Ancient "Salt Cured" Man Found in Iranian Mine

July 3, 2007

Another "natural mummy"—the sixth so far— has emerged in Iran's Chehrabad Salt Mine, archaeologists say.

The individual, who was naturally mummified by the preserving properties of salt over the past 1,800 years, was recently exposed when heavy rains pounded the salt mine.

The functioning mine is located in the Hamzehlu region near Zanjan, a northwestern Iranian province. (See Iran map.)

Scientists believe the man was a Roman Empire-era salt mine worker killed by falling rocks during an earthquake.

Scientific Treasure Trove

Five other "salt men" have been found in the mine in recent years. They range in date from the Achaemenid period (539 to 333 B.C.) to the Sasanian era (A.D. 240 to 640).

The salt men have proven to be scientific treasure troves, due to their advanced state of preservation. For instance, their beards, hair and garments have remained largely intact over time. Some still had food in their stomach.

Yet this most recent find has prompted concerns about how Iranian officials will extract and preserve the man. Some Iranian officials say the first five salt men have given scientists plenty to study and the newly discovered man should remain in the ground for the foreseeable future.

Mohammad-Hassan Fazeli Nashli, director of the Iranian Centre of Archaeological Research, was recently quoted by Iranian media outlets saying he opposed the idea of unearthing the new salt man, mostly due to the country's dearth of equipment and facilities for preserving it.

"There are still many serious problems in regard to the [five salt men's] preservation," Nashli told Iran's Cultural Heritage News Agency in June.

"Iran is still a novice in protection of artifacts. Thus, when there is no critical question, it is better if we let the artifact remain in the earth, which is the best trustee," he added.

Nashli did not respond to interview requests by press time.

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