UPenn professor lectures on lost civilization

On Sept. 13, Professor Holly Pittman of the University of Pennsylvania’s Art History Department presented an in-depth lecture on an ancient civilization that was uncovered in recent years in Iran. The lecture took place in the library to a packed house of students, where Pittman took time to brief the students on other ancient civilizations before launching fully into a thorough explanation of ancient civilization in Iran.

According to Pittman, there have always been “glimmers” of an ancient civilization in Iran. Pottery and artifacts would surface every so often. There were artifacts found among other artifacts in ancient Mesopotamian temples that were not consistent with the other cultures that were flourishing at the time. However, there was no conclusive evidence of a civilization in Iran itself.

In 2000, the Halil River in southeast Iran flooded. This flood unearthed many artifacts and tipped off the locals to the type of objects that had been hiding in their own backyards. So began a period of severe looting of hundreds of ancient graves. In 2002, the Iranian government stepped in and tried to stop the looting by having professional archeologists excavate the sites.

It was extremely frustrating for archeologists such as Pittman because so much of their site had been disturbed. Artifacts that had surfaced in museums over the past few years had not been properly catalogued. The archeologists had to start over with undisturbed sites.

Pittman worked on three different sites, all of which were “enormous.” Pittman focused on one large site that she referred to as “the mound.” The mound was covered with what used to be a citadel. The actual city itself had been covered by thousands of years of debris.

Pittman’s interest in the ancient cultures of the Middle East has also led her to excavation sites in Turkey, Syria and Iraq. She is also the curator of the Near East section of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology and Anthropology. Pittman is hoping to return to Iran in October to conduct more fieldwork.