A Bronze Age piece of leather adorned with drawings has been discovered. The artefact was found during recent excavations at the 5200-year-old Burnt City, known as Shahr-e Sukhteh in Persian, in south-eastern Iran.
It is incredibly uncommon to find organic material from over 5,000 years ago; environmental factors decay delicate items, causing them to rapidly deteriorate over time. As such, the leather found in the Burnt City is an incredibly rare discovery.
“Due to extensive corrosion, some experts and the archaeologists are trying to save the leather,” the lead archaeologist, Professor Seyyed Mansur Sajjadi, told the Research Centre for Cultural Heritage.
Unfortunately, no more details have yet been revealed about the artefact.
The current season of excavations has also uncovered ruins of a structure in an urban area of the Burnt City. Supported by nine buttresses, the structure has two walls, each a metre thick.
“The signs of fire are clearly seen in some rooms of the building,” Sajjadi stated. He also revealed that the team had discovered a small adjoining room in the building which contained pieces of plain and coloured textiles. It is presumed this smaller chamber would have been used as a place for conducting sacrifices, the textiles could well have contained offerings.
The Burnt City became registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List last June. It is located 57 kilometres from the town of Zabol in Sistan-Baluchestan Province.
Since archaeological work began at the site in 1967, the Burnt City has revealed some amazing information about the earliest urban settlements. Covering 151 hectares, the Burnt City was one of the world’s largest cities at the very beginning of the urban era. To the west of the city is a gargantuan graveyard, measuring 25 hectares. The graveyard contains over 25,000 ancient graves, providing an insight into just how large the Burnt City’s population had been.
The city had first appeared around 3,200 BCE, and was burnt down three times before finally being abandoned in 1800 BCE, hence the moniker. The reasons for its rise and unexpected fall still remain a mystery.
The newly found decorated leather is just one of the remarkable discoveries that have been made at the site. Artefacts recovered during excavations have displayed peculiar incongruities with nearby contemporary civilisations. In December, a beautiful marble cup was discovered with completely unique decorations. Other notable discoveries have included: a 10-centimetre ruler, accurate to half a millimetre; the earliest example of an artificial eyeball; and an earthenware bowl bearing the world’s oldest known example of animation.
It has been speculated that the distinctive discoveries at the Burnt City may provide concrete evidence of a civilisation east of prehistoric Persia that was independent of ancient Mesopotamia.
Ancient Mesopotamia, corresponding to modern-day Iraq, Kuwait and north eastern Iran, is widely considered to be the cradle of western civilisation. If it is the case that the Burnt City had developed free from Mesopotamian influence, it could mean that the early urban era was a lot more metropolitan than previously thought. If Mesopotamia was simply one of many city-based civilisations from 5,000 years ago, we will need to rethink the origins of our urban living.