Ancient mining and metallurgy at the West Central Plateau

Sub-project Veshnaveh: Bronze Age copper mining and early sacrificial altar

Ancient mining and metallurgy at the West Central Plateau

The rich mineral deposits of Iran were of great importance for the advanced civilizations of Mesopotamia, who did not have sufficient ore resources of their own. So far few attempts have been made to close the gaps in our knowledge about the primary extraction of resources. Previous efforts referred only to the pre-Islamic and early Islamic period, and came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the Iranian Revolution in 1978.

The project “Ancient Mining and Metallurgy”, launched in 2000 by the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI), the Berguniversität Freiberg (Freiberg Mining Academy) and the DBM, in collaboration with Iranian agencies, thus signalled a genuinely new beginning. The aim was to shed light on patterns of activity in the regional metal supply chain, and its technical and economic structures, in the period from the 4th to the end of the 2nd millennium BC.
The DBM became involved after ore was found in excavations by the DAI in the village of Arisman, about 200 km south of Tehran. We have been working with Iranian partners to investigate the origin of the ore. The focus here was on Veshnaveh, about 150 km south of Tehran, and the three prehistoric mining districts that surround it: Laghe Morad, Mazrayeh and Chale Ghar. After initial surveying, we carried out mining archaeology excavations there. Our field work was supplemented by mapping (based on economic geology), archaeobotanical studies, radiocarbon dating, and analysis of animal bones.
The task was to date the mine constructions, and to clarify the technology used for extraction and the work processes in situ. We were also concerned with questions about general operational management – e.g. regarding seasonal work in the mines –, about the origin and use of resources such as wood and stone material for the stone hammers, and about the transport routes.
The archaeological fieldwork concentrated on systematic documentation of the mines which are still accessible today: in several cases we explored mines completely, in other cases we were able to use sondages to clarify the timeline of the mining work. What emerged here was a complex interweaving of prehistoric mining activity and both contemporaneous and more recent settlement activity inside and outside the mines. Scientific data enabled us to reliably date various phases of use between the early 3rd and late 2nd millennium BC. One sensational find was an early sacrificial altar in a submerged section of mine 1 in the Chale Ghar district. The exploration of this religious site was funded by the DFG. This was the first evidence found in Iran of a rite connected with water and probably with fertility. It was practised by a rural population, most likely from ancient Veshnaveh, from the first half of the 1st millennium BC and on into the early Islamic period. It is of great importance for our understanding of the local Zoroastrian religion.
Since 2005 a team of German and Iranian scholars has been processing the numerous excavation finds. They have focused especially on the thousands of finds from the ritual sites detected in mines 1 and 2. In particular, the association with water has often led to discussions related to religious history, about the background of the sacrificial ritual to which the evidence points. In 2008 a workshop was organized in Bochum, with Iranian studies scholars, archaeologists and historians, to discuss these questions in detail. The find materials have also been discussed and analysed in detail by Aydin Abar (master’s thesis, Berlin, 2008) and Natascha Bagherpour-Kashani (PhD thesis, Bochum, 2011). The archaeozoological analyses are being carried out by Monika Doll from Tübingen, the archaeobotanical analyses by Rainer Pasternak from Kiel.

Relevant project

The Salt Men of Zanjan

Project manager

Prof. Dr. Thomas Stöllner

Responsible body

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum


Wilhelm Mommertz Stiftung

Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft


Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, Eurasien-Abteilung

TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Institut für Archäometrie

Research Centre of Conservation of Cultural Relicts (RCCCR)

Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization (ICHO)

Geological Survey of Iran (GSI)

Ruhr-Universität Bochum


2000 - 2005

Abschlusspublikation für 2014 geplant