In a public frenzy to unearth lucrative 5,000-year-old artifacts, Jiroft residents are plowing their yards and gardens, reminiscent of nasty scenes last seen three years ago, Iranian Cultural Heritage News Agency reported.
The historical site of Jiroft, home to an ancient civilization, is dubbed as "archeologists' paradise", since it is one of the most artifact-rich sites in the globe. Three years ago, local people, who are mostly farmers and businessmen, lunched a artifact rush and smuggled some priceless relics out of Iran.
"This time around, according to local tip-offs, people have clandestinely started to dig out their houses' yards and gardens in search of 5,000-year-old artifacts," said Rahmatollah Raouf, commander of the National Cultural heritage Corps.
He said law enforcement forces could not sweep on all suspected houses and the only solution is to increase the public awareness. Raouf threatened perpetrators with jail sentences, however, if they do not stop plundering national artifacts.
In January 2001 a group of Iranians from Jiroft in the southwestern province of Kerman stumbled upon an ancient tomb. Inside they found a hoard of objects decorated with highly distinctive engravings of animals, mythological figures and architectural motifs.
They did not realize it at the time but they had just made one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries of recent years, one that is radically altering accepted notions of the development of the world's earliest civilizations in Iran and Mesopotamia between the fourth and third millennia BC. A few weeks after the discovery, officials from Iran's Ministry of Culture, vastly outnumbered by local people, watched hopelessly as thousands systematically dug up the area. The locals set up a highly organized impromptu system to manage the looting: each family was allocated an equal plot of six square-meters to dig.
This organized pillaging continued for an entire year. Dozens of tombs were discovered, some containing up to 60 objects, and thousands of ancient objects were removed. All of these were destined for overseas markets.
In February 2002 Iran's Islamic police finally arrived in force to stop the destruction. Some 2,000 objects were confiscated from locals in Jiroft and other hoards of the ancient artifacts ready to be shipped overseas were seized in Tehran and at Bandar Abbas.
The objects confiscated by the police are unlike anything ever seen before by archeologists. Many are made from chlorite, a gray-green soft stone; others are in copper, bronze, terracotta, even lapis lazuli. They are now being studied by a group of Iranian archaeologists led by Dr. Madjidzadeh. Official excavation of the site began in February 2003. It is focusing on both the necropolis, which was looted extensively, and on an ancient settlement not discovered by the looters.
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