identify imported vessels, if any, but it appears that funerary objects were produced on high standards for satisfying the needs of a wealthy society.
Archaeometric analyses were also conducted in the laboratories of the Departments of Chemistry and Physics of the University of Torino (which also participates with the Department of Historical Studies). These analyses included SEM observations, PCA and petrography, and allowed to verify the chemical composition of glazed surfaces, ware and temper. These were performed with the purpose of acquiring data to be compared with those acquired at near and distant sites, like for instance Majid-e Sulayman and Bard-e Neshandeh (in the same area), or Babylon (in Mesopotamia).
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