Museum famed for its salt men gains former glory
A restoration project has recently been completed on Zolfaqari Archaeological Museum, which is famed for showcasing some ancient salt men and their belongings, Zanjan’s tourism chief has announced.
The project, which aimed at strengthening and equipping the Qajar-era (1789-1925) structure, was carried out by the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, and Zanjan’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism, and Handicrafts Department, Amir Arjmand said on Sunday. The project primarily seeks to develop the historical structure and convert it into a museum where ancient salt men and their belongings can be kept, he explained. A budget of 12 billion rials ($286,000 at the official exchange rate of 42,000 rials per dollar) was allocated to the project, the official added. The project involved repairing the roof and flooring, installing electrical wiring, installing VRF ventilation, and painting the museum’s doors and windows, he explained. In 2006, the former historical mansion of Zolfaqariha was converted into a museum to house the ancient mummies, along with more than 2,000 registered items and relics. The four salt men are the most unique items of the museum, which are preserved in special windows. The Zolfaqariha Mansion was ceded to Zanjan Municipality in the post-revolution era, but it was later entrusted to Zanjan’s Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Department. Nestled in central Zanjan, the historical house belonged to Zolfaqar Khan Asaad al-Dowleh, the son of Hassan Qoli Khan. He was one of the wealthiest personalities in the city in the Qajar era and the Zolfaqari household was one of the most well-known families in the city. The house consisted of the interior and exterior sections and a garden but was later divided into two sections by Zolfaqari Street. The garden was turned into a park, and only the central part of the exterior section has remained. The remained structure is a two-story building, with halls, bedrooms, and living rooms being influenced by Iranian and European styles of architecture. In 1993, miners in the Douzlakh Salt Mine, near Hamzehli and Chehrabad villages in Zanjan Province, accidentally came across a mummified head, dated to 300 CE. The head was very well preserved, to the extent that his pierced ear was still holding the gold earring. The hair, beard, and mustaches were reddish, and his impressive leather boot still contained parts of his leg and foot, according to the Ancient History Encyclopedia. However, in 2004, the miners discovered yet another “saltman,” which was followed by further excavation unearthing remains of a human body along with a large number of artifacts made of wood, metal tools, clothing, and pottery. In 2005, a systematic excavation began, three more mummies were excavated, and a sixth remained in situ due to lack of funds for its storage. The context of the remains suggested that a collapse in the mine had caused the death of the miners in question. The first mummy dubbed the “saltman,” is on display in the National Museum of Iran in Tehran. He still looks very impressive. This particular “saltman” was originally dated based on the archaeological material found with him. Later, the mummy was carbon dated, which placed him in 500 CE (1750 BP, that is, “before present” or 1750 years ago), the Sasanian Empire’s height. The second “Saltman” was carbon-dated to 1554 BP, which placed him in the same era as the first “saltman,” the Sasanian era. The third, fourth, and fifth “saltmen” were also carbon dated. The third body was dated and placed in 2337 BP, the fourth body in 2301 BP, and the fifth mummy was dated to 2286 BP, placing them all in the Achaemenid period. The individual “saltmen” has 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 remains a mystery. Saltman No. 5 had tapeworm eggs from the Taenia sp. genus in his system. These were identified during the study of his remains. The find indicates the consumption of raw or undercooked meat, and this is the first case of this parasite in ancient Iran and the earliest evidence of ancient intestinal parasites in the area. The best preserved and probably the most harrowing of the bodies is “saltman” No. 4. A sixteen-year-old miner, caught in the moment of death, crushed by a cave-in.