How does it feel to unbox archeological material which has remained almost untouched since the 1930s? Kyle Gregory Olson from the United States knows. Kyle is writing his PhD at University of Pennsylvania and spent five weeks last summer in our storage researching material from the Ture Arne expedition in Iran 1932-33. Below, you can read some background on how the material ended up in Sweden and how it will come of use in Kyle’s research.
In the context of the so-called Great Game of the 19th century, imperial powers, including principally the British and Russians, took advantage of the financial and military weakness of Qajar government to demand a number of concessions (Ettehadieh 1992). These concessions primarily concerned establishing foreign monopolies over public utilities (e.g. telephone and railroad lines), financial enterprises (e.g. the central bank), and exploration for and exploitation of natural resources (e.g. minerals and tobacco-production). Less well known is the establishment of the French Archaeological Concession, which was established in 1895 and continued until 1930. This concession granted the Délégation Archéologique Française en Iran exclusive rights to excavate at archaeological sites (principally Susa) and to export them from the country, with little remuneration for the Qajar government (Stronach 1998).
This situation came to a protracted conclusion in early November 1930, when representatives of the Délégation (Andre Godard), Germany (Ernst Herzfeld), the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Arthur Upham Pope), the University of Pennsylvania (Frederick Wulsin and Erich Schmidt), and the Education Minister and First Court Minister of the Pahlavi Government (Abdolhossein Teymūrtāsh) negotiated an end to the French concession titled “The Law For Protection of National Vestiges”, popularly known as the Iranian Antiquities Law of 1930. Article 11 of this Law, which was ratified by the Iranian Parliament (Majles) on November 3, 1930, stipulates: “Excavation and search for the purpose of unearthing National Vestiges are the prerogative of the Government, and the Government is free to avail itself of this right either by undertaking operations directly itself or by leaving it to scientific institutions, individuals or firms”. With this new legal framework for the conduct of excavations by foreign missions in place, several expeditions were immediately dispatched to the northeast of the country, long thought to have been rich in antiquities. One of these, directed by Ture J. Arne, proceeded to survey the Gorgan plain, locating over three-hundred ancient sites, conducted excavations at Shah Tappeh, located 13km north-northwest of the city of Gorgan (Arne 1945).
Arne’s survey and excavation produced a record of the ancient history of this region that is in many respects unparalleled to this day. While a dozen other archaeological expeditions have been conducted in the region since the early 1930s, few have been as comprehensive or systematic as Arne’s work, or else, have been focused on specific time-periods or incompletely published (see Sauer et al. 2013 for the former and Shiomi 1976-1978 for the latter). As a result, Arne’s work is one of the most valuable resources available for studying the longue durée social and political history of this important region.
Under the terms of Article 15 of the Iranian Antiquities Law of 1930, it is stipulated that “the Government shall hold whatever that may be worthy of preserving in the museums and transfer the remainder in any manner that it may deem advisable”, with “the discoverer’s share all belonging to himself”. In practice, this worked out to a fairly standard 50:50 division of finds between the two parties, with the Persian Government taking primacy in selection. It is to this history of the division of finds that we can attribute the structure of Arne’s collection in the Medelhavsmuseet’s keeping.
During the summer of 2017, I worked with this collection for five weeks to evaluate the cultural materials Arne collected from the surface of the ancient sites that he surveyed against the record of ceramics and other objects from his excavations at Shah Tappeh. My objective in comparing these two datasets was to make the most of Arne’s already rich documentation; in the main, I sought to develop a chronology of the sites whose age Arne was not able to determine at the time. Using this information, I intend to track the changing distribution of settlement across the Gorgan plain during specific prehistorical eras (namely the Early and Middle Bronze Ages ca. 2900-2200 BCE). This will allow me to bring Arne’s materials into long overdue conversation with larger debates on-going in the fields of Assyriology and Anthropology regarding the development of early complex polities and states in the Ancient Near East.
Kyle Gregory Olson
Arne, T.J. (1945). Excavations at Shah Tepe. The Sino-Swedish Expedition Publication 27, Stockholm.
Ettehadieh, M. (1992). “Concessions,” Encyclopaedia Iranica VI/2, pp. 119-122, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/concessions (accessed on 29 September 2017).
Sauer, E. Rekavandi, H.O. Wilkinson, T.J. & Nokandeh, J. (2013). Persia’s Imperial Power In Late Antiquity: Sasanian Frontier Walls, Forts And Landscapes Of Northern Iran. Oxbow, Oxford.
Shiomi, H. (1976-78). Archaeological Map of the Gorgan Plain, Iran, v.1. University of Hiroshima, Hiroshima.
Stronach, David. (1998). “Excavations i. In Persia,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, IX/1, pp. 88-94, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/excavations-i (accessed on 29 September 2017).
We often receive research visits to the collections we manage. These visitors have various project and come from many different parts of the world. You can read more about research and the collections here. If you would like to fill out the application to conduct a research visit at our museums, you can find that here.