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Around 4000 - 3500 BC

Sialk skeleton

5,500 year old skeleton of a 10 year old girl from Tepe Sialk. Photo AMW

This sad picture shows the remains of a little girl killed when the roof of her house collapsed in 3,500 BC. She was living on a mysterious mound, now called Tepe Sialk, near Kashan in central Iran. It's been very severely eroded by 7,500 years of weather. This is what it looks like today:

Sialk mound

Tepe Sialk: from around 3,500 BC

It's hard to see from the remains at Sialk - but the mound was probably once a ziggurat: that is a kind of pyramid, but with "steps" - several storeys, each smaller than the one below.

Tepe Sialk possibly belongs to the Proto-Elamite civilisation (4000 - 2700 BC), whose centre was in Khuzistan to the west of the Zagros mountains, with their capital at Susa.

The Elamites were not the only people to build ziggurats - the Babylonians and Assyrians also built them - as did the earlier peoples of Mesopotamia - the Akkadians and Sumerians. This one though is the oldest known. The best preserved is also in Iran - at Chogha Zanbil.

The people of Sialk were literate - although their script hasn't been deciphered yet. But they were some of the first people in the world to use writing. They were also making pottery by this date. This poster shows a variety of pottery vessels found at Sialk:

Sialk pottery

Pottery from Sialk. Photo AMW

Here are some fragments, showing the lively animal designs:

Sialk pottery fragments

Animals and other designs on pottery fragments from Sialk - from around 4,000 BC. Photo AMW

And this is what their writing looked like, in case you feel like trying to decipher it.

Sialk tablet

Proto-Elamite tablet from Susa