The following article is written by one of the writers of the mountaineering magazine Kouh. The magazine is prepared by lovers of nature. It has articles on journeys in the Iranian Plateau, from mountains to deserts to caves. The mountaineering dictionary of Kouh, published over several issues, is an invaluable tool to readers and translators of specialized articles.
The history of the Elamite Civilization is intertwined with the Aryan migration to the Iranian plateau. In many parts of this immense plateau we see signs of the Elamite culture. The ESHKOFT-Salman Cave and the SARVAG Gorge are but two of the sites where remains of the Elamite civilization are found. A brief history of these civilizations -- Elamite and Aryan -- may prove helpful before talking about the Cave and the Gorge.
Researchers and archaeologists believe that the Aryans had their origins in Central Asia, between the PAMIRS and the VOLGA River, north of the Caspian Sea. According to Avesta, the sacred text of Zoroastrians, Aryans were forced to migrate after an environmental calamity made it impossible to live in Central Asia, “The ancient Iranians first lived in regions with a mild climate, but when Ahura Mazda [the supreme god in Zoroastrianism] brought His wrath onto the people, the region became unbearable to live and the people had to leave.” What these climactic changes were is not clear to us, but it is clear that a mass exodus took place southward. Archaeologists place the date of this exodus at around 4000 BC. It took another several centuries for the Aryans to settle down in various parts of the region.
The Achaemenid (559–330 BC) settled in the province of FARS and next to the Persian Gulf. The Medians (late 8th century BC) founded their kingdom in the central and western parts of Iran. And the Parthians (247 BC–AD 224) choose the eastern part of the plateau as their place of settlement. Other Aryans migrated to the Indus Valley. The Elamites, however, had their backs to the Zagros Mountains and were looking at the Persian Gulf and the plain of KHUZESTAN. Their zone of influence extended to KERMAN, SHAHDAD, and KASHAN. They lived in peace with the Achaemenids, the Medians and the Parthians, for we see no signs of war among tribes of central and eastern Iran, save for a battle with Cyrus, and which ended the Elamite independent rule.
As far as we know, the Elamites could also have been part of an earlier exodus that eventually brought the Aryans south. Having settling in the southwestern part of Iran early, they formed governments, advanced their writings and spread their culture? It is also possible that Elamites were the first inhabitants of the Khuzestan region who, due to favorable geographic conditions, were able to advance their civilization to the point of establishing governments and advancing their technologies (the cave of Nabdeh, northeast of Shushtar, harbors many remains of advanced life). Another theory sees the Elamites belonging to the Semitic race.
The Eshkoft Salman Cave
Eshkoft-Salman is a solution cave near the city of IZEH. It has a large opening and a tall ceiling. The existence of a spring at the farthest end of the cave made it ideal for settlement, as signs of life around the cave indicate. Eshkoft Salman is the only cave in Iran inside which stone reliefs and hieroglyphs in Elamite language can be found. They reveal to us some details of the history of this region at the time of Elamites.
The cave is now open to the public and it attracts many visitors. Seven kilometers away from the cave is a place called KUL-FARAH, where the remains of palaces and stone reliefs belonging to the Elamite era can be found.
This gorge is populated with sarv or cypress trees. Several characteristics make it unique among gorges in Iran:
[::] It is girded by vertical walls much like the precipitous rocks of BISOTUN in Kermanshah. It is ideal for rock climbing.
[::] There are many grottoes within the gorge, some of which can be visited with ease while others are much more difficult to get to. Between the MAQER Gorge and Sarvag an opening can be seen that is not accessible even with technical equipment.
[::] It was a sacred ceremonial ground of the Elamites. In the upper parts of the gorge there are remains of settlement and around them possible tombs. In the lower part, next to a path that leads to the bountiful spring of the gorge, there are four stone reliefs, on two of which hieroglyphs have been carved.
[::] Of special interest is the possibility that cypress trees were carried from Sarvag to various parts of the Iranian plateau. Cypress was a significant tree-symbol for both the Achaemenids and the Elamites. In the stone carvings of Persepolis, more than any other shape is that of cypresses, which indicates that the Achaemenids followed and preserved the traditions of Elamites with diligence. Research is needed to verify the theory that other famous cypresses had their origins in the Elamite sacred land of Sarvag. Several such trees still exist in Iran.
1. The ABARKUH Cypress near the city of YAZD, according to a Russian scientist, must be over 4000 years old, which places it the time of the Elamite Kingdom.
2. The HARZEHVIL Cypress near MANJIL, northeast of Tehran is a tree that the famous Iranian theologian, poet and traveler, Naser Khosrow Qobadiani describes in his travelogue over 900 years ago. The cypress still stands the way he described it.
There is yet another cypress, the KASHMAR, in northeast Iran, according to geographer Mas'ud Keyhan, “Was cut down by an order from al-Mutawakkil. The Abbasid Caliph found it auspicious to build a palace in Baghdad using the woods of the [Kashmar] cypress.”
A study of these trees may reveal a link between them and the Sarvag Gorge.
Inset images from an upcoming book of photographs of Nasrollah Kasraian with research from Ziba Arshi. With permission from Mr. Kasrain and Ms. Arshi as well as Nazar, the publisher of the book.
1/ Relief on the sacred Elamite site of Kul-Farah. Near the city of Izeh, Khuzestan Province.
2/ Relief of a king and an Elamite goddess. Eshkoft-Salman, Izeh.
3/ Relief of a king and his attendants in a sacrificial ceremony. Kul-Farrah, Izeh.
Other images from Kouh Magazine with courtesy.