Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Iranian Salt Men

As part the ongoing tradition of archeological exchange between me (from Iran) and Dina (from Israel) and following her recent pottery post, I'm going to share a series of amazing archeological discoveries recently done in Iran.

From 1993 to December 2005, a series of salt mummies were found in the Chehrabad salt mine near Zanjan in northwestern Iran.

Do not miss this video from National Geographic


The 1st Salt Man:
This body was accidentally discovered by miners in 1993 in the Chehrabad salt mine. According to the Tehran Times, the man was approximately 35 years old and he "lived over 1700 years ago. He has long white hair and a beard and was discovered wearing leather boots and with some tools and a walnut in his possession." Since only the head and booted left leg were displayed, it may be that a good portion of his body was either not recovered or not well-preserved. A Wikipedia account gives a more complete list of the items found with the body: "three iron knives, a woolen half trouser, a silver needle, a sling, parts of a leather rope, a grind stone, a walnut, some pottery shares, some designed textile fragments, and finally a few broken bones." He was wearing at least one earring.

The 2nd Salt Man:
The second salt mummy, nicknamed the Twin Salt Man, was reported to have been found in November 2004 some 50 yards away from the site where the first salt mummy was discovered. The body seems to have become mostly a skeleton, though some preservation was noted: it still had hair and nails. According to Mehr News, the remains of the second salt mummy's skeleton "are almost perfect, and they include parts of the skull, jaw, both arms, as well as the left and right legs and feet. Several pieces of wool cloth and a piece of a straw mat with a unique style of weaving were also discovered beside the second Salt Man." This description seems to indicate that the first salt mummy may not have been as complete.

The 3rd Salt Man:
In January 2005, the third salt mummy was discovered, buried under a two-ton rock that caused considerable damage to the body (and resulting skeleton). According to, the body was accompanied by "[s]everal items such as a leather sack full of salt, a clay tallow burner, two pairs of leather shoes, and two cow horns....[all] in excellent condition." The director of the excavation revealed that 'The...leather sack was full of crystals of salt and was completely tightened. This indicates that the owner was about to carry it out of the mine, but was suddenly crushed by the heavy rock, leaving him no chance to escape."

The 4th Salt Man:
The fourth mummy was discovered in March 2005 and was the most preserved body to date. Researchers conducted X-ray and CT scans on the body and concluded that the mummy was a 15- or 16-year old male. Recent studies indicate that he died about 2,000 years ago.

According to Iran's Cultural Heritage News Agency excavators found a number of possessions with the young person: he wore two earrings and an iron dagger in a scabbard around his waist. Nearby were two pottery vessels (containing oil) that may have been used as lanterns. The teenager was wearing a knee-length quilted garment and thigh-high leggings (or gaiters). Reports appear to indicate that Salt Mummy 4 is in the best and most complete condition, though descriptions of the six mummies are sketchy at best. Reports indicate that the bodies of the other salt mummies are no longer intact, except for Salt Mummy 4.

The 5th Salt Man:
A report from Iran's Cultural Heritage News Agency indicates that a fifth salt mummy was discovered in December 2005, but no information about that mummy was given.

The 6th Salt Man:
Reports from Iranian news agencies in early June, 2007, suggest that a sixth salt mummy has been found. No specific information about the mummy has been provided to date, however. Scientists will not excavate the mummy and remove it from the mine until better preservation techniques have been found. Archaeologists worry that the first five salt mummies are in danger of deteriorating unless better preservation techniques are found. In the meantime, the sixth salt mummy will be left under a pile of salt and dirt until excavators have found a better way to preserved him. A new report states that the sixth mummy dates from the Roman era and is the body of a person buried under rocks during an earthquake. Archaeologists in Iran have contacted scientists at the German Mining Museum in Bochum for help in studying the mummy, the Chehrabad Mine, and the plant life found there

Researchers from Oxford University (Mark Pollard) and York University (Don Brothwell) have been invited by Iran's Archaeology Research Center to study the salt mummies. Additionally, Niels Lynnerup, a mummification expert from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, will be attempting to perform a reconstruction of the face of the fourth salt mummy. To do this, he will use around 1,000 MRI images of the body and face. Finally, excavations by a multinational team of archaeologists will begin in the salt mine to discover perhaps more information, if not more mummies.



Dina said...

Amazing! These guys are fantastic. It must be the long hair and beard that gives this first salt mummy a "personality".
Thanks for this salty dish of highly unusual archaeology, Meead!
I watched the National Geographic video and read the mummy website you provided. What a find!
I hope the last one left in situ is well-guarded.
Maybe around our Dead (Salt) Sea are similar surprises waiting to be found!
Maybe you can take an archaeology course just for fun?

lachezar said...

Totally fascinating! Thanks!

Jacob said...

Incredible! At first I thought it was a long lost relative of mine!


Ann said...

Absolutely fascinating. I've seen mummies preserved in the desert and at high altitude (in Chile and Peru) but not salt.

J said...

Fascinatingly gruesome!

Anonymous said...

they use salt to preserve meat so I guess its posible

Sara said...

Hello....I just came by from Dina's sight, curious about these salt mummies. This is fascinating, and of course, one wonders about their lives and what their stories are....I wish we knew more!

Dirk said...

Fascinating, what a great discovery!

Anonymous said...

Iran is ancient imagine all the other stuff just waiting to be discovered? Only if the government had better relations with the west...too bad...I guess anywork with Iran is illegal now..