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Interview With Italian Archaeobotanist Lorenzo Costantini: Burnt City won't Let any Archeologist Down

Tehran, Feb. 8 (Iranian Cultural Heritage News Agency) -- The 8th season of excavations in the 5000-year-old Burnt City in the southeastern province of Sistan-Balouchestan is wrapping up, providing new information on the history of the area.

Archeologists now know that the residents of the Burnt City had great skills in weaving tissues, creating fine arts such as decorative objects, stone carving, and painting their pottery. They also enjoyed a rich diverse variety of food, evidence of which, including a piece of bread, have been found in the area and undergone studies by an Italian archaeobotanist team, headed by Professor Lorenzo Costantini, researcher with the Oriental Museum of Rome, Italy.

Prof. Costantini, 53, who had also travelled to the archeological site last year, has taken samples of all botanical evidence and studied them with his three-strong team of archeobotanists and a photographer specializing at taking pictures of archeological architectural remains.

He stayed in Iran for two months and left the country on 3rd of February. In an exclusive interview with CHN before leaving, Prof. Costantini talked of his love for the ancient city and called his days there some of the best of his life. "The Burnt City is one of the greatest archeological sites of the world. It won't let any archeologist down," he added.

-Professor Costantini, what exactly did your team looked for in the Burnt City?

Jointly with the Iranian team of archeologists, we studied our findings of plants, wood, straw, and all other organic discoveries. The items found in the cemetery of the area have been well preserved against the climate conditions and help us more.

During the season we studied all the discoveries made during the previous two years and aimed to examine the soil found inside the pottery burried in the tombs, with regard to the food remains. In these pottery we found grains such as corn, wheat, and also grapes.

-One of your discoveries was a piece of bread. How possibly has the piece survived over a 5000-year-old period, and how can you make sure that it actually is bread?

The discovery of this small porous piece of bread was one of the most significant achievements of our work on the site. The bread had changed a lot during time and we could only find out about its true nature with microscopic examinations. We studied the piece under microscope and compared it with the wheat grains taken from tomb no. 1400 which was well preserved; we found traces of flour that had not yet lost its quality. We are now sure that the piece is bread, and what makes this discovery more amazing is that we had not to day found any bread among the food buried with the dead, and this adds a new aspect to our previous information of the city.

-In your studies of the tombs, have you come across any commanalities, with respect to the food and pottery?

Some food are shared among all tombs, which include a handful of wheat, a handful of millet or brook, a bunch of grapes, and a piece of bread. We moreover found out that the dishes prepared for the dead were not filled to the top, which was probably a symbolic gesture.

-You carried out some studies on the insects found in the tombs. What do these creatures offer you?

Some of the insects living 5000 years ago are now extinct. In the Burnt City, insects have been the primary reason of the extinction of organic and botanic materials. Our studies show that more than 70 % of grains and foods are destroyed by insects and without them, maybe just 20-30 % of the herbal food would be gone today and we could have found them almost intact.

-Last year you found out about one or two kinds of the dishes of the residents of the Burnt City and you succeeded to cook them too. Would you tell us what were these dishes?

One of the dishes is a combination of lentille, fish and coriander which gave the food a good taste. We found out that the residents did not use oil to cook food, or at least we did not find anything with oil qualities in their food remains.

Another food of theirs was something like today's pottage (or more specifically Aash) which the modern Iranians eat too, and it is interesting to know that the traditional Iranian foods of today are similar to the ancient ones.

-Your team has carried out a comprehensive study on the cloths found in the site. Would you explain a little bit about your work on them?

The Burnt City is the only archeological site in which a large diverse collection of cloths with different textures, forms, and designs have been unearthed. These cloths have been studied under microscope, but they should undergo documentation and further studies which we hope to have completed by next year when we return to Iran.

The Burnt City is not comparable to any other site in the world. The climate conditions are such that the soil, objects, and foods are preserved in a good condition, and from this point of view, it is only comparable to the archeological sites of Egypt.

... Payvand News - 2/8/05 ... --

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