Unknown Civilizations: Aratta



Research by Jaime Ortega.

In southeastern Iran, a sudden change in the course of the Halil Roud River recently revealed traces of a 5000 year-old civilization on the Iranian Plateau that had been hidden until then. More than 80 archaeological sites have since been identified in the area. Five huge cemetaries were plundered, but the associated housing structures remain untouched. The large quantity of relics found, the cultural wealth of the objects, and the size of the area inhabited suggest an entirely original civilization. Scientists hail this as an important discovery, one which may challenge the common belief that civilization arose from one location in Mesopotamia.

A recent excavation may have unearthed the mythical kingdom. If so, would be the archaeological discovery of the century. A new Trojan. That this is so, is the belief Yussef Majidzadegh Iranian archaeologist, who with an international team (which also includes the Italian Massimo Vidale, archaeologist IsIAO) leads the excavations of Jiroft, in south-eastern Europe. Majidzadeh argues that Jiroft is the oldest Eastern civilization, at least the previous two centuries the Sumerian.


Zigurat found in Aratta 

Jiroft, probably to be identified with the City of Aratta known from Sumerian texts, was like Sumeria itself almost certainly a Dravidian culture, maintaining trade links with the Harappan culture of the Indus valley, in a sense the missing link between Sumerian and Harappan culture.

The Sumerian legend, Enmerkar and the lord of Aratta, establishes that Aratta had highly skilled and much sought after craftsmen, which the Sumerians sought to employ for their own usage in constructing a ziggurat after the fashion of that at Aratta, which was dedicated to Inana and were her cult was pre-eminent, thus the Goddess and her tradition seemingly were derivative of Aratta.

Aratta is described as follows in Sumerian literature:

  • It is a fabulously wealthy place full of gold, silver, lapis lazuli and other precious materials, as well as the artisans to craft them.
  • It is remote and difficult to reach.
  • It is home to the goddess Inana, who transfers her allegiance from Aratta to Uruk.
  • It is conquered by Enmerkar of Uruk.

Mentions in Sumerian literature

Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta  – The goddess Inanna resides in Aratta, but Enmerkar of Uruk pleases her more than does the lord of Aratta, who is not named in this epic. Enmerkar wants Aratta to submit to Uruk, bring stones down from the mountain, craft gold, silver and lapis lazuli, and send them, along with “kugmea” ore to Uruk to build a temple. Inana bids him send a messenger to Aratta, who ascends and descends the “Zubi” mountains, and crosses Susa, Anshan, and “five, six, seven” mountains before approaching Aratta. Aratta in turn wants grain in exchange. However Inana transfers her allegiance to Uruk, and the grain gains the favor of Aratta’s people for Uruk, so the lord of Aratta challenges Enmerkar to send a champion to fight his champion. Then the god Ishkur makes Aratta’s crops grow.

Enmerkar and En-suhgir-ana  – The lord of Aratta, who is here named En-suhgir-ana (or Ensuhkeshdanna), challenges Enmerkar of Uruk to submit to him over the affections of Inanna, but he is rebuffed by Enmerkar. A sorcerer from the recently defeated Hamazi then arrives in Aratta, and offers to make Uruk submit. The sorcerer travels to Eresh where he bewitches Enmerkar’s livestock, but a wise woman outperforms his magic and casts him into the Euphrates; En-suhgir-ana then admits the loss of Inanna, and submits his kingdom to Uruk.

Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave  – is a tale of Lugalbanda, who will become Enmerkar’s successor. Enmerkar’s army travels through mountainous territory to wage war against rebellious Aratta. Lugalbanda falls ill and is left in a cave, but he prays to the various gods, recovers, and must find his way out of the mountains.

Lugalbanda and the Anzud Bird  – Lugalbanda befriends the Anzud bird, and asks it to help him find his army again. When Enmerkar’s army is faced with setback, Lugalbanda volunteers to return to Uruk to ask the goddess Inana’s aid. He crosses through the mountains, into the flat land, from the edge to the top of Anshan and then to Uruk, where Inana helps him. She advises Enmerkar to carry off Aratta’s “worked metal and metalsmiths and worked stone and stonemasons” and all the “moulds of Aratta will be his”. Then the city is described as having battlements made of green lapis lazuli and bricks made of “tinstone dug out in the mountains where the cypress grows”.

Summerian artifact shows the Land of Aratta. 

Early 20th century scholars initially took Aratta to be an epithet of the Sumerian city Shuruppak related to its local name for the od Enlil.

However that is no longer seen to be the case. Although Aratta is known nly from myth, some Assyriologists and archaeologists have speculated on possible locations where Aratta could have been, using criteria from the myths:

  1. Land travelers must pass through Susa and the mountainous Anshan region to reach it.
  2. It is a source of, or has access to valuable gems and minerals, in particular lapis lazuli, that are crafted on site.
  3. It is accessible to Uruk by watercourse, yet remote from Uruk.
  4. It is close enough to march a 27th-century BC Sumerian army there.

In 1963, Samuel Noah Kramer thought that a “Mount Hurum” in a Lugalbanda myth (which he titled “Lugalbanda on Mount Hurrum” at the time) might have referred to the Hurrians, and hence speculated Aratta to be near Lake Urmia. However, “Mount Hurum”, “hur-ru-um kur-ra-ka”, in what is now called Lugalbanda in the Mountain Cave, is today read “mountain cave”, and Kramer subsequently introduced the title “Lugalbanda, the Wandering Hero” for this story.

Excavation in Jiroft Iran.

Other speculations referred to the early gem trade route, the “Great Khorasan Road” from the Himalayan Mountainsto Mesopotamia, which ran through northern Iran. Anshan, which had not yet been located then, was assumed to be in the central Zagros mountain range. However, when Anshan was identified as Tall-i Malyan in 1973, it was found to be 600 km south-east of Uruk, far removed from any northerly routes or watercourses from Uruk, and posing the logistical improbability of getting a 27th-century BC Sumerian army through 550 km of Elamiteterritory to wage war with Aratta Nevertheless, there have been speculations referring to eastern Iran as well. Dr. Yousef Majidzadeh believes the Jiroft Civilization could be Aratta.

By 1973, archaeologists were noting that there was no archaeological record of Aratta’s existence outside of myth, and in 1978 Hansman cautions against over-speculation.

Writers in other fields have continued to hypothesize Aratta locations. A “possible reflex” has been suggested in Sanskrit Āraṭṭa or Arāṭṭa mentioned in the Mahabharata and other texts; Alternatively, the name is compared with the toponym Ararat or Urartu.



What Next?

Recent Articles