The Joint Expedition to Persia

Originally Published in 1932

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THE second half of the season, now closed, at Damghan, Persia, was devoted to complete excavation of the Sasanian palace which we briefly mentioned in the November Bulletin, to a test excavation at Tepe Muman, and to further progress at the main site at Tepe Hissar.

The ground plan of the Sasanian palace was determined, though most of the sun-dried brick walls had disappeared. Dr. Erich Schmidt, the field director, reports that from the wealth of architectural and decorative fragments it has been possible to form a fairly accurate conception of the original appearance of the building. It was impressively ornamented with white stucco plaques on which were reliefs of boars’ heads, human busts, stags, ibexes, and other designs. Traces of polychrome paintings were found on wall fragments and elsewhere; one of these pictured a horse with harness decorated with rosettes and flowing ribbons. Arches and friezes were all elaborately decorated also, but most impressive was the colonnade, with its large mud-brick columns covered with a shell of decorated stucco. A number of these remained standing in fragmentary condition [Plate VIII]. Other more slender columns apparently formed a garden pavilion beyond the main structure.

Excavated palace colonnade with a base of an intricately carved column
Plate VIII — The Colonnade of a Sassanian Palace at Damghan, Persia

Finds of small objects around the palace were exceedingly rare; not a single intact pottery vessel was discovered, though a number of glass beads and of iron and bronze fragments were found. A few copper coins may, after treatment, become sufficiently legible to give the accurate date of the building. The absence of glazed pottery is most peculiar at a site which is associated with the era immediately preceding that of Islam, but the plaques and other ornaments are sufficient to fix the general period of the building within the Sasanian era, which we may count from the rebellion of Ardashir in A. D. 226 until the assassination in A. D. 611 of Yezdegerd, the last Sasanian king.

The test excavation at the strikingly situated site of Tepe Muman [Plate IX] yielded sufficient pottery and other objects to indicate the general character of the mound deposit, but these were not of sufficient importance to warrant prolonged investigation. The mound proved to be a ruined town of Islamic times and had been occupied for a short period only. Of interest was a water conduit, traceable for about three kilometres, which extended from the former town towards the mountains; it was protected by forts placed at irregular intervals along its length.

A plateau in a landscape
Plate IX — Tepe Muman, Near Damghan, Persia

The balance of the season was spent at Tepe Hissar, at which had been found the burials with their rich store of objects that we reported in November. A hundred more burials were uncovered; many of these were accompanied by valuable painted vessels of the Painted Pottery period of the third millennium B.C. Great numbers of beads ornamented wrists, arms, necks and hips; there were also many clay figurines, effigy vessels, and copper and bronze ornaments and weapons. Nowhere was virgin soil struck, although a depth of two metres was attained, and there was evidence of earlier deposits.

It is a source of much gratification that we may look back upon so successful a season during this the first year in which excavation in Persia has been permitted to foreign institutions. A more complete account of the Sasanian palace with illustrations of the stucco decoration and other interesting details is being published by the co-sponsor of the expedition, the Pennsylvania Museum of Art, in their Bulletin for March.

Cite This Article

"The Joint Expedition to Persia." Museum Bulletin III, no. 5 (March, 1932): 122-126. Accessed July 15, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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