By R. D. Flavin
For the past decade teams of Iranian archaeologists and related specialists (recently joined by Italians) have been excavating an ancient necropolis in the Sistan and Baluchestan Province near the Iranian and Afghanistan border (Sajjadi et al. 2003). Previous digs have uncovered many astounding artifacts, such as a game-board, playing pieces and dice, which seems to be related to similar finds at Ur by Wooley and Knossos by Evans (vid. Brumbaugh 1975; Rollefson 1992). Now, the discovery of the earliest extant ocular prosthesis has been announced. That ancients were concerned with replacement parts isn’t especially significant, but the media spin advanced by Iran certainly is.
Ocular prosthesis from Shahr-i-Sokhta, Iran, ca. 2900 BCE.
Dated to nearly five thousand years ago, the female skeleton is considered relatively tall, was found with a polished bronze mirror, and exotically envisioned as a soothsayer, priestess, fortune teller, and/or prophetess. It’s speculated she often adjusted her artificial eye while looking into the mirror. The prosthesis is made from shaped and oven-baked bitumen paste and is etched with symbolic gold lines. Dr. Mansur Sayed (var. Mansoor Sayyed) Sajadi (also known as S. M. S. Sajjadi) of the Organization of the Cultural Heritage of Iran, who is credited with the discovery, has commented in interviews now removed from Iranian government web-sites, that the name of the necropolis, Shahr-i-Sokhta, was first used some decades ago by a Western scientist who got the name “Burnt City” from the local population. Famed British geographer, General Sir Frederic John Goldsmid, K.C.S.I., C.B., was a member of a prominent Anglo-Jewish family, active in public service and private enterprise, and when a young Colonel Sir and working to get a telegraph wire through Iran connecting India with Britain, recorded the modern name when he hastily jotted down how the locals referred to the ruins, as they weren’t cooperating, a bit evasive and defiantly wouldn’t take Goldsmid where he asked to go (Goldsmid 1874). The selective recollection by Sajadi underestimating decades against almost a century and a half ago, coupled with not naming a much lauded geographer in the British Army (who happened to be Jewish), may indicate he’d rather keep such background from Iranian readership. It’s understandable, of course, as psychotic anti-Semitism must get exhausting every know and then.
Mansur Sayed-Sajadi, Farad Foruzanfar and Lorenzo Costantini.
Speaking to the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, the archaeobotantist, Lorenzo Costantini (affiliated with the Laboratorio di Bioarcheologia of the Ministero dei Beni Culturali and the Oriental Museum of Rome), as head of the Italian group, speculated outside of his expertise in ancient flora (his reasearch at the Burnt City concerned grape seeds) and suggested she had Arabian characteristics. An Iranian anthropologist, Farad Foruzanfar, went further and described her as possessing an “Afri-canoid cranial structure.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with his twisted history claim that the World War II Holocaust is a “myth,” may have been influential in this antiquated usage of 'Africanoid' (Ripley 1899). Today, among dessert aficionados, it’s a term used in southern Greek pastry making. The early nineteenth century Swedish ethnologist, Prof. Anders Adolf Retzius (Karolinska Institute, anatomy), argued for a cranial index and coined ‘dolichocephalic’ for “long-headed” as one of his three divisions of European crania (Retzius 1842).
Ancient female skull with dolichocephalic features, early racist depiction of African cranial traits, and Xerxes the Great of Persia (from 300).
Central Asian studies are a difficult area of research as the terrain is hard and unforgiving and the politics and people of the region are worse (sic). Still, Middle Eurasian investigations have remained essential toward a better understanding of prehistorical and historical relationships between West and East (Hiebert 1994). Shahr-i-Sokhta, the "Burnt City," with its earliest remains from ca. 3200 BCE, was a robust city occupying an oasis position at the periphery of Elamite influence to its West, Bactrian and Margianan cities and communities to the North, and ...pushing to the East past Afghanistan, the ancient Harappan civilization of Pakistan and India’s Indus Valley region. With little evidence supporting significant direct contact trade and/or simple exchange (indirect trade) between the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia, thirty-five years ago Prof. Lamberg-Karlovsky (Harvard, Stephen Phillips Professor of Archaeology and Ethnology) argued for a system of central place trade and publically lamented a lack of archaeological investigations in Central Asia (Lamberg-Karlovsky 1972). The late Samuel Noah Kramer (University of Pennsylvania, Clark Research Professor Emeritus of Assyriology) suspected a very early influence on the mixed aboriginal and Semitic population of Ur and believed Central Asia would eventually provide more information (Kramer 1956; page citation needed). Ancient crossroads, indeed.
Map showing Shahr-i-Sokhta (var. Shar-e-Sookhteh, Shahr-e-Suchte, Shahr-e Soukhteh), Iran.
Much will remain hidden in the void of preliterate history as no accepted forms of local writing have been discovered at the various sites of these Bronze Age Central Asian near-civilizations. [Note: the ca. 2300 BCE stamp seal from Anau, Turkmenistan has markings which resemble the Chinese and proto-Elamite scripts, periods respectively too late and too early for arguable correspondence. For further info see an article in The New York Times and my 8-10-01 "Know-It-Alls" column.] Iran’s Press TV has reported that an official stamp will soon be printed to acknowledge the earliest extant graphical sequence (“Iranimation”) discovered last year at the Burnt City, Shahr-i-Sokhta.
Painted bowl from Shahr-i-Sokhta depicting a sequential scene of a goat jumping to eat from a palm tree.
Ugarit Cola, Anwar al Sadat and map showing the diffusion of Indo-European languages.
It may be safely assumed that the inhabitants of the late fourth and early third millenniums BCE at Shahr-i-Sokhta were not related to the Persians. Syria’s cultural promotion of the Ugarit city-state allows continuity, as Ugaritic is a Semitic (Canaanite, properly) language and modern Arabs and Arabic are cousins of sorts. Egypt’s connection with antiquity is readily demonstrated by the popularity of Coptic (the Egyptian language written in Greek and other characters) and a cursory examination of any photograph of the late Egyptian Prime Minister, Anwar al Sadat. Not so with Iran and its Bronze Age sites as Persians are Indo-Europeans and it's believed during the ca. 3200-2800 BCE period of settlement at Shahr-i-Sokhta that the peoples who would later become Indo-European speakers were still back in the steppes north-east of the Black Sea with their horses, chariots, snow and apples. It would be a thousand years later before the first Indo-European speakers appeared in Anatolia (as Hittites in Asia Minor, ca. 1800 BCE) and several centuries later before the arrival in Iran of the Luristan horse herders who became the Medes and the Parsa (OP "Persians").
Inscription from Jiroft, Iran and example of proto-Elamite from Suza (Vallat 1986; p. 337).
Elamite in all its forms remains undeciphered with scholars suggesting relationships with language groupings West (Afro-Asiatic) and East (Dravidian), though a fair wager would bet that the extinct Elamite language will remain an isolate and unrelated to known and later languages. In a discussion of the scripts of ancient Iran, after citing the discovery and naming of proto-Elamite by the French Dominican and Chair of Assyriology at the Institute of Higher Studies at the University of Paris, Father Jean-Vincent Scheil (Scheil 1905), François Vallat of the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique wrote:
“ In fact the term proto-Elamite nowadays tends to cover three separate categories which should be distinguished from one another:
1. Bullae and numerical tablets, which can be seen as the first writing system,
2. Proto-Elamite tablets, usually economic texts,
3. Linear Elamite, of which the main texts are royal inscriptions.
These three systems succeeded each other in time, but more than a millenium separates the invention of the numerical system and the beginnings of the use of Linear Elamite (Vallat 1986; p. 335).”
Enigmatically sharing a mystery of history with Elamite, the ca. 2600-1900 BCE Indus Valley script is believed to express a non-Indo-European language in no small part because the script fails to depict horses, a primary component of proto-Indo-European culture. Resemblances between the Indus Valley script and proto-Elamite have been mentioned, but not pursued with any credible correspondence. There were no horses known to the ancient Elamites before the arrival of the Indo-Aryans, nor to the Central Asian oasis cities where West and East meet. Cities such as Shahr-i-Sokhta were Bronze Age Bartertowns Beyond Thunderdome, which once upon a long ago time brought the likes of a tall female with a fancy fake eye, who was probably either a friend, relative or a slave of a highly successful and adventurous merchant involved with trade, to her distant demise and awaiting future speculation of ethnicity.
Bronze Age Bactrian shaft-hole ax with bird demon, boar, and winged dragon, ca. 2200-1750 BCE (Pittman 1982).
While the Iranians are keeping busy at the Burnt City and sensational discoveries are guaranteed with every new dig season to come, it continues to peeve and rankle that the northern area of the Central Asian oasis sites, the region where Turkmenistan, Iran and Afghanistan meet and whose Bronze Age settlements are collected as the “Bactrium-Margiana Archaeological Complex” or BMAC (Hiebert 1994), continues to be looted and destroyed. It’s a lawless land in a lawless time and history is being written according to auction houses and Allah. These oasis peoples may not have left scripts or identifiable linguistic remnants, but they assuredly possessed unique languages that were rich, resourceful and ribald. The well known ax-head pictured above depicts beef, poultry and pork and would be capable of easily taking out an eye or some other part.
Hand-colored frontpieces from Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica (Brahe 1598).
Missing or replacement parts have maintained an unhealthy place in history. The famous Danish naked-eye astronomer, Tycho Brahe, lost a substantial portion of his nose when he was twenty years of age in a student sword duel. Those pre-telescope astronomers were hardcore party animals and Brahe apparently allowed for huge amounts of goof-off time. I suppose with all that accumulated observational data of celestial movements, someone with their own island castle, printing press and pet monkey, who would think that having a pet moose go over to a neighbor’s estate and swill too much beer and fall down some stairs and break a leg which would eventually kill it was not out of the ordinary, it seems that individual likely didn’t mind his nasal prosthesis falling off in a simmering soup or stew every now and often. However, Brahe took good notes and science owes much to his efforts despite his errant husbandry of other life-forms. Brahe never experienced the multitudinous variations of the infamous nose of Michael Jackson, though he did go through a few replacements of which his last, thought to have been made of gold, left the green stain of copper on his skull, as determined several years back by cadaver fetishists who thought it was really important to know all about Brahe’s fake nose.
Bill and engraving of Sir William Davenant by W. Faithorne after J. Greenhill, 1672 (Davenant 1673).
It wasn't poor fencing skills that necessitated nasal prosthetic replacement parts for the claimed bastard son of Bill Shakespeare and a genuine cad for all seasons, Sir William Davenant (Harbage 1935), but rather the ravages of syphilis.
Though appointed Poet Laureate of England 1638-1668 and serving between Ben Jonson and John Dryden, Davenant was anything other than a dedicated devotee of the Muse and was a somewhat successful rascally weasel. By 1641, Dick Brome wrote a caricature of Davenant as ‘Court-Wit’, described as having lost his nose through syphilis and who had ambitions to run a drama company in The Court Beggar (Brome 1873; 1.215, 244). Busted in 1650 en route to Maryland seeking royalist support under the guise of staffing cloth-weavers recently liberated from French prisons to the New World, Davenant was arrested several times over his career (once, being vouchsafed by Milton), yet survived each imprisonment without the loss of any more parts. Becoming an imperial apologetic after Cromwell's failed Western Design, Sir William travestied opera (Frohock 2001) on the English stage with The Cruelty of the Spaniards in Peru (1658) and The History of Sir Francis Drake (1659). With the Restoration he acquired license to stage several works by Shakespeare and seems to have hilariously botched every one. There seems to be some conspiratorial significance to Sir William Davenant’s resting place in a corner of Westminster Abbey, as the other dead laureate dudes have a wreath on their corpse containers. Me thinks it misses a part to reflect and counter Davenant’s missing part as shown in an engraved frontpiece (pictured above) published shortly after his death.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center ca. 1946.
On Wednesday, March 28, 2006, the House passed a bill (HR 1538) to provide for the better care of soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope this extends to soldiers wounded elsewhere, but one never knows for sure with the House. Our brave military men and women are missing or have broken parts and aren’t getting satisfactory medical attention. Unsatisfactory generally, as with many veteran hospitals, while specifically and more disturbing are the recently revealed slum-lord conditions at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and its associated buildings, through a well documented series of reports by The Washington Post, which have served to properly insult our ethics, in as much as "We, the People" are able to be insulted by an incompetent government agency.
Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, ex-Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey & ex-Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley.
Heads began to roll off of the Hill at once, with Secretary of the Army Francis J. Harvey firing the general in charge of Walter Reed, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, then Harvey was dismissed and finally the Army Surgeon General, Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, was shaved by the Bush blade. It’s déjà vu all over again, as when 'Operation Iraqi Freedom' started and there were many sad stories of soldiers’ families on food-stamps, lack of basic equipment (e.g. bulletproof vests and vehicle armor for the M998 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, HMMWV or Humvee), and other terrible tales of substandard service. Our outrage must have exited stage left when another news event interrupted the necessary selling of German and Japanese cars. Further proof that the coming New World Order will encourage idiot worship, the private contracting firm who failed to deliver ice when New Orleans needed it the most was recently brought in for $120 million to manage administrative, managerial and operational services at Walter Reed. International American Products, Inc. has former Vice President Dan Quayle on their Board of Directors. Our idiot Overlords appear to approve of our continued support and worship.
Last week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates quacked that our military was capable of fighting a third war (table cash with North Korea going under with 2:3 and Iran over at 5:4). It’s history repeating with body parts being delivered to the wrong address in Michigan and Iran still taking an eye for an eye, Parts will likely continue to go missing and I can only hope Iran stays the course and loses more eyes than we do.
Brahe, Tycho. 1598. Astronomiae Instauratae Mechanica. Wandesburg, Denmark.
Brumbaugh, Robert S. 1975. “The Knossos Game Board.” American Journal of Archaeology. 79, 2: 135-137.
Davenant, William. 1673. The Works of William Davenant Kt, consisting of those which were formerly printed, and those which he design’d for
the press: now published out of the authors originall copies. London: Thomas Newcomb for Henry Herringman.
Frohock, Richard. 2001. “Sir William Davenant's American Operas.” The Modern Language Review. 96, 2: 323-333.
Goldsmid, Colonel Sir Frederic John. 1874. Telegraph and Travel: A Narrative of the Formation and Development of Telegraphic Communication
between England and India, under the orders of Her Majesty's Government, with incidental notice of the Countries traversed by the lines.
London: Macmillan. Online here.
Harbage, Alfred. 1935. Sir William Davenant, Poet Venturer, 1606-1668. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Hiebert, Fredrik Talmage. 1994. “Origins of the Bronze Age Oasis Civilization in Central Asia.” Foreword by C. C. Lamberg-Karlovsky and
Preface by V. I. Sarianidi. American School of Prehistoric Research Bulletin, 42. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum of Archaeology and
Kohl, Philip L. 1985. “Recent Research in Central Asia.” American Antiquity. 50, 4: 789-795.
Kramer, Samuel Noah. 1956. From the Tablets of Sumer: Twenty-five Firsts in Man's Recorded History. Indian Hills, CO: Falcon's Wing Press.
Also, Kramer, Samuel Noah. 1981. History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-nine Firsts in Man's Recorded History. 3rd revised edition. Philadelphia,
PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. C. 1972. “Trade Mechanisms in Indus-Mesopotamian Interrelations.” Journal of the American Oriental Society. 92, 2:
Pittman, Holly. 1982. “Ancient Near Eastern Art.” Notable Acquisitions (Metropolitan Museum of Art). 1981/1982: 4-5.
Retzius, Anders. 1842. Ober die Schadelformen der Nordbewohner. Stockholm. Also, Retzius, A. 1845. Ueber die Schädelformen der
Nordbewohner (Archiv für Anatomie, Physiologie und wissenschaftliche Medicin; 84-129). Berlin: Veit & Co.
Ripley, William Zebina. 1899. The Races of Europe: A Sociological Study (Lowell Institute Lectures, delivered 1896). New York: D. Appleton
and Co. The Lowell Institute Lectures at the Boston Athenaeum was hugely successful, moved to Harvard University in 1909 (contributing to
the establishing of the Harvard Extension School), and in 1946 the Lowell Institute Foundation undertook a cooperative venture with six Boston
colleges to broadcast its lecture series on commercial stations,.founding WGBH Radio in 1952. The Oxford English Dictionary credits Ripley
with the first English language usage of ‘Africanoid’ as an adjective.
Rollefson, Gary O. 1992. “A Neolithic Game Board from ‘Ain Ghazal, Jordan.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 286: 1-5.
Sajjadi, S. M. S. et al. 2003. “Excavations at Shahr-i Sokhta. First Preliminary Report on the Excavations of the Graveyard 1997-2000.” With
F. Foruzanfar, R. Shirazi & S. Baghestani. Iran: British Institute of Persian Studies. 41: 21-98.
Scheil, Jean-Vincent. 1905. “Documents en écriture proto-élamite.” Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse 6. Paris: E. Leroux.
Vallat, François. 1986. “The Most Ancient Scripts of Iran: The Current Situation.” World Archaeology. 17, 3: 335-347.
Keeping an eye out for opportunity,