Iran holds key to ancient treasure chest
Sunday 04 February 1996
The spectacular find - at least 230 silver pieces, and possibly twice that number, aged between 2500 and 5000 years old - has been shrouded in secrecy since it was discovered, apparently in the late 1980s.
Found by local treasure hunters in a cave half way up a cliff in western Iran, the hoard fell into the hands of smugglers and part of it is now being dispersed around the world to countries such as Switzerland, Britain, the US and Japan.
But by far the largest chunk of the treasure was seized by the Iranian authorities and is in the possession of two government ministries in Tehran.
The information filtering out of Iran suggests that it is amongst the half-dozen largest ancient treasures ever found anywhere in the world.
"The discovery is extremely important. It is a very major find," said Dr Elizabeth Carter, professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of California at Los Angeles.
"My colleagues and I would urge Unesco to take urgent steps to help recover the smuggled items from the treasure before they are irretrievably scat- tered around the world and lost," said Dr Abbas Alizadeh of the University of Chicago, the only western archaeologist to have seen some of the material in Iranian government hands.
The hoard could easily be worth up to pounds 20m. It consists of between 230 and 500 objects including more than 100 silver bowls, vases and drinking vessels, at least 20 silver animal figurines and statue groups, several silver human masks and numerous other silver items - especially furniture fittings.
There are also some gold items, though relatively few - perhaps because the economies of the ancient Middle East ran on the silver standard and royal treasuries may have consisted largely of silver plate and other silver items.
The animal figurines portray sheep, goats and cattle, and some groups in which lions are shown attacking bulls - a classic Iranian artistic motif.
The masks - perhaps used to adorn statues - probably date from the ancient Akkadian empire of the 23rd century BC and are of extraordinary archaeological importance. There are also a variety of 'ears' possibly made of gold - almost certainly from wooden idols.
The material seems to cover a very wide chronological range, from the 3rd millennium to the 7th or 8th century BC. Some later items - mainly bowls, vases and other vessels - are inscribed in Elamite script with the names of their royal owners. Based in what is now western Iran, Elam was one of the great civilisations of the ancient Middle East.
One possibility is that the hoard was part of the royal treasure of the last known truly independent kings of Elam and that royal officials hid it after the Assyrians sacked the Elamite capital, Susa, in 647 BC. Alternatively the treasure may have belonged to a large temple and was hidden to prevent it being captured by the Assyrians.
Elam first came into existence sometime between 3500 and 2500BC. In around 2000 BC the Elamite dynasty conquered most of southern Mesopotamia. At its zenith, Elam controlled an empire that stretched from what is now the Baghdad area to the entrance to the Persian Gulf.
The discovery of the Elamite treasure could shed new light on the period and give valuable insight into the art of ancient Mesopotamia and Iran - if access and security can be assured.
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...