Identification of a Late Sasanian stonecutting workshop at Taq-E Bostan, Kermanshah, Iran
The Kermanshah region of western Iran is notable for the concentration of Sasanian-era monuments, such as the rock-cut reliefs at Taq-e Bostan that depict scenes including the investiture of Ardashir II (Erdmann 1937) and Shapur II, Shapur III and Khosrow II (Herzfeld 1938; Tanabe 2003), as well as boar and deer hunting. Other contemporary features include the Bisotun and Khosrow Bridges, the sites of Shekargah (Kleiss 1996), Takht-e Shirin, Sarmaj and Haji Abadat Bisotun (Luschey 1996b), and the so-called Anahita ‘Temple’ at Kangavar (Azarnoush 2009)
To create such monuments, the Sasanians exploited the region’s stone resources, and the remains of numerous semi-hewn stones are found in quarries at such sites as Bisotun (Luschey 1996a) and Chel Maran, near Kangavar; other quarries in this region include Bagh-e Melli, Elah Daneh, Minor Rostam Abad, Ghurejil and Helal Ahmar, all identical to the Chel Maran quarry in terms of extraction techniques (Mehriar & Kabiri 2003). This article provides a brief report on a newly discovered stonecutting workshop at Taq-e Bostan.
The newly discovered stonecutting workshop at Taq-e Bostan
The scholarly attention given to the Taq-e Bostan rock-cut reliefs (Figure 1) has resulted in the neglect of other evidence from the surrounding area. During a visit by the authors to the environs of Taq-e Bostan, we were able to record a number of stone blocks, including their size and the traces of cutting and finishing on their surfaces. In both respects, the blocks from Taq-e Bostan resemble those from Bisotun, a site of historical date, around 30km to the east, where the authors have extensive field experience. Covering an area 600m in diameter, the Taq-e Bostan site lies nearly 500m east of the rock-cut reliefs. Several hewn stone blocks are visible (Figure 2), closely resembling those observed on the slopes of Mount Bisotun in both their dimensions and the cutting technique used (Figure 3). There are also other examples that bear cutting and trimming marks, such as triangular grooves, that closely resemble those attested on blocks at Bisotun and Kangavar, and at the Chaghay quarry in Nahavand (Rahbar & Alibaigi 2012); this clearly indicates that a similar tool was used to remove blocks at Taq-e Bostan (Figure 4). The quarries at Bisotun and Kangavar also yielded the remains of half-finished column bases and drums, although no similar blocks were observed during our visit to Taq-e Bostan. The worked area at Taq-e Bostan is also smaller than those attested at Kangavar and, especially, Bisotun, and the number of recorded blocks is equally fewer.
Chronology and a proposed function for the workshop
An interview with an old miner from Kangavar about the techniques used by stonecutters indicated that, to remove stone from the ground, or to split large blocks in two, several triangular indents were cut, and wedges then hammered in (Mehriar & Kabiri2003). An example of such a wedge has been found at the Kangavar quarries (Figure 5), suggesting that the method has been used in this region from at least the Achaemenid period (Amanollahi 2005) (Figure 6), until modern-day techniques replaced it. Given that the evidence at this workshop, including the dimensions of the blocks and the techniques and tools used, resembles that found at Bisotun and Kangavar, the Taq-e Bostan site is probably contemporaneous with them.
The chronology of the Chel Maran quarries at Kangavar rests on comparative studies. Stone blocks from the quarry, however, were probably used in the Anahita ‘Temple’ at Kangavar. Recent work on this structure using absolute dating techniques, such as thermoluminescence, suggests that the building was under construction—although abandoned unfinished—during the late Sasanian period (Azarnoush 2009). Similarly, worked stone blocks from Bisotun were used in structures including the Sasanian palace, the Khosrowand Bisotun Bridges, and Shekargah at Bisotun—all late Sasanian-period monuments that are believed to have been abandoned before completion.
Until further work can be carried out, we therefore propose that the site at Taq-e Bostan may be tentatively dated to the late Sasanian period, and was intended to supply building material for the monumental structures favoured by the Sasanian kings in and around the Kermanshah area.
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* Author for correspondence.