Rock Engravings During Archer's Era in Kerman


By: Dr. Morteza Farhadi


Abstract: After five years of research and comparative studies, Dr. Morteza Farhadi succeeded in discovering six rock engravings in Kerman Province, four engravings in Sirjan and two engravings in Shahr-e Babak. Moreover over the past 30 years the writer has managed to discover many other rock engravings in different regions in Iran.



Dr. Morteza Farhadi is a faculty member of the college of social sciences of Allameh Tabatabaie University. He has so far published five books and 78 articles in specialized periodicals and monthly magazines.


Farhange Yarigiri (Contributing Dictionary) authored by Dr. Farhadi and published by the Nashr-e Daneshgahi (University Publication Press) has won the first award in the Ninth Rural Festival of Ministry of Construction Jihad and was chosen book of the year in social sciences during the 13th Iranian Book Year Festival.

For the last 25 years Farhadi has conducted extensive research in Kerman Province and among nomadic tribal regions and villages of Sirjan, Baft, Bardsir and Shahr-e Babak.

He is an associate contributor to Kerman periodical magazine and a member of the Center for Kerman Studies and his articles 'Studies on Bushes', 'Periodical Cultivation', 'Musk Production and Spraying among Nomadic Tribesmen and Villagers in Sirjan and Suburbs' have been published in the Kerman periodical.


Compared to other archeological researches a study on rock images and engravings in Iran is quite a new subject.

In replay to a letter from the chairman of the board of directors of Association of Iranian National Relics in 1989 Ghirshman says: "During all my explorations on cave relics in your country in the Bakhtiari mountain range as well as those which were conducted by professor Carleton S. Coon in Bisotoon and Alborz and Khorassan mountain range or the excavations conducted by American scientists in Afghanistan, no cave paintings on mountain rocks were discovered."

It is not without reason to see that the first chapter of Ghirshman's bulky and authoritative book `History of Iranian Art' refers neither to such rock engravings which were discovered in the Silk Graveyard related to the ninth or tenth century before Christ.

As far as the writer remembers the other books on the Iranian art history are written in the same manner. The latest of such books on this subject which according to its translator is novel and helpful says the Iranian art started with earthenware sketches in prehistoric times and only in one and a half sentence it speaks about a similar prehistoric painting in the rocky shelters in western Iran. Most probably the writer has considered them to be closer to paleolithic stone arts and has completely forgotten to elaborate on cave images in that book.


Mackburn, a British archaeologist from University of Cambridge who inspected the cave images in Kuhdasht in a preliminary report, says: "Discovery of images on rocks in Iran has long been a matter of interest. I think with the exception of a few examples in Turkey and in Kiloo region in Jordan no such images have been seen from the Mediterranean region up to the Indian subcontinent."


Fortunately thanks to the exertions made by Iranian researchers a number of cave paintings and engravings were discovered in different regions in Iran including cave paintings in the Dosheh Cave, Kar Shurab Chegeni, Mir Malas Cave in Koohdasht, Khorassan; rock engravings in Hanjiran Pass in Mahabad, Aqrabloo in Bukan and Qadamgah in Ernan, Nir in Yazd, Khosef and Lakhmazar in Birjand, Tangvardan in Dowlatabad, Esmaili village, Zahamkan, Jiroft, Sisovak and Divanmorad in Kahnooj, Oje Emam, in Hamedan, Kani Nimroozeh Sakhnakh in Sanandaj, Sekonj in Mahan, Qadamgah-e Meymand in Shahr-e Babak, Lalehzar in Baft, and copper mountains in Rafsanjan and a series of paintings in the Cheshmeh Sohrab Cave, Bolook Chamchal in Kermanshah, and Karaftoo Cave, Sanqar in Takab.



About 30 years back the writer accidentally became acquainted with rock engravings in Iran, but since these engravings bore new images and marks such as memorials and Arabic phrases and other such writings, for reasons mentioned in the book 'Museums of the Wind' I did not pay attention to the these images. This continued until nearly 25 years after when I discovered such cave engravings at a distance of 25 km from a Pahlavi inscription. At that time I was a teacher and was discharging my conscription service. This discovery impelled me to re-inspect these engravings. Fortunately the second trip and experience led me to discover the biggest rock engraving which had remained intact in Iran or probably in Asia. The engravings were scattered at one kilometers distance from each other. A preliminary and semi-detailed report on this finding was published two years ago.


In the past five years I have made trips to various regions in Iran and assisted with my former experience searched for engravings in other provinces including the vast Kerman province.


25 years of acquaintance with the Kerman province and the projects which I had implemented in rural and nomadic regions in Sirjan, Bordsir Baft, Shahr-e Babak and having friends in these regions over the past 20 years, helped me to discover new rock engravings in a shorter period of time.


As mentioned before some of these engravings have been identified in Sisovak, Divan Morad, Kahnooj, Tang Mardan, Dowlatabad and Ismaili Village, Zahamkan in Jiroft, Sehkong in Mahan, Qadamgah in Meymand, and Shahr-e Babak but regretfully no concise or detailed report has been published about these sites and only a few references has been made about them.


Moreover, the writer has also spotted new rock images in six new sites in Kerman province, four sites in Sirjan and two sites in Shahre Babak.


Tappeh Shah Firooz is a unique stone hilly elevation in a plain surrounded by hills between southeast and northeast Sirjan mountains. The hill is located 14 km southeast of Sirjan and 3 km away from Qaleh Sang near Shah Abad village.


According to the natives the quality of the stone in the hill is `Sav' a hard rock which was used in the past to sharpen the sickle, dagger, knife or sword.


Atop the highest peak of the eastern hill an ancient tomb has been built a part of whose dome and foundation has collapsed but the building still survives. The Iranian geographic dictionary and the author of the History of Sirjan believed it was most probably a fire temple. According to Iraj Afshar the model of the building and the dimension of the bricks and the tomb-like compartment dug in the floor proves that it was a tomb or hermitage (Khaneqah). But it would be better to listen to a more expertise opinion from one who used to live during the ninth century instead of relying on guesswork.


Southeast of Qaleh Sang and at a distance of 3 kilometers near a village called Firoozabad (better known as Shahabad) a black cave is conspicuously visible from distance. A half ruined building is standing on top of this stone rock which houses Shah Firooz's tomb. The structure erected at the highest point in the rock is an octagonal building and each internal line 2 meters in length.


An open space exists inside the octagonal building equipped with a false arch or pointed arch above and another narrower and shorter false arch below. The width of the mouth of the lower false arch is 1.38 m. The dome is made of two layers; the outer layer is quite regular and resembles domes in Yazd. The corners of the ceiling is coated with a plaster of clay and whitened by plaster.


The outer facing of the building is wholly void of ornaments. Only one raw of outstanding bricks circle the false arch like a chain to distinguish the arch.


The building are wholly made of bricks which is unique and symmetrical and the open nature of the eight false arches bestows special weight and strength to the structure, because the dome rising from the foundation is beautiful and symmetrical. When the building is viewed in deep blue horizon with pieces of flying clouds above, it looks far attractive than a closed false arch.


In fact the building resembles a watchtower or a memorial structure. A 2 x 50 cm rectangular cavity has been dug inside the cave. This tomb like shallow cavity in the middle of the octagonal building makes one question whether the cavities on top of rocks at Qaleh Dokhtar at Neishabur were not deigned to lay the corpses there for birds to eat away the flesh.


On the other hand if we believe that graves on the front of mountains were dug after Islam, one must remember that there is a resemblance between the graveyard in Qaleh Gabri, Naqarehkhaneh (trumpet playing house) in Shahr-e Rey and Shemiran towers. These buildings are also constructed on top of rocks and the graves are dug within the rocks. Before the advent of Islam such graves were built in keeping with special religious beliefs which prohibited people from polluting the earth with corpses.


With regard to the date of construction of Shahr-e Firooz a study of the brickwork and particularly the shape of the dome leads us to conclude that it was constructed during the ninth century A.H. (15th century A.D.).


Surprisingly enough Dr. Varjavand and an intelligent Iranologist such as professor Iraj Afshar, who had inspected the rocks earlier, have failed to mention the images engraved on the rocks.


Although interesting enough and in spite of my devotion to such antiquity over the past 20 years I repeatedly crossed these hills and gazed at Shah Firooz and its surrounding plains but never observed the images on the snout or at the western foundation of hillsides. Perhaps one reason for my failure to notice the engravings in the rocks was because a popular and easy route led to Shah Firouz from the road, thus causing travelers to pass at a distance from the temple.

But on March 21, 1997 when I was accompanied by keen-sighted Mr. Ebrahim Poorkhosravani, one of the intelligent narrators of the Recovered Museums, to Shah Firooz, we had a relatively dim glimpse of the images. At that time it appeared that at the foot of the Shah Firooz monuments there were more older and rare relics which had remained hidden to writers and scholarly visitors.

Like other regions in Iran which I had visited and discovered images for the first time, I had noted new images on the ancient images or new engravings beside or on the ancient engravings. The most ancient images were related to the Archers Age or the age of hunters. But gradually when agriculture became an important engagement for the people, the images of plants were added to those of beasts of prey, and guns were painted at more recent times. It is regrettable that the more contemporary writings have destroyed the ancient images or, to tell the truth, they have lessened their value. What is more regrettable is that the majority of these damage were inflicted in our age.


In this site as well as in Nasouyieh, a district of Shahr-e Babak, the plant images mostly display the cypress tree which differs from the majority of images discovered in Iranian rocks. The plant images exhibit the importance of discovery of plants in the people's life and are most probably engraved at a later date.


With the exception of memorial notes added recently to the engravings one can spot 250 different old images and marks in single images or group images on rocks in Tappeh Shah Firooz. The majority or 67% of the images embody mountain goats, 13% are human images mostly archers, a few mountain rams, leopards, gazelles, zebras or other unknown beasts, 7% of the images display circles, triangle, semi-circles geometric shapes and the remaining 4% convey plant images mostly the cypress tree. What is interesting is that the pattern used for local carpets in that region still bear these images. In one of these images the bird looks like crane with long legs and a fish dangling on his beak.

The largest image in the area is a tower 72 x 46 cm in size and the smallest image is a mountain goat 14 x 178 cm in size.

Although no running water flows in the region, springs or small rills must have existed in ancient time.


Tanbour mountain is a continuation of the central mountainous range in Iran with 2353 meters elevations from the sea level. It is located northeast of Sirjan and several km away from Tappeh Shah Firooz bending towards southwest. At the southern angle and the nose facing west of the mountain a pilgrimage site known as Panjeh Ali exists.


Panjeh Ali is a a portico-like cavity dug from marble. A cave-like hole west of that portico and the cavity there prove that probably a relatively big spring gushed in the area in the past. In front of the cavity a fig tree has grown out of the rock where pilgrims fasten the Trishe (cutting of laces) from their garments as a ritual.

In this area the stone is very hard and shining compared to Tappeh Shah Firooz; nevertheless inside the portico one can see the image of a fist carved on the stone.


In the Kakadu National Park in Australia, colorful images of human hands with crosses placed in a circle, have been engraved on caves some 40,000 years before the birth of Christ.

Also a small mountain goat 16 x 11 cm in size has been engraved in the portico-like wall. Moreover other geometrical images have been printed on the floor and in front of the portico by abrasion. The stone being too solid and compact the engraving is very shallow and is not quite conspicuous.

Because of marble extraction, the precious stones in this area located west of Sirjan have been too much mauled. Most probably other images had existed in the area which have been defaced. The reason for the survival of the goat on the portico is due to the religious beliefs of the workers who mined in the area.


Approximately 40 km southeast of Sirjan at the mouth of Tang Anjir, Mian Gowd, Qomash Qeshlaq, the nomadic tribesmen in Sirjan and Bordsir have noted scattered images of herds of mountain goats or single mountain goats on the stones lying near the river.


According to these tribesmen because of easy removal of the stones and traffic of trucks within the river in the past several years, many of the stones have been hauled into the city as building material and the sad process still continues. As a result many of the images have been destroyed in the past several years.


The stones in this opening made of lime is in several layers and have been eroded and can be easily be removed. Interesting enough one of these stone sheets was used as a manger for sheep in Yourt Vashoom Akbar bearing the image of two mountain goats. Akbar Sarayshoom claims he has personally engraved the images of goat on the stone. Of course Akbar's name is engraved on the stone in 1986. If Akbar's statement is true one must believe that the stone engraving tradition has continued in the region for thousands of years.


About 6 km northeast of Tang Anjir and approximately 34 km from Sirjan there is a white blue mound of very solid stone. Probably because of its interesting bone-like color the stone has been called the grain of rice.

Since it was increasingly difficult to engrave lines on such a hard and slippery stone, for the first time in Iran we face dotted patterns. Here the dots are engraved at close distance from each other.

In these images the mountain goat, leopard, zebra, fox, man, dog and horse have been engraved with dots.

What is surprising is that among these images one can see an animal resembling the kangaroo with large projecting ears and a bent back. Such an image is rarely seen in rocks in Iran where normally the zebra or horse is portrayed. Is not it a rabbit drawn incorrectly?

Another specimen of mountain goat was traced in Chahpet about 30 km southeast of Sirjan. Apparently further exploration will reveal similar rock engravings.



Before making my last trip to Shahr-e Babak and its surrounding villages I had been informed that a number of rock images had been discovered at Qadamgah Meymand by Mr. Garousi. Also in one of his articles Dr. Rouholamini had referred to presenting several pictures taken from rock engravings plus a sketch which he had drawn about the engravings in Meymand rock to Lord Gouran. As a result I expected to find the images in other regions as well.

On March 21, 1997 we informed the good and hospitable headman of Xabr about the reason for our trip. He said all through his life he had shepherded flocks in the mountains and passes in the region and was familiar with all the region spot by spot but he had never seen such images. I told him I had scored a thousand kilometers to reach Shahr-e Babak and could not easily be persuaded to return. He volunteered to accompany me and to relate his experience. With the special features in mind we first set out towards Hussein Abad Pass. Fortunately on our way from Hussein Abad to Marvast we saw a big stone fallen beside a side road and a number of stones had formed a small hilly elevation in close distance, and in the brilliant sunshine we could see images on the stone. We noted more modern images beside the ancient images which had been eroded and oxidized in the course of history most of them portraying the mountain goat.

We continued our trip towards west of the pass towards Marvast but did not see any other image. Here beside a spring on the right side of the road and at the skirt of Kajkollah mountain we spotted a huge stone a part of which had been converted into a house. The house must have been the first dwelling of human civilization . The strange house seemed to have been used as a cottage at more contemporary times by shepherds and nomadic tribesmen.



Another site which suited our theory was Nasouyieh mountain with springs and watersheds around it. After questioning the nomadic tribesmen, the local shepherds and the headman we marched with added assurance towards Heivazan mountain.


Hussain Abad pass is located 6 km east of Xabr and Nasouyieh mountain. Besides Sor Khoon Gooni, a mountainous village at Nasouyieh, we spotted the image of eroded mountain goats. Beside and under the Ribaji or Rivasi we saw two ancient mountain goats drawn in a beautiful and realistic manner. A little above the Nasouyieh mountain base and adjacent to a series of stones called Zeynabu we saw images of more contemporary inscriptions and pictures of camels and an image like giraffe or gazelle and Arabic and Persian inscriptions and cross images in a circle or broken crosses, etc.