Tepe Hissar: Excavations of 1931

By: Erich F. Schmidt

Originally Published in 1933

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Season’s End, Interlude in Teheran
Icy winds and occasional flurries of rain were already sweeping across the Damghan plain when, on November 6, the first excavation season closed. Winter was near. Sheepskins were worn on the mound and in camp, where makeshift stoves had been installed.

The mound still required attention for weeks. The remaining burials and architectural remains had to be recorded. The rest of the dump soil was removed. The plastered floors of the Sasanian palace were again covered with dirt, while the tracks and the wagons were finally carried to town.

Before the mound was deserted, we had a group of delightful visitors from Philadelphia. They were Mrs. Clarence Warden, her two daughters and Miss Catherwood. The monastic atmosphere of Damghan camp was thoroughly changed during their presence that brought a breath of fresh air and an enjoyable variation into camp monotony, in the same manner as previous visits by the esteemed friend of the expedition, The United States Plenipotentiary, Mr. Charles Hart, and our colleague, Dr. Frederick Wulsin with Mrs. Wulsin.

In camp the report on the Sasanian palace was prepared. The numerous stuccos were cleaned, sorted, partly restored, and catalogued. The scientific descriptions of vessels and other finds were started. The field records on burials, architecture, and the like, were typed. The surveys of the town and of the environment had to be completed and drawn. Diagrams, paintings, theoretical reconstructions, and great numbers of photographs of the finds had to be made.

Plates and vessels on a stepped display
Plate CLXXI — Exhibit of Finds in the Ministry of Education

However, climatic conditions drove us away from wintry Damghan long before we considered our above-outlined tasks fulfilled. Snow and ice had steadily crept down from the mountain ranges to the valleys and passes, until, finally, the snowstorms of December covered at times the entire plain with a white coat. The accommodations were inadequate and the working conditions became difficult. We had a rather clear idea what winter would bring to Damghan. Thus a house had been rented in Teheran which was to be the expedition quarters for the cold season. We may remark here, parenthetically, that according to the original plans the expedition was to stay in the field for two consecutive seasons in order to save the disproportionally high traveling expenses. It is understood without saying that such an arrangement pleases every field worker.

At any rate, when Damghan became inhospitable and the snow threatened to block the passes to Teheran, all the attention of the staff was concentrated on packing the numerous and valuable finds of the season. Much of the cotton harvest of Damghan had to protect the stuccos, the vessels, the skulls, and other objects that had to stand the transport to Teheran on rocking trucks.

The government had temporarily seized many large trucks. Thus it was difficult to find the transport facilities for our material. At last, just before Christmas, we succeeded in getting hold of four three-ton lorries needed for our purposes. It would have been senseless to risk our good Ford truck on the many trips that would have been required to carry finds and equipment across the mountains. Nevertheless, it was as usual stuffed to capacity when at last camp was broken, on December 20, and the engines of our caravan bid farewell to Damghan, and its friendly officials who had assembled to see us off. Needless to say, brakes and chains were well tested. The white mountains in the northwest inspired caution.

First came our truck. The four Graham lorries followed and the invaluable little Ford Touring, transferred to us by Dr. Wulsin, was rear guard and ‘M.P.’

The first leg of the voyage across a spur of the mountains to Semnan, went smoothly. We stayed in the garage, hoping only that the passes would be open for the difficult part of the trip. We may insert that a few days after our arrival in Teheran the passes were blocked by masses of snow and stayed shut for weeks.

Before daybreak on December 21, we left Semnan, where the ascent to the mountains begins. The sun rose above an impressive panorama of snow-clad summits but we had little appreciation for the beauties of nature at that moment, for our truck broke down with engine trouble. Chilled, in spite of sheepskin coats, we crowded around a grass fire, until the chauffeur had fixed the damage. The potent native arak is good medicine in such events. The pass of Bashm was open. We slipped across and down the sharp serpentines leading to Amiriyeh, where the road branches off to warm Mazanderan.

The mountain and pass of Firuzkuh was looming ahead, its snow-capped summit and slopes glistening in the sunlight [Plate CLXX, A]. The most difficult leg of the trip was before us. We climbed up in relay fashion from step to step. The pass had been opened again by the road workers, but parts of the stretch were covered with ice. Therefore, the cars ground their way up individually, sliding back at times in spite of chains. Whenever a car had gained a platform, the next one followed, and so on. It was hard going on Firuzkuh.

Night was falling. The Ministry of Education in Teheran had been informed about our departure from Damghan. Our coming had to be reported in order to receive instructions as to the destination of the antiquities. Thus we went ahead in the speedy touring while other members of the staff were distributed in the trucks.

In Teheran, Professor Andre Godard, the Director of the Antiquity Service, informed us that the antiquities should be brought into the compound of the Ministry [Plate CLXX, B], where we received, on the following day, excellent accommodations for the material and for laboratory work.

The hibernation quarters were in an attractive house in Chahar Rah Seid Ali, where also Giza the gazelle, Wolf the camp hound, and ‘Pidar Sukdeh’ the hawk found a home for the winter months.

After Christmas was past, regular office hours were kept in our
‘museum’. There the photographer and the artist installed their studios, and the various scientific records were continued by the rest of the staff. As the working-up progressed, we prepared with simple means the exhibit of the Damghan finds which was to coincide with their division between the Persian government and the expedition. The boxes in which the finds had been brought to Teheran were combined into pyramids and terraced platforms and covered with inexpensive cloth of various colors. Through the hands of the artist, the photographer and the other recording and checking staff members, the antiquities wandered finally to their places of exhibition [Plate CLXXI].

The white or banded alabasters and the copper vessels, tools and weapons with their green coat of oxide found impressive purple bases and backgrounds. On black steps the white stucco plaques and architectural units of the Sasanian palace were displaced, flanked by the two columns preserved. The numerous gray vessels of Hissar II and HI ascended on cream-colored pyramids. Blue background had been chosen for the terraces of ornaments and small objects of stone and pottery. An impressive black pyramid was originally covered by the crania of the successive periods, but we changed our minds and in their stead arranged the more cheerful painted pottery vessels of Hissar I. A corner was filled with the finds of the Islamic test sites. A large storage vessel was in a central position, and, later on, the points of greatest interest, the graves of the Little Girl and of the Warrior, were again built up at either side of the alabaster pyramid in the same manner as we had found them on Tepe Hissar. On black draped tables the numerous figurines and glyptical objects were exhibited. The plans and maps completed by the expedition were spread under glass, and paintings and enlarged photographs ornamented the walls.

Cups and vessels on a stepped display
Plate CLXXI — Exhibit of Finds in the Ministry of Education

Besides our intention to produce an aesthetic pleasure in selected outside people that were to look at this exhibition, we considered the latter, for our own instruction and satisfaction, the ideal conclusion of a successful season.

The division was to take place towards the middle of March, prior to the departure of Mr. Godard for an inspection tour. A number of the photographs were still wanting, but we were told that the entire collection would be at our disposal until the completion of the work. His Exc. Karaghozlou, the Minister of Education, was greatly impressed by the display of our finds. He invited the Minister of the Court, H. H. Teymourtache, and the entire Council of Ministers to visit the exhibition. On March 16 this body of the highest Persian officials arrived and were shown the remains of Persia’s past. H. H. Teymourtache drew the lot that determined the share of the Persian government.

The members of the United States Legation were particularly pleased with the exhibition allowing the results of an American scientific enterprise. The representatives of Germany, France, Austria, and Poland, American tourists and business men, Persian officials, and our various friends equally enjoyed the display of the Damghan finds.

The written data were completed, but the artist, the photographer and the surveyor were still busy with the pictorial and topographical records. Besides that, the digging weather had not yet started in Damghan. Thus, three of us, Lockard, White, and the writer, used the opportunity to make an extremely instructive dash to the South, across Luristan, to old Elam and Susa, where the excavation staff, Count R. de Mecquenem, Messrs. Unvala and Marquet, proved delightfully hospitable. Across the deserts we drove to Bushire on the Persian Gulf and north again to Shiraz, where the second aim of our pilgrimage was Persepolis. Here the esteemed Prof. E. Herzfeld and his staff are working under the auspices of the Oriental Institute of Chicago. We saw the most beautiful of Persian towns, Isfahan, and arrived again in Teheran on April 8, after a voyage of more than 3000 kilometers. At a future date we shall describe our experiences and impressions of this memorable trip.

Back in Teheran, we had to prepare the shipping of the American share of the antiquities. The share of the Persian government was delivered to the Ministry of Education as soon as our pictorial records were completed. Now, special boxes were ordered and the packing and the detailed listing of the contents of the cases started. The stuccos were wrapped in felt, the frail skulls turned into white globes by means of gauze and bandages soaked in gypsum. Each case contained series of inserted boxes separated by cotton and hay and all specimens were wrapped and filled with cotton. Packing is tedious work.

Applications for the export of the shipment were filed at the Customs, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Commerce, to be endorsed by the Council of Ministers. One of the best friends of the expedition, Mr. J. Z. Mirzayantz, was here of greatest assistance. At last, the boxes were ready for the inspector of the customs. An official came, checked and sealed the forty-seven cases destined for Philadelphia. Shipping arrangements were made through the Mesopotamia Persia Corporation (Mespers), and our work was done. Mr. Mirzayantz, aided by our efficient business agent, Mr. H. Petrossian, saw to it that the shipment was finally delivered to Mespers, after the export permits had been received. Our finds were thus in good hands, and we did not have to wait until the formalities were finished. The second season at Tepe Hissar could start. Prior to our departure for Damghan, however, we found an opportunity to express our deeply felt appreciation of the sympathetic assistance by the Persian government, by presenting photographic albums with enlargements of excavation scenes and finds to H. M. Shah Pahlavi, H. H. Tey mourtache, and H. Exc. Karaghozlou. Then we left our winter quarters in Teheran to start Season 1932.

Cite This Article

Schmidt, Erich F.. "Appendix." The Museum Journal XXIII, no. 4 (December, 1933): 477-483. Accessed February 21, 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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