The mystery of the Lorestan bronzes has eluded archaeologists for nearly 100 years


In the late 1920s, lavish bronze sculptures burst onto the antiques market. Nobody knew where these masterpieces representing humans and animals came from, nor these embossed goblets and these delicate brooches that made the delight of dealers flabbergasted by their beauty. It was no use asking about their origin, the answers remained vague. Rather than giving the name of a particular village or civilization, antiquarians were content to designate a region nestled in the middle of the Zagros Mountains: Lorestan, in western Iran.

The phenomenon of the Lorestan bronzes appeared in the autumn of 1928 in the peaceful town of Harsin, about thirty kilometers from Kermanshah, when a local farmer discovered several splendid-looking bronze objects in his fields and decided to to sell. The discovery of this loot soon spread. Soon, the town saw the emergence of hordes of antique dealers wishing to acquire these works of art to sell them to museums and private collectors. Many accommodated themselves to these profitable arrangements, and little was done to stop them.

But academics and residents wanting to know more about these bronze sculptures wanted to organize excavations. André Godard, director of the Iranian Archeology Service in 1928, thus described the method by which the inhabitants managed to unearth sites worthy of being excavated: one looked for a source of water and, once one had discovered one , there was a good chance that a village with a cemetery would one day be found nearby. The formula was simple and effective: look for a source of water and you will come across a necropolis.

ARCHEOLOGISTS IN THE SKY

The first Western archaeologist to follow the trail of these bronzes was the German Erich Schmidt. He first visited Lorestan in 1935. Thanks to an idea from his wife Mary Helen, he inaugurated an innovative working method on the site. The couple were keen on archeology and had met during a visit to the Iranian site of Teppe Hissar.

Mary Helen wanted to get up high to get an overview of the sites. So she bought a plane. the Friend of Iran took off and flew over Lorestan as well as other Iranian archaeological sites that the Schmidts would eventually study (such as the city of Persepolis, the ancient capital of Achaemenid Persia). After obtaining permission from the Iranian authorities, reconnaissance flights took place in 1935 and 1936, and again in 1937. The aerial photographs of the Schmidts would prove invaluable documentation and very useful for planning the excavations.

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