Rare Parthian tombstone found in north-central Iran

TEHRAN – A team of archaeologists recently discovered a rare tombstone from the Parthian era (247 BC – 224 AD) in an ancient cemetery in north-central Iran.

The find is of great importance because it delivered the “first engraved tombstone of the Parthian era” which was discovered in the cemetery of Mersinchal in the province of Semnan, Mehr said on Saturday citing archaeologist Ata Hassanpour.

The gravestone was discovered during a rescue campaign in the developing dam basin in the province’s Mahdishahr county, said Hassanpour, who led the investigation.

Measuring 52cm in height, 38cm in width and 7cm in thickness, the gravestone was located vertically above the head of the deceased, the expert added.

The Mersinchal Cemetery, which includes various Parthian tombs, has so far delivered dozens of relics found inside the burial chambers, as the ancients believed that the burial items would be useful to the deceased in the afterlife.

The find is of great significance as it yielded the very first engraved tombstone of the Parthian era (247 BC). “68 pit tomb type burial chambers were discovered in the cemetery during excavations carried out during the third two-phase archaeological season,” said Hassanpour.

The Parthian Empire, also known as the Arsacid Empire, was a major Iranian political and cultural power in ancient Iran. The Parthians widely adopted the art, architecture, religious beliefs, and royal insignia of their culturally heterogeneous empire, which encompassed Persian, Hellenistic, and regional cultures. At its peak, the Parthian Empire stretched from north of the Euphrates River in what is now east-central Turkey to eastern Iran.

The Parthian wealth obtained through lucrative trade networks resulted in significant patronage of the arts, in particular relief sculpture, statuary (large and small scale), architectural sculpture, ironwork, jewelry and ceramics; coins with images of Parthian rulers form another important category of objects.

Last September, a team of archaeologists and cultural heritage experts began an excavation survey of the historic site, trying to recover relics before the old cemetery sank into the waters of a nearby dam. .

The cemetery contains bodies and relics of the Medes, a branch of the Indo-European people, who entered northeastern Iran probably as early as the 17th century BC and settled on the plateau which has become known under the name of Media. And it was also used during the Achaemenid era (around 550-330 BC), according to Malekzadeh.

Several pottery and personal ornaments have so far been found in the cemetery, which has more than 2,000 burial chambers.

Mersin Cemetery is located along the southern slope of the Alborz mountain range, east of the village of Talajim, near the Sefidrud River. The site was discovered during an archaeological rescue survey in the Fenisk Dam basin area. Based on surface materials, the cemetery has been dated to the end of the Iron Age III and the beginning of the Iron Age IV (circa 600-400 BC). To corroborate this dating, radiocarbon dating was obtained from human collagen from several tombs.

As the Iron Age culture in Semnan province was not well recognized, in August 2014, the Iranian Archaeological Research Center organized regular excavations at the site under the leadership of Malekzadeh. Three trenches were dug, covering a total of 235 square meters.

In trench 3 (10 × 5 m), fifteen human graves were found, distributed evenly. Some burials were disturbed, but common features were easy to recognize, including the rectangular shape of the tomb and the presence of a single body buried in each tomb, buried lying on its back. Most of the tombs had large stones delimiting the burial site and all contained grave goods except for tomb 4 which was however disturbed.

Tombs can be divided into two general categories, being either covered with large flat slabs and wood (like Tombs 5 and 10) or covered only with earth. There is no uniform orientation of the body in the burial. The funerary objects were variable and there were, among others, pottery vessels of different types, such as pitchers with a single handle, bowls with bridge spouts, jars with spouts and handles, small pots, bowls with pedestal and small twin pots.

The main population centers of Semnan province are along the old Silk Road (and current Imam Reza highway), connecting Rey (Tehran) to Khorasan (Mashhad). Although few visitors spend much time in the area, as you walk through you can easily search for several well-preserved caravanserais (including Dehnamak and Ahowan), cisterns (the Abenbar cafe in Garmsar is a treat), and crumbling mud citadels. (Padeh is lumpy but fascinating). The large bustling towns of Semnan, Damghan and Shahrud (Bastam) all have a small selection of historic buildings and Semnan has a beautiful old covered bazaar.


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