Discover Iron Age burial in Gilan: bizarre patterns and rituals

August 24, 2021 - 18:42

TEHRAN – Bounded by the Caspian Sea on the north, the province of Gilan situated in northern Iran is extremely rich in Iron Age cultural sites especially cemeteries. Also, Gilan was within the sphere of influence of the successive mighty empires of Achaemenian, Seleucid, Parthian, and Sasanids that ruled Iran until the 7th century CE.

The Iron Age in Iran and Gilan is divided into three sections: Iron Age I, II, and III. Furthermore, some archaeologists believe the existence of Iron Age IV, which continues until the middle of the Parthian (Ashkanian) period (end of 1st Millennium BC).

According to a scientific article conducted by the senior Iranian archaeologist Yousef Fallahian,  in almost all Iron Age sites of Gilan, the dead had been buried on the right shoulder or left shoulder and bent legs with low and high curvature degrees. Only a small number of bodies had been buried supine (face up) in some cemeteries.

“A particular conclusion cannot be drawn on this relationship at present… however, almost in all Iron Age cemeteries of Gilan, the tradition of burying objects as grave goods, near the dead bodies, was common. In most cases, these objects included pottery, porcelain, and metal objects, pottery and metal figures, metal weapons including daggers, spears, axes, swords, maces, ornaments made of stone, metal, etc.”

“It seems that their richness and abundance were related to the degree of wealth or social position of the person. This means that more valuable objects are more show that the person who has died was of higher social standing,” Fallahian says.

His intensive field studies have revealed that Iron Age burial customs include the structure of the graves, the direction, and condition of human or animal skeletons, and the placement of objects in the graves.

In almost all Iron Age cemeteries of Gilan, the tradition of burying objects as grave goods, near the dead bodies, was common.Moreover, his investigation shows that at least there are three different Iron Age burial cultures in Gilan and is divided into three domains. Each domain has been explained, concerning its burial culture and how it differs from the others. Here are edited excerpts of the article, which is published by  ResearchGate in 2013, aimed to identify Iron Age Burial culture in Gilan:

Generally, Iron Age cemeteries were distributed in three cultural and geographical divisions of Gilan- including the south-central highlands, the eastern highlands, and the mountains of northwestern Gilan. The first domain that is discussed here is the Iron Age burial customs in significant cemeteries located in the south-central highlands known as the cultural domain of Roudbar (Sefidrood). Later on, cemeteries located in the highlands of east Gilan known as the cultural domain of Deilaman and Amlash (Polrood) will be discussed. Finally, cemeteries located in the northwestern mountains of Gilan are known as the cultural domain of Tavalesh (Shafarood and Karganrood).

The cultural domain of Roudbar or Safidrood

This domain covers the south-central highlands of Roud- bar in Gilan. The main geographical and separating factor of this domain apart from the mountainous parts of Gilan is the large Sefidrood river along with other minor rivers leading to it. Sefidrood has two main branches called the Ghezel Ozan and Shahrood. A part of the Shahrood domain and a whole part of Sefidrood will be studied and discussed here which matches the political geography of Roudbar city and Gilan province.

The largest and most important archeological sites of the Gilan Iron Age including cemeteries and settlements have been found in this precinct. A number of Iron Age sites such as Marlik, Kalouraz, Jamshid Abad, Shahran, Halima Jan, Estalkh Jan, Joboun, Shimam, Sandas, Nave, Chereh, Vatel, and Rashi have been excavated and studied. Burial customs in the significant sites of the Iron Age of this domain known Marlik, Kalouraz, Jamshid Abad, and Shahran are discussed here.


Marlik has been explored from 1961 to 1962 by a team from Tehran University headed by Dr. Negahban. A significant number of golden, silver, and bronze cups, mosaic, porcelain, ceramic container, terracotta, and animal figurines have been found in Marlik excavations.

Some of these discovered cups are unique in the excavations all over the world, like a cup known as the “Marlik Cup” made of pure gold. Various ceramic objects, different golden and silver objects, cylindrical beads, stone and glass beads, stone tools made of flint, obsidian, and human and animal figurines made of clay and bronze, and hundreds of other objects- within a total of 53 graves- have been discovered from Marlik. The discovered figurines in Marlik can be classified into three categories: human figurines, animal ceramic figurines, and animal metal Figurines.

Fifty-three graves have been discovered in Marlik excavations differing in size, shape, quality, and quantity. General burial methods indicate that it was a practice in which a dead body was placed on the bottom of the tomb or a long and large boulder placed on the bottom of the tomb. The obtained evidence shows that generally corpses were buried with a formal dress with decorative buttons and other ornaments in the tomb. In the women’s tomb, one can especially find earrings, rings, necklaces, bangles, and decorative pins, while weapons such as sword, dagger, bayonet, arrows, wands, and other martial instruments such as helmets, martial belts, wrist protectors, and some- times precious ornaments may be found in men’s tombs mostly under the foot or on the skeleton.

The discovered graves of Marlik are divided into four groups as follows: the first group including the large graves; the second group including the average tetrahedral graves; the third group including the small graves; and the fourth group of horse graves.


Kalouraz is the name of a village in the central part of Roudbar city in Gilan. The cemeteries in this village are generally called Kalouraz. They have been excavated and studied by the Iranian delegation in 1967, 1968, 1969, and 1991 in several stages.

The Kalouraz were found in 18 graves which are divided into three groups based on the shape and architecture as following: Simple Vacuolar Graves, Stack Stone Graves, and crock graves. Most of the graves were thought of as belonging to a human, but letter some of them were identified as horse burials.

Skeletons are placed on the left shoulder or right shoulder and feet are bent or straight. Overall, 10 women and 12 men had been buried both on the left and right shoulder in supine position with bent legs and feet in these graves. The study of the condition of skeletons indicates a custom of resting the body on the left shoulder and bent legs both for women and men almost more than other features. Burials were both in mass graves (three graves) and individual graves (15 graves) respectively. Most of the burials had an east-west orientation. Only three graves out of 18 had a north-south direction.

Objects found in the graves were mostly of earthenware, bronze objects, iron, shell, and agate necklaces, etc. Some of these objects are important from a religious aspect and had daily usage and some others were used for hunting and warfare and some of them were decorative tools.

Pottery dishes along with the dead bodies included jugs, bowls, platter, burial containers, cups, milk serving jars, and dizzy (similar to bowl) dishes. Bronze objects, golden objects iron objects, stone beads, and plant seeds have been found along with corpses in the discovered graves. The bronze objects included daggers, arrowheads, figurines, bangles, earrings, necklaces, and bells. But the greatest and the most complete information of the Kalouraz cemetery sites are related to the metal objects of excavation in 1968 and 1969 divided into metal cups and containers, figurines, weapons, decorative items, horse saddles, and decorative instruments groups. (To be continued.)

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