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Ancient Iranian Salt Mine Mummies

Ancient Iranian Salt Mine Mummies

As a young girl interested in archaeology and history, mummies always intrigued me. From the intricate Egyptian mummies to the naturally and beautifully preserved mummies of the Incas, they seemed to me to be beautiful pieces of art containing secrets of the ancient past. So imagine the disappointment I felt, when at the tender age of eight, I realised that the Persians did not have any mummies! Actually very few human remains have been found in the Iranian Plateau. The Royal Achaemenid tombs in Naghshe Rostam yielded their treasures and human remains many centuries ago. The Sasanians and the Achaemenids for that matter, made funerary archaeology a bit more difficult by practising the Zoroastrian mortuary rituals, which left very little or no human remains to be studied by archaeologists.

Now and then a chance discovery of a “Royal Persian Mummy” would hit the news, and of course later would turn out to be a fake. The most famous of these is the “Royal Princess-Mummy” thought to be a daughter of Xerxes, this particular mummy was on sale on the black market for about 11 million dollars! But of course this “amazing find”, which was thought to be the Tutankhamun of the Achaemenid Empire, almost lead to an international incident involving Iran, Pakistan, and even the Taliban in Afghanistan. All this was more or less due to the curator of the National Museum in Karachi, where “the Royal Princess” was being held and stored. Being overwhelmed by this find of the century, Asma Ibrahim thought she could read the cuneiform inscriptions on the mummy's gold plaque herself, ordered numerous CT scans, and also assisted in its autopsy. However, she forgot one key fact. There are no records nor evidence that the Achaemenids, who followed an early type the Zoroastrian faith, would want or need an embalming according to the Egyptian ritual customs. (The only remote mention of a possible embalming in ancient Persia is from Herodotus, who mentions that the Persians embalmed their dead in wax. Hdt 1.140) Also the pencil marks around the wooden embellishments on the coffin should have given her a clue. The 2600 year old “Royal Princess” turned out to be a woman with dyed blond hair, who had died by having her neck broken in 1996 CE. This poor, middle-aged woman was either a victim of grave robbery or was murdered in a “mummy factory” somewhere between Iran and Pakistan.

After this disappointment, I came across “The Iranian Saltmen”, and I was pleasantly surprised. The “Saltmen of Zanjan” were preserved by a very rare form of natural mummification which had occurred in a salt mine.

In 1993 CE miners in the Douzlakh Salt Mine, near Hamzehli and Chehr Abad villages in Zanjan Province, accidentally came across a mummified head. The head was very well preserved, to the extent that his pierced ear was still holding the gold earring. The hair, beard, and the moustaches were reddish in colour, and his impressive leather boot still contained parts of his leg and foot.

The local Zanjan branch of the Miras Farhangi (Zanjan Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organisation) was called, and they performed a rescue excavation and found three iron knives, a pair of short trousers made of wool, a silver needle, a sling, a leather rope, a grindstone, some pottery shards, patterned textile fragments, a few broken bones, and even a walnut. He was found in a middle of a tunnel, about 45 metres in length.

The local Zanjan branch of the Miras Farhangi, thinking that this mummy was an individual find, did not investigate the mine any further. However, in 2004 CE the miners discovered yet another “saltman”, and again the local Zanjan branch of the Miras Farhangi was called in. The team discovered further remains of a human body along with a large number of artefacts made of wood, metal tools, clothing, and pottery.

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The Miras-e-Farhangi, realising that they might have stumbled upon a mine with a long history of usage, finally got their act together, and started an archaeological investigation, involving several international research organisations:

  • Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research (ICAR), Shiraz, Iran
  • Ruhr-Universität Bochum
  • Universität Zürich, Zentrum für Evolutionäre Medizin
  • University of Oxford, (RLAHA Oxford), Research Laboratory for Archaeology & the History of Art
  • York University, Institute of Archaeology
  • Tehran University, The Institute of Parasitology and Mycology
  • Zanjan University, Institute of Geomorphology
  • University of Franche-Comte, Faculty of Sciences & Techniques

In 2005 CE a systematic excavation began, three more mummies were excavated, and a sixth remained in situ, due to lack of funds for its storage. The context of the remains suggested that a collapse in the mine had caused the death of the miners in question.

The first mummy, dubbed the "Saltman", is on display in the National Museum of Iran in Tehran. He still looks very impressive, I just wish he was displayed a bit better.

This particular "saltman" was originally dated based on the archaeological material found with him. Sobuti, the Iranian archaeologist who performed the first rescue excavation, suggested a date of around 800 BCE based on the clothing and the accessories found with him, which placed him in the Neo-Elamite Period (1000-539 BCE). Later, the mummy was carbon dated, which placed him in 500 CE (1750 BP, that is, "before present" or 1750 years ago), the height of the Sasanian Empire. The second "saltman" was carbon dated to 1554 BP, which placed him in the same era as the first "saltman", the Sasanian era.

The third, fourth, and the fifth "saltmen" were also carbon dated. The third body was dated and placed in 2337 BP, the fourth body in 2301 BP, and the fifth mummy was dated to 2286 BP, placing them all in the Achaemenid period.

However, the previous number of five has since increased to at least 8 individuals. As the further anatomical analysis revealed that the bones previously thought to have belonged to one individual belonged to several more.

The isotopic analysis of the human remains revealed where these miners were from. Some of them were from the Tehran-Qazvin Plain, which is relatively local to the mine's locality, while others were from North-Eastern Iran and the coastal areas around the Caspian Sea, and a few from as far away as Central Asia.

Furthermore, the archaeozoological finds, such as animal bones found within the context of the saltmen, showed that the miners might have eaten sheep, goats, and probably pigs and cattle, as well. The archaeobotanical finds recorded showed different cultivated plants were eaten, indicating an agricultural establishment in the vicinity of the mine.

The wealth of fabric and other organic material (leather) worn by the saltmen have allowed a thorough analysis to be undertaken, detailing the resources used to make the fabrics, the processing, the dyes used to colour the fibres of the garments, and not least they offer an excellent overview of the changes in cloth types, patterns of weaving, and the changes of the fibres through time.

All the data collected so far has allowed the researchers to have the first holistic view of the mine and the miners who worked there through the periods of its usage. The variety of the artefacts and the ecofacts found in each stratigraphic and chronological setting has offered a concise context, hence revealing the differences between the two ancient mining phases.

During the Achaemenid phase, the mining area was accessed from areas further away, indicated by the lack of settlement in the vicinity of the mine, and the presence of foreign miners as indicated by the DNA results from some of the salt mummies. The high number of ceramic vessels and goods supplied also suggest access from further away, while the Sasanian phase shows that the mining was established within the local landscape, and the isotopic data indicates that the supplies were organised on a regional basis.

It is also very interesting to take the lack of any archaeological evidence of any form of a mining settlement within the vicinity of the mine into account, which indicates that the mining was seasonal rather than highly organized. For instance, if we look at the contemporary Greek mining practice by contrast, this was often a task done by slaves and was highly organised.

The individual "Saltmen" have a few secrets of their own, for instance the first "saltman" that was discovered had the blood type B+, and 3D imaging of his skull revealed fractures around his eye and other damage that occurred before death by a hard blow to the head. His clothing (the impressive leather boot) and his gold earring, show a person of some rank; the reason for his presence in the mine still remains a mystery. Was he murdered and dumped there, or was he mining salt and fell victim to a cave in?

Saltman No. 5 had tapeworm eggs from the Taenia sp. genus in his system. These were identified during the study of his remains. The find indicates the consumption of raw or undercooked meat, and this is the first case of this parasite in ancient Iran and the earliest evidence of ancient intestinal parasites in the area. The best preserved and probably the most harrowing of the saltmen is Saltman No. 4. A sixteen-year-old miner, caught in the moment of death, crushed by a cave-in.

For a while it seemed that the four "Saltmen" displayed in the Rakhtshuikhane Museum in Zanjan were in danger of becoming damaged by bacterial infection. The display cases were not sealed properly and were allowing air to enter. Hence there was some damage to the internal organs of some the mummies. However, the Iranian press and the Zanjan Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Dept. director later reported “Without hesitation, I can now say that the salt men kept here are in better condition than the one at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.” Three cases were made especially for the Saltmen, costing about $25,000 each. The cases are equipped with devices which enables experts to monitor conditions inside and keep them under full control.

The wealth of knowledge these five mummies and the associated finds have brought and are still bringing in understanding Ancient Iran is truly invaluable, and I do hope one day further excavations can be carried out in this mine, so that further discoveries can come to light.

Inside The Salt Mine Where 'Natural' Mummies Were Trapped For Thousands Of Years

Jonathan H. Kantor

Mummies may be best known as the monsters who have terrified generations thanks to the films of Universal Studios. While the process of mummification used by the Ancient Egyptians - the culture most associated with mummies - may seem disturbing now, the practice was commonplace in its time. What's more, Ancient Egypt was hardly the only location to produce mummies. In fact, natural mummification occurs more frequently than you might expect, especially if the Salt Men of Zanjan are any indication.

A 1993 discovery in Iran has since yielded not only a treasure trove of ancient artifacts but also a plethora of naturally mummified miners, dubbed "The Salt Men of Iran." Because salt is a natural desiccant - meaning it draws moisture from the air and whatever surrounds it - those who became trapped within the Iranian salt mine more than 2,200 years ago are almost perfectly preserved.

Photo : xiquinhosilva / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

12 In Honey

Honey has long been known to have preservative properties and has long been used to store food. It's also been long used as a treatment for a variety of ailments like burns and ulcers. And with the combination of healing and preserving comes using it to preserve people. Mummification in honey has been practiced in various places in the world, including the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. There's even a legend about people snacking on some ancient honey and pulling out the preserved body of a child, though it's unclear if this ever really happened.

16th-century Chinese apothecary Li Shizhen tells of holy men in Arabia who would voluntarily eat nothing but honey until they died, then have their bodies submerged in honey to make a mellified man a sort of human-honey substance believed to be a panacea . While bodies preserved in honey have certainly been found, the mellified man remains a legend.

All actual mellified men were eaten by bears

Related: The Dad From 'Honey, I Shrunk the Kids' Should Be In Prison

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What was Obi-Wan Kenobi doing in a salt mine ?

Pretending to be Jesus, planned to stay three days then come back but I guess he didn't make it out.

The Jiroft Civilization: Sharing the Stage of History

Different interpretations of the exact identity of the lost Jiroft civilization have been offered. Dr. Majidzadeh believes that he and his colleagues may have discovered the site of the legendary land of Aratta, a glorious Atlantis-like kingdom from the Bronze Age that mysteriously disappeared from the pages of history in the far distant past.

However, knowledge of Aratta comes primarily from Sumerian poems, which has led some to question whether such a place ever existed at all. An alternative theory suggests that the newly discovered Iranian civilization may be the ancient kingdom of Marhasi, which was located in southern Iran and is known to have been involved in conflicts with the Mesopotamian kingdom of Akkad in the third millennium BC.

A final answer to the riddle of the Jiroft civilization may never be found. But the fact that it existed at all is forcing archaeologists and historians to reassess everything they thought they knew about the primacy and importance of Mesopotamia to world history. Mesopotamia has not been diminished, but going forward it may have to share the title “ cradle of civilization ” with its cousin from the east.

Top image: Aerial image of the Konar Sandal archaeological site south of Jiroft city, thought to be the remains of a long-lost Jiroft culture. Source: Destination Iran


The site of Douzlakh, Zanjan, Iran

Discovering the First Saltman

In 1994, commercial salt mining operations were being carried out in the Chehrabad Salt Mine when the first saltman was discovered. Along with his mummified remains, several artifacts, including iron knives and a gold earring, were also uncovered.

This saltman is easily recognized due to his long white hair and beard. His head is currently on display in a glass case in the National Museum of Iran (in Tehran). It has been estimated that the man lived around 1700 years ago, during the time of the Sasanian Empire, and died sometime between the ages of 35 and 40.

Studying the Saltmen

In the following years more saltmen were discovered. In 2004, another saltman was found by miners, and an emergency excavation campaign was undertaken. Saltmen were also discovered in 2005, and the most recent mummy was uncovered in 2007. It is believed that the men lost their lives in the mine as a result of mining accidents. Whilst the first saltman is being kept in the National Museum of Iran, the subsequent four were brought to the Zanjan Archaeology Museum. The sixth saltman has been left in-situ.

Head of Saltman 1 on display at National Museum of Iran in Tehran.

The discovery of the saltmen has allowed archaeologists to get a glimpse into the lives of these ancient salt miners, and much scientific research has been conducted on the mummies, as well as the mine itself, since they were discovered more than two decades ago. Areas in which such research is being performed include archaeobotany, archaeozoology, isotope analysis, mining archaeology and physical anthropology.

Salt mummy no. 4, Archaeological Museum Zanjan (photograph: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum).

These studies have been helped archaeologists to gain a better understanding of ancient mining practices. For example, by examining the various artifacts and ecofacts in their stratigraphic layers, three different mining phases, namely Achaemenid, Sasanian, and Islamic, have been distinguished.

Textile fragment, length c. 520 mm, Archaeological Museum Zanjan (photograph: Miras Farhangi/Deutsches Bergbau-Museum).

Further research has shown that mining practices were organized differently during these periods. It was found, for instance, that during the Achaemenid period, mining was established in the surrounding area, and that, based on isotopic data, supply was organized on a regional basis. By comparison, during the Achaemenid period, it seems that there were foreign miners working in the salt mine, and that the mine was accessed from areas further away, i.e. the miners did not settle within the vicinity of their workplace.

Such studies have also helped revise certain accepted facts about the saltmen. For instance, it is generally reported that six saltmen have been discovered so far. However, anatomical analysis of the mummies has revealed that some body parts, which were initially thought to have belonged to a single individual, were in fact from different bodies. Thus, it has been suggested that the number of saltmen should actually be counted as eight, or even more.

Iron pick with wooden handle, length c. 210mm, Archaeological Museum Zanjan (photograph: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum).

Saving the Saltmen

Whilst much scientific study on the saltmen and the salt mine has been carried out, there is a lack of conservation and preservation of the mummified remains. In a report from 2009, it was mentioned that the mummies were being displayed in Plexiglas cases that were not hermetically sealed. As a result of changes in air temperature and pressure, cracks have appeared in the cases. This, in turn, allowed bacteria and insects to enter them, causing damage to the mummies.

Nevertheless, measures are reported to have been taken to ensure that the saltmen do not undergo further deterioration. In the same report, it was said that plans for making permanent cases for the saltmen have been completed, and the necessary funds for the construction of the encasings should be found.

Photo shows reconstructions Salt Man No. 1 – (Art work by M. Aflak @ Hamshahri Magazine, 2009)

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At the beginning of the 20th century, European explorers such as Sven Hedin, Albert von Le Coq and Sir Aurel Stein all recounted their discoveries of desiccated bodies in their search for antiquities in Central Asia. [7] Since then, numerous other mummies have been found and analyzed, many of them now displayed in the museums of Xinjiang. Most of these mummies were found on the eastern end of the Tarim Basin (around the area of Lopnur, Subeshi near Turpan, Loulan, Kumul), or along the southern edge of the Tarim Basin (Khotan, Niya, and Cherchen or Qiemo).

The earliest Tarim mummies, found at Qäwrighul and dated to 1800 BCE, are of a Caucasian physical type whose closest affiliation is to the Bronze Age populations of southern Siberia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Lower Volga. [2]

The cemetery at Yanbulaq contained 29 mummies which dated from 1100–500 BCE, 21 of which are Mongoloid—the earliest Mongoloid mummies found in the Tarim Basin—and eight of which are of the same Caucasian physical type as found at Qäwrighul. [2]

Notable mummies are the tall, red-haired "Chärchän man" or the "Ur-David" (1000 BCE) his son (1000 BCE), a small 1-year-old baby with brown hair protruding from under a red and blue felt cap, with two stones positioned over its eyes the "Hami Mummy" (c. 1400–800 BCE), a "red-headed beauty" found in Qizilchoqa and the "Witches of Subeshi" (4th or 3rd century BCE), who wore 2-foot-long (0.61 m) black felt conical hats with a flat brim. [8] Also found at Subeshi was a man with traces of a surgical operation on his abdomen the incision is sewn up with sutures made of horsehair. [9]

Many of the mummies have been found in very good condition, owing to the dryness of the desert and the desiccation it produced in the corpses. The mummies share many typical Caucasian body features (tall stature, high cheekbones, deep-set eyes), and many of them have their hair physically intact, ranging in color from blond to red to deep brown, and generally long, curly and braided. Their costumes, and especially textiles, may indicate a common origin with Indo-European neolithic clothing techniques or a common low-level textile technology. Chärchän man wore a red twill tunic and tartan leggings. Textile expert Elizabeth Wayland Barber, who examined the tartan-style cloth, discusses similarities between it and fragments recovered from salt mines associated with the Hallstatt culture. [10] As a result of the arid conditions and exceptional preservation, tattoos have been identified on mummies from several sites around the Tarim Basin, including Qäwrighul, Yanghai, Shengjindian, Shanpula (Sampul), Zaghunluq, and Qizilchoqa. [11]

It has been asserted that the textiles found with the mummies are of an early European textile type based on close similarities to fragmentary textiles found in salt mines in Austria, dating from the second millennium BCE. Anthropologist Irene Good, a specialist in early Eurasian textiles, noted the woven diagonal twill pattern indicated the use of a rather sophisticated loom and said that the textile is "the easternmost known example of this kind of weaving technique."

In 1995, Mair claimed that "the earliest mummies in the Tarim Basin were exclusively Caucasoid, or Europoid" with east Asian migrants arriving in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin around 3,000 years ago while the Uyghur peoples arrived around the year 842. In trying to trace the origins of these populations, Victor Mair's team suggested that they may have arrived in the region by way of the Pamir Mountains about 5,000 years ago.

The new finds are also forcing a reexamination of old Chinese books that describe historical or legendary figures of great height, with deep-set blue or green eyes, long noses, full beards, and red or blond hair. Scholars have traditionally scoffed at these accounts, but it now seems that they may be accurate. [12]

In 2007 the Chinese government allowed a National Geographic Society team headed by Spencer Wells to examine the mummies' DNA. Wells was able to extract undegraded DNA from the internal tissues. The scientists extracted enough material to suggest the Tarim Basin was continually inhabited from 2000 BCE to 300 BCE and preliminary results indicate the people, rather than having a single origin, originated from Europe, Mesopotamia, Indus Valley and other regions yet to be determined. [13]

A 2008 study by Jilin University showed that the Yuansha population has relatively close relationships with the modern populations of South Central Asia and Indus Valley, as well as with the ancient population of Chawuhu. [14] [15]

Between 2009–2015, the remains of 92 individuals found at the Xiaohe Tomb complex were analyzed for Y-DNA and mtDNA markers. Genetic analyses of the mummies showed that the maternal lineages of the Xiaohe people originated from both East Asia and West Eurasia, whereas the paternal lineages all originated from West Eurasia. [16]

Mitochondrial DNA analysis showed that maternal lineages carried by the people at Xiaohe included mtDNA haplogroups H, K, U5, U7, U2e, T and R*, which are now most common in West Eurasia. Also found were haplogroups common in modern populations from East Asia: B5, D and G2a. Haplogroups now common in Central Asian or Siberian populations included: C4 and C5. Haplogroups later regarded as typically South Asian included M5 and M*. [17]

Of the paternal lines of male remains surveyed nearly all – 11 out of 12, or around 92% – belonged to Y-DNA haplogroup R1a1, which are now most common in Northern India and Eastern Europe the other belonged to the exceptionally rare paragroup K* (M9). [18] The R1a1 lineage suggests a proximity of this population with groups related to the Andronovo culture, i.e. early Indo-Europeans. [19]

The geographic location of this admixing is unknown, although south Siberia is likely. [16]

Chinese historian Ji Xianlin says China "supported and admired" research by foreign experts into the mummies. "However, within China a small group of ethnic separatists have taken advantage of this opportunity to stir up trouble and are acting like buffoons. Some of them have even styled themselves the descendants of these ancient 'white people' with the aim of dividing the motherland. But these perverse acts will not succeed." [5] Barber addresses these claims by noting that "The Loulan Beauty is scarcely closer to 'Turkic' in her anthropological type than she is to Han Chinese. The body and facial forms associated with Turks and Mongols began to appear in the Tarim cemeteries only in the first millennium BCE, fifteen hundred years after this woman lived." [20] Due to the "fear of fuelling separatist currents", the Xinjiang museum, regardless of dating, displays all their mummies, both Tarim and Han, together. [5]

Mallory and Mair (2000) propose the movement of at least two Caucasian physical types into the Tarim Basin. The authors associate these types with the Tocharian and Iranian (Saka) branches of the Indo-European language family, respectively. [21] However, archaeology and linguistics professor Elizabeth Wayland Barber cautions against assuming the mummies spoke Tocharian, noting a gap of about a thousand years between the mummies and the documented Tocharians: "people can change their language at will, without altering a single gene or freckle." [22]

B. E. Hemphill's biodistance analysis of cranial metrics (as cited in Larsen 2002 and Schurr 2001) has questioned the identification of the Tarim Basin population as European, noting that the earlier population has close affinities to the Indus Valley population, and the later population with the Oxus River valley population. Because craniometry can produce results which make no sense at all (e.g. the close relationship between Neolithic populations in Ukraine and Portugal) and therefore lack any historical meaning, any putative genetic relationship must be consistent with geographical plausibility and have the support of other evidence. [23]

Han Kangxin, who examined the skulls of 302 mummies, found the closest relatives of the earlier Tarim Basin population in the populations of the Afanasevo culture situated immediately north of the Tarim Basin and the Andronovo culture that spanned Kazakhstan and reached southwards into West Central Asia and the Altai. [24]

It is the Afanasevo culture to which Mallory & Mair (2000:294–296, 314–318) trace the earliest Bronze Age settlers of the Tarim and Turpan basins. The Afanasevo culture (c. 3500–2500 BCE) displays cultural and genetic connections with the Indo-European-associated cultures of the Eurasian Steppe yet predates the specifically Indo-Iranian-associated Andronovo culture (c. 2000–900 BCE) enough to isolate the Tocharian languages from Indo-Iranian linguistic innovations like satemization. [25]

Hemphill & Mallory (2004) confirm a second Caucasian physical type at Alwighul (700–1 BCE) and Krorän (200 CE) different from the earlier one found at Qäwrighul (1800 BCE) and Yanbulaq (1100–500 BCE):

This study confirms the assertion of Han [1998] that the occupants of Alwighul and Krorän are not derived from proto-European steppe populations, but share closest affinities with Eastern Mediterranean populations. Further, the results demonstrate that such Eastern Mediterraneans may also be found at the urban centers of the Oxus civilization located in the north Bactrian oasis to the west. Affinities are especially close between Krorän, the latest of the Xinjiang samples, and Sapalli, the earliest of the Bactrian samples, while Alwighul and later samples from Bactria exhibit more distant phenetic affinities. This pattern may reflect a possible major shift in interregional contacts in Central Asia in the early centuries of the second millennium BCE.

Mallory and Mair associate this later (700 BCE–200 CE) Caucasian physical type with the populations who introduced the Iranian Saka language to the western part of the Tarim basin. [26]

From the evidence available, we have found that during the first 1,000 years after the Loulan Beauty, the only settlers in the Tarim Basin were Caucasoid. East Asian peoples only began showing up in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago, Mair said, while the Uighur peoples arrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uighur Kingdom, largely based in modern day Mongolia, around the year 842. [5]

Chinese sources Edit

Western Regions (Hsi-yu Chinese: 西域 pinyin: Xīyù Wade–Giles: Hsi 1 -yü 4 ) is the historical name in China, between the 3rd century BCE and 8th century CE for regions west of Yumen Pass, including the Tarim and Central Asia. [27]

Some of the peoples of the Western Regions were described in Chinese sources as having full beards, red or blond hair, deep-set blue or green eyes and high noses. [28] According to Chinese sources, the city states of the Tarim reached the height of their political power during the 3rd to 4th centuries CE, [29] although this may actually indicate an increase in Chinese involvement in the Tarim, following the collapse of the Kushan Empire.

The Yuezhi Edit

Reference to the Yuezhi name in Guanzi was made around 7th century BCE by the Chinese economist Guan Zhong, though the book is generally considered to be a forgery of later generations. [30] : 115–127 The attributed author, Guan Zhong, described the Yuzhi 禺氏, or Niuzhi 牛氏, as a people from the north-west who supplied jade to the Chinese from the nearby mountains of Yuzhi 禺氏 at Gansu.

After the Yuezhi experienced a series of major defeats at the hands of the Xiongnu, during the 2nd century BCE, a group known as the Greater Yuezhi migrated to Bactria, where they established the Kushan Empire. By the 1st Century CE, the Kushan Empire had expanded significantly and may have annexed part of the Tarim Basin.

Tocharian languages Edit

The degree of differentiation between the language known to modern scholars as Tocharian A (or by the endonym Ārśi-käntwa "tongue of Ārśi") and Tocharian B (Kuśiññe [adjective] "of Kucha, Kuchean"), as well as the less-well attested Tocharian C (which is associated with the city-state of Krorän, also known as Loulan), and the absence of evidence for these beyond the Tarim, tends to indicate that a common, proto-Tocharian language existed in the Tarim during the second half of the 1st Millennium BCE. Tocharian is attested in documents between the 3rd and 9th centuries CE, although the first known epigraphic evidence dates to the 6th century CE.

Although the Tarim mummies preceded the Tocharian texts by several centuries, their shared geographical location and links to Western Eurasia have led many scholars to infer that the mummies were related to the Tocharian peoples.

The possible presence of speakers of Indo-European languages in the Tarim Basin by about 2000 BCE [31] could, if confirmed, be interpreted as evidence that cultural exchanges occurred among Indo-European and Chinese populations at a very early date. It has been suggested that such activities as chariot warfare and bronze-making may have been transmitted to the east by these Indo-European nomads. [4] Mallory and Mair also note that: "Prior to c. 2000 BC, finds of metal artifacts in China are exceedingly few, simple and, puzzlingly, already made of alloyed copper (and hence questionable)." While stressing that the argument as to whether bronze technology travelled from China to the West or that "the earliest bronze technology in China was stimulated by contacts with western steppe cultures", is far from settled in scholarly circles, they suggest that the evidence so far favours the latter scenario. [32] However, the culture and the technology in the northwest region of Tarim basin were less advanced than that in the East China of Yellow River-Erlitou (2070 BCE

2600 BCE), the earliest bronze-using cultures in China, which implies that the northwest region did not use copper or any metal until bronze technology was introduced to the region by the Shang dynasty in about 1600 BC. The earliest bronze artifacts in China are found at the Majiayao site (between 3100 and 2700 BC), [33] [34] and it is from this location and time period that Chinese Bronze Age spread. Bronze metallurgy in China originated in what is referred to as the Erlitou (Wade–Giles: Erh-li-t'ou ) period, which some historians argue places it within the range of dates controlled by the Shang dynasty. [35] Others believe the Erlitou sites belong to the preceding Xia (Wade–Giles: Hsia ) dynasty. [36] The US National Gallery of Art defines the Chinese Bronze Age as the "period between about 2000 BC and 771 BC," which begins with Erlitou culture and ends abruptly with the disintegration of Western Zhou rule. [37] Though that provides a concise frame of reference, it overlooks the continued importance of bronze in Chinese metallurgy and culture. Since that was significantly later than the discovery of bronze in Mesopotamia, bronze technology could have been imported, rather than being discovered independently in China. However, there is reason to believe that bronzework developed inside China, separately from outside influence. [38] [39]

The Chinese official Zhang Qian, who visited Bactria and Sogdiana in 126 BCE, made the first known Chinese report on many regions west of China. He believed to have discerned Greek influences in some of the kingdoms. He named Parthia "Ānxī" (Chinese: 安息), a transcription of "Arshak" (Arsaces), the name of the founder of Parthian dynasty. [40] Zhang Qian clearly identified Parthia as an advanced urban civilization that farmed grain and grapes and manufactured silver coins and leather goods. [41] Zhang Qian equated Parthia's level of advancement to the cultures of Dayuan in Ferghana and Daxia in Bactria.

The supplying of Tarim Basin jade to China from ancient times is well established, according to Liu (2001): "It is well known that ancient Chinese rulers had a strong attachment to jade. All of the jade items excavated from the tomb of Fuhao of the Shang dynasty by Zheng Zhenxiang, more than 750 pieces, were from Khotan in modern Xinjiang. As early as the mid-first millennium BCE the Yuezhi engaged in the jade trade, of which the major consumers were the rulers of agricultural China."

The Beauty of Loulan (also referred to as the Loulan Beauty) is the most famous of the Tarim mummies, along with the Cherchen Man. [42] She was discovered in 1980 by Chinese archaeologists working on a film about the Silk Road. The mummy was discovered near Lop Nur. She was buried 3 feet beneath the ground. The mummy was extremely well preserved because of the dry climate and the preservative properties of salt. [43] She was wrapped in a woolen cloth the cloth was made of two separate pieces and was not large enough to cover her entire body, thereby leaving her ankles exposed. The Beauty of Loulan was surrounded by funerary gifts. [44] The Beauty of Loulan has been dated back to approximately 1800 BCE. [45]

Life and death Edit

The Beauty of Loulan lived around 1800 BCE, until about the age of 45, when she died. Her cause of death is likely due to lung failure from ingesting a large amount of sand, charcoal, and dust. [43] According to Elizabeth Barber, she probably died in the winter because of her provisions against the cold. [44] The rough shape of her clothes and the lice in her hair suggest she lived a difficult life. [43]

Appearance and clothing Edit

Hair Edit

The Beauty of Loulan's hair colour has been described as auburn. [44] Her hair was infested with lice. [43]

Clothing Edit

The Beauty of Loulan is wearing clothing made of wool and fur. Her hood is made of felt and has a feather in it. [46] She is wearing rough ankle-high moccasins made of leather, with fur on the outside. Her skirt is made of leather, with fur on the inside for warmth. She is also wearing a woolen cap. According to Elizabeth Barber, these provisions against the cold suggest she died during the winter. [44]

Accessories Edit

The Loulan Beauty possesses a comb, with four teeth remaining. Barber suggests that this comb was a dual purpose tool to comb hair and to "pack the weft in tightly during weaving."

She possesses a "neatly woven bag or soft basket." Grains of wheat were discovered inside the bag. [44]

In popular culture Edit

A 23-poem sequence on the Beauty of Loulan appears in the Canadian poet Kim Trainor's Karyotype (2015).

According to Ed Wong's New York Times article from 2008, Mair was actually prohibited from leaving the country with 52 genetic samples. However, a Chinese scientist clandestinely sent him half a dozen, on which an Italian geneticist performed tests. [1]

Since then China has prohibited foreign scientists from conducting research on the mummies. As Wong says, "Despite the political issues, excavations of the grave sites are continuing." [1]

Chehrabad salt mine historical relics to be shown in Germany

TEHRAN, Jul. 20 (MNA) – Zanjan province’s tourism chief Amir Arjmand said on Monday that 200 relics discovered in Chehrabad salt mine are to be showcased in an exhibition in Germany.

As he informed Iran and a delegation of German scientists, experts in archeology, environmental studies, geomorphology, botany and zoology, from Bochum University are cooperating on the project.

Showcasing the relics, the exhibition seeks to introduce Iranian ancient objects to foreigners in a bid to attract toruists to the country, Arjmandi said.

In late May, a team of experts from Iran and Germany started a project for purifying, cleansing, and restoring garments and personal belongings of ancient salt mummies which were first found in Iran’s Chehrabad Salt Mine in 1993.

As Arjmandi said at the time, the discovered objects and clothing of the Salt Men are being restored in collaboration with Iran’s Research Center for Conservation of Cultural Relics in close collaboration with the research institute for the protection and restoration of historical relics from the Ruhr-Universiat Bochum and the Archaeological Museum Frankfurt.

In 1993, miners in the Douzlakh Salt Mine, near Hamzehli and Chehrabad villages in Zanjan Province, accidentally came across a mummified head. The head was very well preserved, to the extent that his pierced ear was still holding the gold earring. The hair, beard, and the mustaches were reddish, and his impressive leather boot still contained parts of his leg and foot, according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia.

However, in 2004, the miners discovered yet another “saltman”, which was followed by further excavation unearthing remains of a human body along with a large number of artifacts made of wood, metal tools, clothing, and pottery. The archaeological investigation involved several international research organizations Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research (ICAR) Ruhr-Universität Bochum Universitat Zürich University of Oxford, (RLAHA Oxford), Research Laboratory for Archaeology & the History of Art York University, Institute of Archaeology Tehran University, The Institute of Parasitology and Mycology Zanjan University, Institute of Geomorphology and University of Franche-Comte, Faculty of Sciences & Techniques.

In 2005, a systematic excavation began, three more mummies were excavated, and a sixth remained in situ, due to lack of funds for its storage. The context of the remains suggested that a collapse in the mine had caused the death of the miners in question.

The first mummy, dubbed the “Saltman”, is on display in the National Museum of Iran in Tehran. He still looks very impressive.

This particular “saltman” was originally dated based on the archaeological material found with him. Later, the mummy was carbon dated, which placed him in 500 CE (1750 BP, that is, “before present” or 1750 years ago), the height of the Sasanian Empire. The second “saltman” was carbon-dated to 1554 BP, which placed him in the same era as the first “saltman”, the Sasanian era.

The third, fourth, and fifth “saltmen” were also carbon dated. The third body was dated and placed in 2337 BP, the fourth body in 2301 BP, and the fifth mummy was dated to 2286 BP, placing them all in the Achaemenid period.

The isotopic analysis of the human remains revealed where these miners were from. Some of them were from the Tehran-Qazvin plain, which is relatively local to the mine’s locality, while others were from north-eastern Iran and the coastal areas around the Caspian Sea, and a few from as far away as Central Asia.

Ancient Iranian Salt Mine Mummies - History

Alarm Bells for Iran’s “Salt Men”

LONDON, (CAIS) -- The ancient Iranian “salt men” are in critical condition. All six of the salt men, known as Iranian mummies, were discovered at the Chehrabad Salt Mine in the Hamzehlu region near Zanjan over the past 12 years, the Persian service of CHN reported on Wednesday.

Studies on the Fourth Salt Man, kept at Zanjan’s Zolfaqari Museum, indicate that the body is 2000 years old and he was 15 or 16 years old at the time of death. Three other salt men are also kept at the museum.

T he plexiglass cases designed for these mummies are not hermetically sealed. Changes in air temperature and pressure have created cracks in the cases, allowing bacteria and insects to enter and damage the mummies.

It is still not clear when the other salt men lived, but archaeologists estimate that the First Salt Man lived about 1700 years ago and died sometime between the ages of 35 and 40. He is currently on display in a glass case at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.

The Sixth Salt Man was left in-situ due to the dearth of equipment necessary for its preservation in Iran.

“The cases designed for the salt men are not standard at all,” director of the archaeological exactions at the Chehrabad Salt Mine Abolfazl Aali said.

“There are problems with all the cases. A number of valves were installed in the Fourth Salt Man’s case to control air humidity inside the covering. However the crack made them useless,” he added.

“No external change of the salt men has been observed since they have been unearthed, but the major damage, not visible to the naked eye, is caused by bacteria that invade the internal organs, something that we would be unaware of by casual observation,” Aali explained.

The plexiglass cases have designed and made under the supervision of Manijeh Hadian, an expert from the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (ICAR).

“The most well-equipped case was the one made for the Fourth Salt Man, but it was only to be used as a temporary covering for the mummy,” Hadian noted.

She believes that the cracks have been created as result of numerous relocations.

The mummies were previously kept at Zanjan’s Rakhtshuikhaneh Museum.

Studies have been completed for making permanent cases for the salt men and necessary funds should be found for making the devices, Hadian said.

“The First Salt Man is kept at the National Museum of Iran. Although over 12 years have gone by since it was discovered, no change can be seen on it,” Hadian said.

“Controlling and monitoring temperature, humidity, and light i.e. all physical conditions is a general rule for preservation of the mummy and if the all these factors are well controlled there will be no problems with preserving the artifacts,” she explained.

According to Hadian, the Fourth Salt Man’s case has been equipped with electronic thermometers and Zolfaqari Museum’s officials have been instructed to inform ICAR’s experts in Tehran about any changes.

Meanwhile, Aali said that major control of conditions is to be implemented at Zanjan.

“A heater has been installed at the museum to control humidity. However, it is impossible to precisely control air properties at the museum and we do witness a fluctuation in temperature during periods of rainfall and in the summertime,” he said.

“These mummies do not decayed easily if we control the air properties, the salt men will remain intact, but the current procedure will not be effective over the long term,” he noted.

Extracted From/Source : Mehr News [ * ]

Encyclopaedia Iranica

The British Institute of Persian Studies

"Persepolis Reconstructed"

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