Smugglers in search of treasures in an area known as Shanzdah-Maylee (Šānzdah-Māylē / sixteen-mile) have discovered and plundered an ancient tappeh (archaeological mound) in a depth of four meters, according to a recent report by the Persian service of Mehr News Agency.
The site is located between Batvand and Karāee villages, near the city of Masjed-Soleiman in the south-western Iranian province of Khuzestan.
According to the report, 75 year old farmer Farhad Pur-Rezaee alerted volunteers at Khuzestan's Friends of the Cultural Heritage Association (TARIANA), regarding the illegal excavation in his 56 hectares farmland.
Nine years ago the same farmer reported illegal excavation in his land to Islamic Republic officials who ignored the complaint, as a result he reported this particular incident to TARIANA. The TARIANA volunteers attended the site and inspected the damages and subsequently reported to Khuzestan Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organisation (KCHTO) to take appropriate action.
Volunteer archaeologists working with TARIANA dated the site to the third Iranian dynasty, the Parthians (Arsacids) 248 BCE-224CE, due to the type of stone-work and style of construction which is similar to nearby ancient sites from that period. The volunteers also discovered a large number of openings in the farmland, which points to an ongoing operation by the smugglers. It is suspected that the holes are kind of test-trenches to ascertain the location of ancient structures buried beneath the farmland. It is expected to be looted soon if it has not been done so already.
The farmer also told TARAINA that he has obtained planning permission from KCHTO to build a factory-farm only 300 meters away from the plundered tappeh. This demonstrates that the permit was issued without any survey on the site; otherwise the results would have revealed the presence of an ancient structure and consequently would have stopped the plundering.
Locals believe that smugglers have people in KCHTO working with them, since this is beyond KCHTO’s norm of incompetency.
After informing the KCHTO, it came to light that the authority was aware of the existence of Parthian constructions in the farmland and promised an investigation. Three days later, KCHTO to everyone’s surprise claimed the discovery and plunder was a rumour. ICHTHO also backed KCHTO and issued a statement calling the news fictitious and asked news-agencies not to concern the public with the plundering of sites in Iran. Both KCHTO and ICHTO refused to explain the farmer's statement as well as the picures that were taken from the site as evidence.
ICHTO in March 2009 banned Iranian archaeologists from giving interviews, and anyone in breach of the imposed law will lose their job and will face draconian punishments.
The volunteers at TARIANA since its foundation in 2006 have single-handedly done the jobs of the government run KCHTO as well as the provincial police in safeguarding the Iranian heritage in Khuzestan Province. KCHTO management has constantly penalised and attacked TARIANA for being a ‘Wikileak’-like cultural body, but despite this they are still fighting for their noble cause. The majority in the province consider TARIANA as the main cultural body rather than KCHTO – with many sharing the view of a Khuzestani archaeologist who said, “it is better to dismantle KCHTO and let TARIANA do the job of safeguarding the Iranian heritage of the province in a real term, at no cost.”
CAIS. 2010. "Smugglers discovered and plundered a Parthian Dynastic site in Masjed-Soleiman". Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies. Posted: December 3, 2010. Available online: http://www.cais-soas.com/news/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=158:smugglers-discovered-and-plundered-a-parthian-dynastic-site-in-masjed-soleiman-&catid=47