Shahr-i Sokhta, meaning ‘Burnt City’, is located at the junction of Bronze Age trade routes crossing the Iranian plateau. The remains of the mud brick city represent the emergence of the first complex societies in eastern Iran. Founded around 3200 BC, it was populated during four main periods up to 1800 BC, during which time there developed several distinct areas within the city: those where monuments were built, and separate quarters for housing, burial and manufacture. Diversions in water courses and climate change led to the eventual abandonment of the city in the early second millennium. The structures, burial grounds and large number of significant works of art discovered there, and their well-preserved state due to the dry desert climate.
Outstanding Universal Value
Located at the junction of Bronze Age trade routes crossing the Iranian plateau, the remains of the mud brick city of Shahr-i Sokhta is an outstanding example of the emergence of the first complex societies in eastern Iran. Founded around 3200 BCE, the city was populated during four main periods up to 1800 BCE, during which time there developed several distinct areas within the city. These include a monumental area, residential areas, industrial zones and a graveyard.
Helmand and Jiroft cultures
This civilization flourished between 2500 and 1900 BCE, and may have coincided with the great flourishing of the Indus Valley Civilization. This was also the final phase of Periods III and IV of Shahr-i Sokhta, and the last part of Mundigak Period.
Thus, Jiroft and Helmand cultures are closely related. Jiroft culture flourished in the eastern Iran, and the Helmand culture in western Afghanistan at the same time.
shahr-i Sokhta bears exceptional testimony to a peculiar civilization and cultural tradition that entertained trade and cultural relations with ancient sites and cultures on the Indus Plain, southern shores of the Persian Gulf, the Oman Sea and South-west Iran, and Central Asia. Archaeological remains and finds indicate the key role of the city on a very large scale in terms of working with metals, stone vessels, gems and pottery.
The reasons for the unexpected rise and fall of the Burnt City are still wrapped in mystery. What seems especially bizarre about the city is its dissimilarity compared with nearby civilizations of the time. It is as if the city just appeared out of nowhere. Shahr-e-Sookhteh could eventually be the evidence to prove that an ancient civilization to the east of prehistoric Persia was independent from the civilization of ancient Mesopotamia.
The excavations at the Burnt City also suggest that the inhabitants were a race of civilized people who were both farmers and craftsmen. No weapon has ever been discovered at the site, suggesting the completely peaceful nature of the residents.
The Golden-eyed Woman
In December 2006, archaeologists discovered the world's earliest artificial eyeball in the city's necropolis, thought to have been worn by a female resident of the Burnt City. The artificial eye is a hemisphere with a diameter of just over 2.5 cm (1 inch). It consists of very light material, probably bitumen paste. The surface of the artificial eye is covered with a thin layer of gilding and is engraved with a circle at its center to represent the iris. The eye includes gold lines patterned like the rays of the sun. A hole has been drilled through the eyeball, through which a golden thread is thought to have held the eyeball in place.
Microscopic research has revealed that the eye socket of the female remains bear clear imprints of the golden thread, suggesting that the woman must have worn the eyeball during her lifetime. Her shining golden eye suggest that she must have been a striking figure, for example a soothsayer or an oracle. The woman with the artificial eye was 1.82 m tall (6 feet), much taller than the average women of her time. She was aged between 25 and 30 and had dark, exotic skin.
Experts say that her skeleton dates to between 2900 and 2800 BC, when the Burnt City was a bustling, wealthy city and trading post at the crossroads of the East and the West. It is thought that the woman may have arrived at the city on a caravan from Arabia. Archeologists have not yet revealed the cause of the woman's death.
Other objects found at the site include a human skull which indicates the practice of brain surgery and an earthen goblet depicting what archeologists consider to be the first animation.
Some paleoanthropologists believe that mothers in the Burnt City had social and financial prominence. 5000 year-old insignias, made of river pebbles and believed to belong only to distinguished inhabitants of the city, were found in the graves of some female citizens. Some believe the female owners of the signs used them to place their seal on valuable documents. Others believe the owners may have used the seal to indicate their lofty status in society.
"More than 40 teeth lesions have been identified, the most prominent of which belongs to a young woman who used her teeth as a tool for weaving baskets and similar products," said Farzad Forouzanfar, director of the Anthropology Department of Iran's Archeology Research Center and head of the anthropology team at the Burnt City in an interview with CHN.
The use of teeth as a tool in the Burnt City is seen in both males and females of different age groups. Evidence shows that weaving was more than a hobby in the prehistoric city. It was one of the most common professions in the city which required a special skill. Residents made a variety of woven products such as carpets, baskets, and other household items.
In general the surrounding desert landscape and extraordinary scatter of archaeological material present on the surface of the low hill of Shahr-i Sokhta give a strong sense of authenticity, as does the sight of the complex architecture of the various parts so far excavated. The labyrinthine succession of rooms, corridors and courtyards give a genuine impression of these ancient building.