Sunday, August 26, 2012

Archaeologists Begin Underwater Investigations in Iran

The port town of Siraf is located in the northwestern part of Bushehr Province in southern Iran and has a long rich history. Now, a joint team led by Iranian archaeologist Hossein Tofiqian and US-based Iranian expert Sorna Khakzad, have begun work on the partly submerged port.

Searching beneath the waves

At one time, the port had been one of the major centres for marketing pearls and silk in the region, but has gradually submerged over the centuries. The team is currently working to identify any trace of the port structures before deciding on a full excavation strategy. The American members of the team have brought all the specialist equipment necessary for underwater excavations.

Three or four main periods of archaeological activity have previously been identified at the site. The earliest layer dating back to the Parthian period (247 BCE – 224 CE), as well as a major level of activity relating to the Sassanid (224 CE– 651 CE) and early Islamic periods, almost all of which now lie beneath the waves. According to some historians, the city of Siraf had a population of about 300,000 during the early Islamic period and was one of the largest in the region, however, today, just 7000 people live there.

Previous work

According to David Whitehouse, one of the first archaeologists to excavate the ancient ruins of Siraf, marine trade between the Persian Gulf and Far East began to flourish at this port due to the vast expansion of trade in consumer goods and luxury items at the time. The first contact between Siraf and China occurred in 185 AD and by the 4th century it was a busy port. However, over time trade routes shifted to the Red Sea and Siraf was forgotten. Discovered there in past archaeological excavations are ivory objects from east Africa, stone from India, and lapis from Afghanistan. There are also the ruins of the luxurious houses of extremely rich traders who made their wealth through the port’s success.

In 2006, the remains of a shipwreck were found near the port of Siraf. Initial studies revealed that it was a merchant ship belonging to either the Parthian or Sassanid periods. It was discovered at a depth of 70 metres with more than 40 ceramic amphora-like jars – but with no handles – scattered along the seabed.

The British Museum also had a major research project on the site from 2007-2009 resulting in all of the finds and samples being registered and entered on the Museum’s central database. These records form the basis of further research and analysis of the collection and serve as a primary record of the objects themselves. Specification, descriptions and images of the finds from Siraf can now be accessed by searching the Collection database online.

A central objective of the project was to use the study of the finds to characterise and illustrate the full range of materials typically represented at a major Early Islamic (about seventh to eleventh century) port in the Indian Ocean. Particular attention has been given to the ceramics, which account for approximately half of the collection. Early Islamic pottery manufactured within the Persian Gulf region has been recovered from coastal sites distributed throughout the Indian Ocean from the southern tip of Japan to South Africa. By improving our understanding of pottery from a single influential port, it is possible to appreciate interactions that took place over a far broader geographic area.

Past Horizons. 2012. "Archaeologists Begin Underwater Investigations in Iran". Past Horizons. Posted: July 27, 2012. Available online:

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