Newly-found Evidence of Sassanid Simple-pit Burial at Qaleh Iraj, Pishvā, Iran

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Department of Archaeology, University of Neyshabur

2 Iranian Center for Archaeological Research



One of the most important and, at the same time, uncertain subjects related to Sassanid period is the recognition of common burial customs. Despite great attempts of Zoroastrian religious texts to represent a uniform burial tradition across the whole Sassanid Irānšahr, archaeological findings reflect plenty of variety in burial customs, including towers of silence (Dakhma) and ossuaries (astōdān), coffin burial, jar burial, cavity interment, and simple-pit burial. Out of the said customs, simple-pit burials are the most challenging, given the fact that they apparently stand against Zoroastrian teachings. According to Sassanid religious texts, the burial of the dead in the ground (soil) and infecting soil, a sacred element in Zoroastrian worldview, is repeatedly condemned and considered an inexcusable guilt. However, mounting evidence indicates that simple-pit burials are frequently observed across the Sassanid Irānšahr. How could this contradiction be explained? These burials have long been neglected because of being eccentric and divergent from Sassanid common burial traditions. Repeated discoveries of simple-pit burials make the reasonable supposition that this phenomenon was not an exceptional and unusual practice but a normal and probably common burial method. One of the instances of such burial tradition is recorded in Qaleh Iraj, where the corpse is in the crouched position. In the present paper, the authors investigate some examples of Sassanid period simple-pit burials and, then, describe the Qaleh Iraj case. Finally, the mentioned burial custom during the Sassanid period are examined closely. The results indicate that the burial of Qaleh Iraj is a lesser-known burial practice associated with architectural space previously reported only from Qumis and Gyaur Kala. In addition, according to the context, the burial of Qaleh Iraj is related to the final settlement phase of the southeastern gate and, therefore, attributable to late Sassanid period.