Ancient "Salt Cured" Man Found in Iranian Mine

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But Thomas Stöllner, a professor at the University of Bochum in Germany, confirmed that Iranian scientists recently requested the assistance of Bochum's German Mining Museum—where Stöllner also works— in studying the sixth man.

Stöllner has been to the Iranian mine, and he described the salt men as "outstanding."

He said European and Iranian scientists are planning to conduct a field study to work on documenting the mines and to study ancient plants in the site.

Researchers have experience dealing with salt-preserved organic objects like tissue and fabrics, Stöllner said, but most lack experience in dealing with entire human bodies.

"Nobody has experience with salt-conserved bodies worldwide," he said. "[We] need a complete new strategy on how to deal with them."

Natural Mummies

Mummies are usually the product of human manipulation. But environmental conditions like extreme cold, dryness, and a naturally occurring mix of chemicals can also retard natural degeneration processes.

Extreme cold in the Andes Mountains, for example, has preserved Inca-era cadavers in Peru. And bodies dating to the Iron Age have been found in northern European bogs, preserved due to water acidity, cold temperatures, and a scarcity of oxygen.

"These salt men are extremely important," said Daniel Potts, a specialist in Near Eastern archaeology at the University of Sydney, Australia.

"There are many burials and cemeteries all over Iran, or indeed the Near East, with graves dating to these periods," he said. (Related: "Noah's Ark Discovered in Iran?" [July 5, 2006].)

But these graves don't contain soft tissue or hair, let alone leather clothing, bags, footwear, belts or ropes, horn and bone-handled knives, and other organic items preserved by salt, Potts pointed out.

"If the Iranian government can collaborate with specialist laboratories and begin DNA analyses," Potts said, "then these salt men could provide a huge amount of important data on the entire millennium between the Persian Empire and the coming of Islam."

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