Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ilam Glory of the Past

Ilam Glory of the Past

Ilam Province is an area with a large number of archeological sites dating back to Bronze and Iron eras. Of course, most of the sites are cemeteries.
The city of Ilam, the provincial capital, is located 710 kilometers from Tehran and surrounded by forest-covered mountains, Press TV reported. It is important to unravel the mysteries of the past and Ilam can be a good evidence for providing a link between the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia.

Historical evidence shows Ilam, once called Alamto or Alam meaning ’mountains’ or ’the country of sunrise’ in Elamite and Babylonian inscriptions, was an important center in the Elamite civilization.
Cemeteries and burial sites are excellent resources in terms of elucidating the mysteries surrounding the religious and cultural practices of the ancient times. They provide invaluable ethnographical and chronological data about social and economic relations.
While no major research has been undertaken on the prehistoric funerary rites and rituals of the inhabitants of the Iranian plateau, a Belgian study revealed that most of Ilam’s gravesites belonged to nomadic tribes, which settled in the region around the first millennium BC.

Three famous cemeteries
Chenar Graveyard, a site dating back to the first millennium BC and located in the Chenarbash region, contains graves in which the dead were buried in small or large earthenware jars along with their possessions.
Kian-e-Gonbad Graveyard, which archaeological studies suggest dates back to 2500-2600 BC, is located 30 kilometers to the southeast of Ilam.
Pelkeh Kan Graveyard, where numerous artifacts belonging to Stone Age hunters have been discovered, is located in the historical Halilan area. The location of a grave, along with its contents and internal decoration present clear evidence of the concerns and beliefs of the dead and whether the worlds of the living and the dead were regarded as separate and hostile to each other or as part of a continuum.
Historical and anthropological investigations reveal that burial rituals reflect a society’s view of not only the nature of death but also the totality of human existence in relation to the cosmos.
Equipment found in the ancient graves suggests that humans may have always been unable to accept physical death as the end of life and that they believed in an afterlife similar to the one they knew on earth.
Archeologists believe that during a certain period people were buried on the basis of the position of the sun in the sky at the time of their death; if a person died at sunrise or sunset, they were buried facing the east or west, as found in the Iron Age cemetery near Sarab Karzan village in the Shirvan region.

The Sarab Karzan graves are covered with huge gravestones, each weighing one to five tons, which had been placed atop each other in a conical shape without any mortar.
The pile of stones above the graves may have served as a means to keep the dead within, to warn the living that the site belonged to the dead and perhaps as a simple form of remembrance of those buried in their eternal resting place.
The graves in the Poshtkoh region are mostly quadrangular with stone covers and though the bones have not survived due to the acidity of the earth, the sites contain spearheads, earthen vessels, teapots, jewelry and many other revealing artifacts.
Smaller quadrangular graves refer to the fact that children were buried alongside adults.
Up to the third millennium BC (the early to Middle Bronze Age), the dead were usually buried under the familial abode. Fetal burials, the covering of bodies with red ocher (a substitute for blood as the symbol of life) and gifts placed in the grave are characteristics of the funerary rites of this era.
Wealth and social status played an important part in the objects placed in graves; the poor were buried with simple earthen vessels while jewelry was found in the graves of the rich.
The Iron Age is important because it explains the origins of what came to be known as the unique Persian culture.
A survey of gravesite relics from this era shows that the social, cultural, economical and racial structures gradually evolved, leading to the emergence of Monotheism.
Until the end of the Bronze Age, burial rites remained unchanged and the dead who were the subject of affection or reverence continued to be buried within the house or family compounds. However, with the development of urbanism, the old custom was abandoned and cemeteries gained popularity.
As the dead were now viewed as sources of fear and death was thought to contaminate the living, the burial sites, which were seen as belonging to the dead, were built in areas remote from the place of living.
Many cultures had the desire to draw a pronounced line between the world of the living and the dead and tried to hasten their departure by showing kindness to the dead so they would not harm the living.
The modern cemetery could be seen as the continuity of the necropolis (city of the dead) belief.
Burial in the earth is in a way the recognition of the cycle of life and death in which man as part of nature takes part. Humans created from clay would return to the place that had once brought them forth.
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