Archaeologists given more time to survey Iran's Bulaghi valley before dam waters cause it to submerge

Experts at the ancient site of Izeh in the Karun River valley have not been afforded the same privileges

The contrasting progress of two major archaeological salvage operations in Iran, where an ambitious programme of dam building has created a continuing threat to heritage sites, has highlighted the problems faced as this country attempts to reconcile necessary development and modernisation with the conservation and research of the rich remains of its historical past (The Art Newspaper, No.153, December 2004, p.5).

This month, international archaeologists have begun to arrive in the Bulaghi valley in Fars Province, which is set to be flooded when a reservoir is created behind the newly constructed Sivand dam. The valley, which is rich in archaeological remains, is located close to the ancient city of Pasargadae, capital of King Cyrus II, founder of the Achaemenid dynasty, and a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2004.

Over the next year, seven or eight small teams from France, Italy, Poland, Australia, Germany, and Japan, will assist Iranian archaeologists in excavating the most important of 130 sites identified in an initial survey of the valley, ranging from the prehistoric to the Achaemenid, and Sassanian periods.

Dr Mohammad Talebian, director of the Parse-Pasargardae Project which is co-ordinating the salvage operation, told The Art Newspaper that the Ministry of Energy had agreed to postpone the flooding of the valley for a year while excavations continued, but that funding, which had also been promised had yet to appear. The salvage operation, he hoped, would provide a model for the future, as Iran continues its programme to harnass the power of its rivers.

Dr Massood Azarnoush, director of the Archaeological Research Centre in Tehran, part of the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organisation (ICHO), told The Art Newspaper that it was an important matter for Iran to be able to control its water resources, particularly in light of the eight year drought in the south-east. He said that in a country where it is almost impossible to break the surface of the ground anywhere without finding some archaeological remains, the challenge was to raise public and governmental awareness of the need for proper archaeological research and conservation.

Dr Azarnoush said that the government had recently issued a declaration that all development projects should take archaeology into consideration, and that he had asked local authorities in all Iran’s provinces to give warning before any such projects are commenced.

If the Bulaghi valley operation does, as hoped, become a model for the handling of similar situations in the future, the converse is true of the archaeological salvage currently underway at the ancient site of Izeh in the Karun River valley in Khuzestan, where archaeologists have had neither sufficient time nor funding. With only one month to go before the reservoir behind the Karun-III dam is fully filled, the director of excavations Dr Jafar Mehrkian told The Art Newspaper that his small team was working on the last of 21 important sites they had excavated. He said little warning had been given over the reactivation of the long dormant dam project, and that his repeated appeals for international asssistance during the five month salvage operation had been to no avail. Expertise was still greatly needed, he said, particularly in metallurgy and physical anthropology.

Dr Mehrkian said that important archaeological sites were also threatened by the Karun-II and Karun-IV dams, the latter already under construction and expected to be operational in 2008. With plans to build more dams on the Karun and its tributaries, a comprehensive plan for the rescue and conservation of the rich archaeological and cultural heritage of the area is extremely important.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Reprieve for some, no time left for others'