What Can a Door Socket Tell Us?

Intriguing Discoveries at Quwākh Tapeh

By: Sajjad Alibaigi, Alireza Moradi-Bisotuni and Nourollah Karimi

Originally Published in 2021

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In 1992, the accidental discovery of a ceramic vessel at Quwākh Tapeh, a historical key site along the Silk Road (Great Khurasan Road) in Kermānshāh, western Iran, revealed 141 coins dating back to the 4th through 3rd centuries BCE. In recent visits, in addition to a series of surface potsherds dating from the 3rd millennium BCE to the Sassanid period, a decorated stone door socket and several carved stones were found, indicating the existence of an extremely important monument, such as a palace or an administrative center, from the Neo-Assyrian period.

Aerial view photograph of Quwākh Tapeh
Aerial view of Quwākh Tapeh in western Iran. Photo by Reza Azizi.

The Great Māhidasht Plain is the largest, best watered, and most fertile plain in the Zagros area. These features, along with its mild climate and, most importantly, its location on the Silk Road, have been a constant draw for human groups and important settlements have been established there. In the Great Māhidasht region, numerous studies by Erich Schmidt and George Miles, Aurel Stein, Robert Braidwood, Ali Akbar Sarfarāz, Louis D. Levine, Abbās Motarjem, Shahin Kermājāni, Yousef Morādi, Abbās Rezāeiniā, and Maryam Dehghān have identified 550 archaeological sites from ancient Paleolithic to historical times, some of which are registered on the Iran National Heritage List owing to their importance.

One of the major settlements of the Great Māhidasht Plain is Quwākh Tapeh in the north of Māhidasht and southeast of Kuzarān, which has been studied and visited several times by archaeologists. However, little is known about this site and, despite the occasional discovery of a small treasure trove of ancient coins, it remains less known due to the lack of archaeological excavations. In recent visits, in addition to a number of potsherds that indicate the settlement continuity of the site, a large stone door socket was discovered that certainly belonged to an impressive building, suggesting the importance of the site in the past.

Photograph of a large mound
Quwākh Tapeh. Photo by Sajjad Alibaigi.

Black and white map showing where Quwākh Tapeh is in Iran
The location of Quwākh Tapeh in western Iran. Map by Saeid Bahramiyan.

Quwākh Tapeh

Quwākh Tapeh is a relatively large mound located 43 km west of Kermānshāh and a little more than 4 km southeast of the small town of Kuzarān. The site comprises a large prominence 330 m long, 220 m wide, and 17 m taller than the surrounding lands (Great Central Mound). There are numerous small or large prominences both near to and far from the mound, indicating a large archaeological site measuring 500 m2 with a current area of approximately 25 ha. The existence of a water canal in the eastern part of the mound and a dried-up spring in the southwest show that these two sources provided the water needed for inhabitants of the area.

The mound was first identified in Erich Schmidt’s 1934 surveys for the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute, locating Quwākh Tapeh on a map published in 1940 in Flights Over Ancient Cities of Iran. Some years later, in the 1940s, the site was surveyed and visited by Stein. Ali Akbar Sarfarāz and colleagues reexamined the site in the surveys of the Great Māhidasht Plain in 1968. On July 10, 1969 they succeeded in registering the site as number 865 on the Iran National Heritage List. In 1998, during the investigations of Abbas Motarjem in Kuzarān plain, Quwākh Tapeh was revisited. In his report, Motarjem described Quwākh Tapeh as a site dating back to the Parthian period.


Except for Abbas Motarjem’s report, there is not much information about Quwākh Tapeh and previous studies have mentioned only the name of the site. Motarjem, while pointing out the importance of the site, mentions the presence of many Parthian potteries and maintains that Quwākh Tapeh was a large settlement during the Parthian period. In 2014, with the agreement of the Cultural Heritage Office of Kermānshāh, the authors visited and began studying the coins discovered at the site. After a three-year interval, the authors visited again and this time new findings were observed on the surface of the site.

A graphic showing photos of potsherds with drawings of the pot they came from
Iron Age III, Parthian, and Sassanid period potsherds from Quwākh Tapeh. Courtesy of Sumayeh Zeinali.
Photo of a small gray pot
Small gray Clinky ware from the Parthian period, found by locals from Quwākh Tapeh. Photo by Sajjad Alibaigi.

Treasury of Coins

Nearly 30 years ago, a student accidentally found a small ceramic vessel containing a highly important treasure 205 m east of the central high mound of Quwākh Tapeh. Shortly thereafter, the incident was reported to the Kuzarān police and the Cultural Heritage Office of Kermānshāh then became aware of the discovery. This is how the treasure was kept safe from plunder and all of its contents were collected and made available to the government.

A very brief two-line newsletter published in 1993 in the Iranian Journal of Archeology and History by Ali Rouhbakhshan and Kamyar Abdi reads: “On December 16, 1992 in the Quwākh Tapeh of Kuzarān, Kermānshāh province, 141 coins were obtained that belong to the Seleucid period and date back over 2,000 years.”

Drawing of a coin
Drawing of an Alexander III tetradrachm by Naser Aminikhah.

According to locals, this small treasure was found about 1 m deep at 130 m east of the Great Central Mound of Quwākh Tapeh and was revealed by floods after a canal was dug in the mounds. The ceramic vessel contained 141 silver coins featuring Alexander the Great, the Seleucid king (either Antiochus I or II), and Mazaeus the Achaemenid/Macedonian Satrap of Babylon, some of which are Athenian Owl type imitations. The authors had access to 124 of these coins, which are held in the Museum of Anthropology of Kermānshāh at Tekyeh Moaven al-molk and described in more detail on page 32.

Map of Quwākh Tapeh with three numbered points
Map of Quwākh Tapeh showing (1) the location of the coin treasury, (2) the previous location of the Neo-Assyrian door socket, and (3) the current location of the door socket. Map by Reza Azizi.

Two men standing on the side of a mound, with a black arrow pointing to a spot on the side
Exact location of the coin treasury, revealed by floods after a canal was dug in the mound. Photo by Sajjad Alibaigi.

This treasure has a total weight of roughly 2 kg and the very small amount of green oxide on the coins shows they were minted with high-grade silver. It seems likely that the treasure was deposited during the Early Seleucid period, given the time span of the discovered coins and the lack of specimens more recent than the Antiochus I or II period. In 2011, Dr. Mehdi Daryaei registered several coins from different periods for the Museum of Anthropology of Kermānshāh at Tekyeh Moaven al-molk, including Quwākh Tapeh coins.

Stone Door Socket

On our first visit to the eastern slope of Quwākh Tapeh in 2014, we found four pieces of white limestone, one of which was used as a staircase, in the courtyard of a deserted and half-ruined house. Near another house to the south of the site were several other carved stones, one of which, if not an obelisk base, is probably a small stone casket. Our recent visit revealed that the owner of the abandoned house had removed the stone staircase to the edge of his farmland. Examination showed that this carved and ornamented stone was not an ordinary stone fragment, but a very large door socket in the style of the Neo-Assyrian period. Similar door sockets were uncovered in Neo-Assyrian palaces or temples of the Mesopotamia, including the temple of Nebo in Khorsabad, Neo-Assyrian palaces at Nimrud and Khorsabad, and Neo-Assyrian provincial capitals such as Arsalanatash, Till-Barsib, and Ziyaret Tepe. This monumental door socket indicates that Quwākh Tapeh was not an ordinary village, but rather a place with important constructions, the most important of which was likely a complex dating back to the Neo-Assyrian period.

2d and 3d drawings of a door socket
Drawing and Reconstruction of the Neo-Assyrian door socket of Quwākh Tapeh by Naser Aminikhah.
Close up photo of the door socket
The Neo-Assyrian door socket of Quwākh Tapeh. Photo by Sajjad Alibaigi.

A man sitting by the door socket, drawing
Naser Aminikhah drawing the door socket. Photo by Sajjad Alibaigi.


The results of our investigation into Quwākh Tapeh— especially the extent of archaeological deposits and the existence of numerous and varied pottery collections and stone objects—indicate that Quwākh Tapeh was an important center in the Neo-Assyrian period and that it contains significant archeological remnants. The discovery of the door socket in the Neo-Assyrian period is particularly interesting. If this door socket belongs to the Assyrian period, it is in fact the second Zagros site, after Tapeh Giyan in Nahavand, to reveal remnants of the Neo-Assyrian Empire of the 8th century BCE. Given that the Assyrian cuneiform texts speak of the conquest of the region and its annexation to the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the discovery of this finding may be important to tracing the Assyrian settlement in Iran, which is frequently mentioned in the texts, but missing from archaeological remnants.

The discovery at Quwākh Tapeh of a small treasure trove of ancient coins dating back to the 4th through 3rd centuries BCE is also significant. The finding of the Athenian Owl-type coins in the heart of central Zagros, far from their minting location, is important in itself, and will bring forth various topics for further study. The most recent coin in the collection dates back to the early Seleucid period (the time of Antiochus I or II). This suggests that the treasure found at Quwākh Tapeh was likely deposited in the early Seleucid period (before 245 BCE).

The Ancient Coins of Quwākh Tapeh

Image of coins
Coins from Quwākh Tapeh dating back to the 4th–3rd centuries BCE. Courtesy of Saeid Sa’edi and Farid Sa’edi.

Alexander Iii of Macedon Coins: The Alexander III coins consist of 46 tetradrachms and 7 silver two drachms. The tetradrachms are between 16.6-17.5 g in weight, 24.1-29 mm in diameter, and 3.0-3.5 mm thick. The two drachms weigh 8.0-8.6 g and are 3-3.5 mm thick and 21-22.1 mm in diameter. On the obverse (front face) of all these coins, the bust of Heracles with a lion headdress can be seen. On the reverse (back face), Zeus is seated on a throne, turned to the left, and holding an eagle in his right hand and a scepter in his left hand with the legend (engraved words) Αλεξανδρου (of Alexander).

Coins of Mazaeus (The Lion Coins): In the collection, there are 26 silver tetradrachms of Mazaeus, the Satrap of Babylon during the rule of Alexander (331-328 BCE). These coins weigh 16.8-17.2 g and are 20-26 mm in diameter and 4.5-6 mm thick. On the obverse of the coin, Baal is shown sitting on a throne and holding a scepter. Behind Baal there is a short inscription in Aramaic that reads “Baal tarz (the lord of Tarsus).” On the reverse is a walking male lion. In the upper space behind the lion, a short inscription is written with the title MZDY (Mazaeus). In some cases, a mark is engraved on the top of the lion’s body instead of the inscription. Some of these coins do not have any inscriptions.

Coins Imitating the Athenian Owl Style: There are 44 silver tetradrachms in the collection. Each features a right-side profile of Athena with a helmet, earrings, and a hairless face, imitating the Athenian Owl tetradrachm of the 5th century BCE. On the reverse is the right-side profile of an owl. To the right of the owl are two olive leaves and three letters: ΑΘΕ (Athens). These coins weigh 16.2-17.2 g and are 5-6 mm thick and 21.5-24 mm in diameter. Samples with a maximum diameter of 28 mm and thickness of 7.5 mm can also be seen. Some coins have a short inscription to the right of the owl: the legend MZDY (Mazaeus).

Seleucid Coin: There is a coin from Antiochus I or II in the collection. The king’s right-side profile is engraved on the obverse, and on the reverse, Zeus sits on the omphalos (a rounded stone representing the center of the world) with a bird perched on his right hand. A short inscription, βασιλέωσ αντιόχου, is engraved on both sides of Zeus. This coin weighs 16.6 g and is 28 mm in diameter and 3.5 mm thick.

Sajjad Alibaigi is Assistant Professor of Iranian Archaeology at Razi University, Kermānshāh. He graduated from the University of Tehran in 2014. His research interest is landscape archaeology of the Zagros area in the Iron Age and Neo-Assyrian period. Alireza Moradi-Bisotuni has extensive field experience at archaeological sites in western Iran’s Kermānshāh province and is an expert in archaeology working at the Kermānshāh Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Office. Nourollah Karimi is former Head of Historic Properties Curator at the Kermānshāh Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism Office. He studied archaeology at the Miras-e Farhangi Institute, Tehran in the 1980s.


Levine, Louis D. 1974. “Archaeological Investigations in the Māhidasht, Western Iran.” Paléorient 2: 487-90.

Motarjem, A. 1998. Gozaresh-e avalin fasl-e barresihay-e bastanshenasi dasht-e Kouzaran (Report of Archaeological survey in the Kouzaran Plain), Unpublished Report in the Archive of the Cultural Heritage Handicraft Organization of Kermānshāh Province (in Persian).

Schmidt, E. 1940. Flights over Ancient Cities of Iran. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Stein, S.A. 1940. Old Routes of Western Iran: Narratives of an Archaeological Journey. New York: Greenwood Press.

Rouhbakhshan, A. and Abdi, K. 1993. “News.” Iranian Journal of Archeology and History 7 (13-14): 138-144 (in Persian).

Sarfarāz, A.A., Sarraf, M. and Yaqmaei, E. 1968. Barresihay-e Ostan-e Kermanshahan (Archaeological Surveys in Kermānshāh Province), Unpublished report in the Archive of the Cultural Heritage Handicraft Organization of Iran (in Persian).


We would like to thank Iran National Science Foundation (INSF) (Research Proposal No. 98029208), Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research, and Deutschs Archäologisches Institut (DAI), Tehran Branch, especially Dr. Judith Tomalsky, Director of DAI, for their support. We thank Mr. Ali Felegari, Saeid and Farid Sāedi, Naser Aminikhāh, Reza Azizi, and Farshid Safāeimanesh for their help, and Professors Michael Roaf, Louis D. Levine, John MacGinnis, Julian Reade, Karen Radner, David Stronach, Rémy Boucharlat, and John Curtis for discussions about the dating of the door socket. We also thank the people of Quwākh Tapeh, who provided us with detailed information on the coin discovery event and its exact location.

Cite This Article

Alibaigi, Sajjad, Moradi-Bisotuni, Alireza and Karimi, Nourollah. "What Can a Door Socket Tell Us?." Expedition Magazine 63, no. 3 (December, 2021): -. Accessed July 16, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/what-can-a-door-socket-tell-us/

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