Shahr-e Sukhte, A World Heritage Site in Southeast Iran

Eyeball from a Skeleton in Burnt City
Photo Courtesy of Historical Iran
Shahr-e Sukhte (World Heritage Site)

Shahr-e Sukhte (literally translated as the Burned City) has also been spelled differently as Shahr-e Sukhte in various sources. It is a vast archaeological site (151 hectares) made of mud bricks on the bank of the Helmand river, between Zahedan and Zabol cities, situated in South East Iran inside Sistan & Baluchestan Province. It dates back to the Bronze Age inhabited from 3200 to 1800 BC.

There were four stages of civilizations living there. Before it was abandoned, the city had been burned down three times. Therefore, many lost their lives. As a result, a sizable graveyard is attached to the Shahr-e Sukhte site accommodates 25,000 to 40,000 ancient graves.

The historical site consists of several historical mounds in a row. Each of them was allocated to a different function, like workshops, residences, graveyards, etc.

Archaeological Importance of Shahr-e Sukhte

There’s no doubt that this ancient human settlement is indebted to its significance to the interesting artifacts unearthed there. Several items have been discovered in relatively very good condition and unique objects have indicated a brilliant civilization in the Eastern part of the Iranian plateau.

The List of some of the most outstanding unearthed items according to and

  • The skull of a 14-year-old girl indicates traces of practicing brain surgery. She eventually died as a result of the diagnosed illness,
  • An earthen-made goblet depicting a goat in different running positions around it, which represents the first world’s animation example when turning,
Goat Goblet from Burned City
Gif Animation courtesy of Historical Iran
  • The oldest backgammon & dice ever discovered in the world indicating people used to play this game back then,
Dice from Shahr-i Sokhta
Photo courtesy of
  • An artificial eyeball, which is known as the earliest example of its kind, is made of a thin layer of gold on a light material,
Eyeball from a Skeleton in Burnt City
Photo Courtesy of Historical Iran
  • a 10-cm ruler with high precision that indicates the mastery over mathematics by these people,
  • Beautifully painted motifs on a piece of leather together with several other fabrics each one dyed in several colors,
  • Unique marble vessel beautifully shaped and unearthed from the grave of a young woman between 28 and 30 years of age,
  • And hundreds of other fascinating objects like an incense burner mounted on a mirror, colorful jars, very delicate necklaces, charcoal holders, seals, pottery and jewelry workshops, etc.

 Cultural Importance of Shahr-e Sukhte

Culturally, it has been a rich city associated with Jiroft culture. In other words, this ancient site has been a human settlement independent of ancient Mesopotamia. Several discoveries have contributed to the fact that Shahr-e- Sukhte must have had a particularly unique culture. Here are some of them:

  • According to some paleoanthropologists, women had a pivotal role in the social aspects and financial fields of the families. Only inside some of the women’s graves, a particular type of insignias had been unearthed distinguishing prominent members of the society from the others.
  • The skeleton of a professional camel rider suggests he had been a courier delivering parcels, and messages over long distances.
  • According to the excavations carried out at the Burnt City, there were farmers and craftsmen among various guilds working in this ancient settlement. Weavers who made carpets, baskets, etc, using their teeth, were some of the main guilds that made several different items. Lots of teeth have been unearthed in Shahr-e Sukhte.

In addition, the culture beyond some of the practices and discoveries mentioned above (like an artificial eyeball, brain surgery, ruler, backgammon, etc) is all indicative of a rich culture prevailing in this human settlement of the Bronze Age in South East of Iran.

The Fall of Shahr-e-Sukhte

According to the researchers, what led to the end of the civilization at this human settlement was a consequence of diversion in the courses of water and climate change. This area used to be quite humid with abundant sources of water and lots of trees. The inhabitants used to burn wood for fuel. As a result of fewer sources of water and more heat, the inhabitants abandoned the city and things fell apart.

More Archaeological Exploration Underway

A lot of excavations are performed at all the historical mounds of Shahr-e Sukhte. From time to time, there’s another news story about some new findings at this site. It should also be added that it’s not easy to carry out the archaeological excavation at this site due to the hostile climate of the region. Sandstorms, the high temperature of the desert, etc are some of the difficulties the experts have to deal with.

However, some experts are working on the diet of people. They found out that lentils and fish were some of the main foodstuff people used to eat there. More information will be coming out as more work is being done.

For more World Heritage sites, go to:

Iranian tangible cultural heritage sites in UNESCO List!

Comments 2
    1. In fact, it is a very interesting archaeological site that could be a perfect place to visit. However, very few tourists travel there as it’s quite out of the main route of international travelers.

      Only people with particular interests go away 100s of kilometers from the main route for such visits.

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