Friday, May 3, 2013

History Mystery: Susa Home of the Elamites Part.I



Between the lowlands of Mesopotamia and the high plateau of Persia, the city of Susa emerged as a cultural crossroads. Here, the skills of those living on the plains merged with the vigour of the mountain people to produce a brilliant new civilization. The ancient Greeks knew SUSA as a royal city of the Persian Empire. Before them, the writers of the Old Testament referred to it as the capital of a land called Elam. But Susa‘s origins date back farther still – back to the shadows of prehistory, to an age before literate civilization began. Today, Susa consists of a number of great earthen mounds situated in the plain of Khuzestan in south – west Iran. Each mound is composed of layer upon layer of mud-brick ruins. Mud-brick is a fragile material, and early archaeological investigations lacked the techniques needed to identify it. In 1897, a French geologist, Jacques de Morgan, embarked on an ambitious programme of excavation, seeking the origins of Elamite civilization. Valuable finds were made, but tones of the precious layers of earth and rubble were simply carted away and disposed of.

What remains today does not give a full picture of the city of Susa, but a series of fascinating glimpses of its gradual evolution. Susa lies on a lowland plain watered by rivers flowing from the Iranian plateau. Although it is in Iran, it is geographically part of Mesopotamia – the broad and fertile valley formed by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. In these rich, alluvial lowlands, the rise of urban civilization began in the 6th millennium BC, when the inhabitants began to control river floods with irrigation schemes. Agricultural yields increased dramatically, and new wealth allowed specialist crafts such as pottery to flourish. Trade expanded, and great works of construction began; the building of temples signals the beginnings of organized religion. More than 5,000 years age, the people of Mesopotamia invented writing, and went on to establish the first recorded kingdoms and empires. By 4000 BC, a major urban revolution was in progress and the foundation of Susa dated back to this time. The city was to become the gateway to the Iranian plateau, a hub of trade routes liking the plains and mountains, for a period of several thousand years. For 300 years after its foundation, Susa developed as the centre of prosperous agricultural region. Funeral items from this early period, excavated from a vast cemetery containing more than 2,000 graves, include copper axes, suggesting an important traffic in the metal.

The plain itself had no copper; it must have been brought from the Iranian plateau. The graves also suggest a tradition of fine pottery. The villages surrounding Susa produced elegantly simple pots painted with stylized birds and animals. During this period, the inhabitants of the city built an enormous brick terrace, 80m (262ft) square, perhaps designed to carry a great temple. The sheer size of the work implies a strong economy capable of diverting a large workforce from food production to construction. It also suggests the existence of a powerful central authority, though no evidence of a kind or ruling hierarchy exists from this time. Stone seals of ownership have been found, so riches are likely to have accumulated in a few private hands. Slim clues like these suggest some kind of civic democracy, but tantalizingly, the evidence stops there. At an unidentified date, the terrace was destroyed. The next stage in Susa’s evolution began in about 3700 BC, when its distinctive local pottery was replaced by plain, mass produced ware which was flooding the Middle East at the time. This sudden new influence can be attributed to the meteoric rise of Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia, where a booming economy began to inspire new forms of art. It was prelude to more significant developments. In about 3400 BC, an age monumental building began at the Sumerian city of Uruk, on the banks of the Euphrates south-west of Susa.

 Local artists of the time often depicted a priest-king figure, obviously the head of a centralized administration. Even more revolutionary, clay tablets bearing a form of written language had appeared. Symbols were used to list possessions or record business deals and land sales. Susa felt the influence of Sumer, and developed in parallel. The city and its surrounding areas created a separate written language, also recorded on clay tablets. Similarly, a king – like figure begins to appear among relics of Susa from this period. The figure is depicted on engraved cylindrical seals which were used as stamps of ownership, much like signet rings, in both Susa and Mesopotamia. Despite this suggestion of a monarchy, the economy does not appear to have been centralized. Private merchants and traders probably controlled most of the wealth.

 ( Cont....)