Iran holds key to ancient treasure chest

THE MYSTERY of a vast ancient silver treasure found in the Middle East is stirring fascination - and frustration - among archaeologists.

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.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
business
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Sport
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Campaign Manager

£40000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Campaign Man...

JQuery Developer (JQuery, C#, front-end, JQuery, UI, Tomcat)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A Global Financial Service Organ...

Senior Sales Supervisor

£75000 - £100000 per annum + bonus, bens: Progressive Recruitment: Sales Super...

Linux Systems Administrator - UNIX, Linux, Shell, Bash

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Linux Systems Administrator - UNI...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil