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Alarm bells for Iran's "salt men"

TEHRAN, Feb. 13 (Mehr News Agency) -- The ancient Iranian "salt men" are in critical condition. All six of the salt men, known as Iranian mummies, were discovered at the Chehrabad Salt Mine in the Hamzehlu region near Zanjan over the past 12 years, the Persian service of CHN reported on Wednesday.


The First Salt Man at the National Museum of Iran, Tehran


Studies on the Fourth Salt Man, kept at Zanjan's Zolfaqari Museum, indicate that the body is 2000 years old and he was 15 or 16 years old at the time of death. Three other salt men are also kept at the museum.


The plexiglass cases designed for these mummies are not hermetically sealed. Changes in air temperature and pressure have created cracks in the cases, allowing bacteria and insects to enter and damage the mummies.


It is still not clear when the other salt men lived, but archaeologists estimate that the First Salt Man lived about 1700 years ago and died sometime between the ages of 35 and 40. He is currently on display in a glass case at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.


The Sixth Salt Man was left in-situ due to the dearth of equipment necessary for its preservation in Iran.


"The cases designed for the salt men are not standard at all," director of the archaeological exactions at the Chehrabad Salt Mine Abolfazl Aali said.


The forth discovered salt man in Chehrabad

"There are problems with all the cases. A number of valves were installed in the Fourth Salt Man's case to control air humidity inside the covering. However the crack made them useless," he added.


"No external change of the salt men has been observed since they have been unearthed, but the major damage, not visible to the naked eye, is caused by bacteria that invade the internal organs, something that we would be unaware of by casual observation," Aali explained.


The plexiglass cases have designed and made under the supervision of Manijeh Hadian, an expert from the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (ICAR).


"The most well-equipped case was the one made for the Fourth Salt Man, but it was only to be used as a temporary covering for the mummy," Hadian noted.


She believes that the cracks have been created as result of numerous relocations.


The mummies were previously kept at Zanjan's Rakhtshuikhaneh Museum.


Studies have been completed for making permanent cases for the salt men and necessary funds should be found for making the devices, Hadian said.


"The First Salt Man is kept at the National Museum of Iran. Although over 12 years have gone by since it was discovered, no change can be seen on it," Hadian said.


"Controlling and monitoring temperature, humidity, and light i.e. all physical conditions is a general rule for preservation of the mummy and if the all these factors are well controlled there will be no problems with preserving the artifacts," she explained.


According to Hadian, the Fourth Salt Man's case has been equipped with electronic thermometers and Zolfaqari Museum's officials have been instructed to inform ICAR's experts in Tehran about any changes.


Meanwhile, Aali said that major control of conditions is to be implemented at Zanjan.


"A heater has been installed at the museum to control humidity. However, it is impossible to precisely control air properties at the museum and we do witness a fluctuation in temperature during periods of rainfall and in the summertime," he said.


"These mummies do not decayed easily; if we control the air properties, the salt men will remain intact, but the current procedure will not be effective over the long term," he noted.

... Payvand News - 02/13/09 ... --

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