A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Archaeology in Post-Revolutionary Iran

At ASORblog. the blog of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Abbas Alizadeh of the Oriental institute of the University of Chicago has an interesting piece, "The Challenges of Rebuilding an Archaeological Program in Post-Revolutionary Iran." 

He provides an overall summary of archaeological work in Iran down to the Revolution of 1979, and the disruptions that followed

Excerpt: Even more than 30 years after the Revolution,
While it is expected that a country that experience violent political revolution would be charged politically in almost every aspect of even daily life, Iran has yet to come out of that phase. This has major consequences for foreign archaeologists who wish to have long-term, at least three to five years, research programs that are so vital to archaeological research. The problem is that even when the ICHHTO approves a proposal and signs a 3 or 5-year contract, there is no guarantee that the Foreign Ministry will grant visas to the applicants. Almost all joint expeditions in Iran have experienced this problem. This has resulted in modest proposals and a rush to work as if there is no tomorrow, which negatively affects data retrieval and attention to details. The uncertainty of obtaining visas with an approved proposal not only has frustrated many archaeologists in the field, but also has discouraged some to the point that many have shifted their focus on regions such as Central Asia, Iraqi Kurdestan, and Turkey.
Things are not that rosy for the Iranian archaeologists either. Several attempts were made by the government in 2008-10, supported even by the then chief of the ICHHTO, to dismantle the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research (ICAR). First this was done by relocating it to Persepolis and Shiraz, with hardly any office space, library, and so on–many refused to relocate, and then by giving them a “choice” either to retire or stay employed, but work at home! This scheme did not work and several years ago the ICAR was re-established in Tehran. This time, a new problem arose. The ICHHTO decided that it no longer would cover the cost of its own archaeological expeditions and that any archaeologist who wishes to work will have to apply to the province where the target site or region is located. The provinces, not having the budget or unwilling to allocate any financial support for archaeology, baulked. When they did support an expedition, the priority was given to their native archaeologists regardless of whether they were or were not qualified.

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