Mystery of The Iranian Saltmen

In 1993, miners in the Douzlakh Salt Mine, near Hamzehli and Chehr Abad villages in Zanjan Province, accidentally came across a mummified head. The head was very well preserved, to the extent that his pierced ear was still holding the gold earring. The hair, beard, and the moustaches were reddish in colour, and his impressive leather boot still contained parts of his leg and foot.

The local Zanjan branch of the Miras Farhangi (Zanjan Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organisation) was called, and they performed a rescue excavation and found three iron knives, a pair of short trousers made of wool, a silver needle, a sling, a leather rope, a grindstone, some pottery shards, patterned textile fragments, a few broken bones, and even a walnut. He was found in a middle of a tunnel, about 45 metres in length.

The reason for the state of the long dead human remains, the fact that their flesh failed to dissolve despite being buried for more than 1,500 years, is the salt, which served as a natural preservative. The remains of six people found on the site were soon dubbed the Saltmen due to this situation.

The individual "Saltmen" have a few secrets of their own, for instance the first "saltman" that was discovered had the blood type B+, and 3D imaging of his skull revealed fractures around his eye and other damage that occurred before death by a hard blow to the head. His clothing (the impressive leather boot) and his gold earring, show a person of some rank; the reason for his presence in the mine still remains a mystery. Was he murdered and dumped there, or was he mining salt and fell victim to a cave in? 

In 2004, another salt miner found the remains of a second man. During archaeological excavations in 2005, the remains of another two well-preserved men were found. In 2006, the Iranian Cultural Heritage News Agency partnered with German Mining Museum in Bochum (Germany), in 2007 with University of Oxford and the Swiss University of Zurich for thorough investigations. A scientific long-term project was started, supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) and British funds. Four corpses, including a teenager and a woman, are kept at the Archeology Museum (Zolfaghari House) in Zanjan. A sixth corpse found in the excavation campaign 2010 was left in place at the salt mine. Three hundred pieces of fabric were found, some of which retained designs and dyes.


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