BELOW THE SALT

A Study of the Human Remains and Associated Material from the Salt Mine at Chahrabad, Zanjan, Iran

 

Research supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council grant AH/H010998/1 

Principal Investigators: M. Pollard and D. Brothwell

Research Assistants: Hamed Vahdatinasab and Irene Good

  

At least five human bodies have been recovered from the Douzlakh Mine at Chehr Abad, a geologically pristine salt mine in northwestern Iran. This important archaeological site is providing rare evidence for the mining of salt in Western Asia. [figure 1]

files/Research Projects/Salt/figure1.jpegFigure 1: Location of the Douzlakh Salt Mine in Zanjan (GoogleEarth insert)

 files/Research Projects/Salt/figure1b.jpgFigure 1(b): The pan-Eurasian Silk Road

 

One of the bodies, mummy number four, is of exceptional preservation, being fully clothed and carrying items of personal equipment. [figure 2]

files/Research Projects/Salt/figure2.jpgFigure 2: An exceptionally well-preserved mummified body

 

Textiles, wood and other materials have also been recovered. [figure 3]

files/Research Projects/Salt/figure3[1]..jpegFigure 3: A well-preserved woolen textile from the Douzlakh Mine

 

 

Preliminary examination and dating suggests that three of the bodies date to c. 400 BC, and two can be attributed to the late Sassanian period (c. 400 - 600 AD).[figure 4] Isotopic data on body tissue and hair, however, suggests that two at least of these individuals may not have come from the region around the mine, posing an interesting series of questions about how the mine was utilised in antiquity.

 

files/Research Projects/Salt/figure4.jpegFigure 4: Radiocarbon dates for the bodies recovered so far

 

Current research is focused on the human remains from Chehr Abad. This project aims to understand the health and nutrition status of the miners at their time of death, and whether they travelled a long distance to collect the salt. There is no archaeological evidence of habitation around the mine, and so it seems exploitation was occasional or seasonal rather than highly organized. In the contemporaneous Greek world, by contrast, mining was often the task of slaves. This study therefore has important implications for how we view the social organization of the late Achaemenid and Sassanian periods in Iran.

  

 

References:

 

Ramaroli, V., J. Hamilton, P. Ditchfield, H. Fazeli, A. Aali, R.A.E. Coningham, and A.M. Pollard, The Chehr Abad ‘‘Salt Men’’ and the Isotopic Ecology of Humans in Ancient Iran. American Journal Of Physical Anthropology 143:343–354 (2010).

 

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