The Search for the Land of Aratta

The Search for the land of Aratta

Lost kingdoms are one of the fascinating topics of archaeology – lost jungle kingdoms, abandoned desert lands – they continue to fascinate and confuse us. Some, like Atlantis, carry on remaining an enigma. Where are they? Did they ever exist? If they did, what happened? Why can’t we find them? The list of questions seems to get ever longer, questions that are never answered.

For the last half a century, archaeologists have been trying to determine the location of Aratta and Anshan, two important neighbouring city states somewhere on the Iranian plateau. These lands are first mentioned in Sumerian texts dating to the first half of the third millennium BCE. In later periods, Anshan was renowned as one of the main centres of the Elamite kingdom, Aratta a wealthy region to which the Early Dynastic rulers looked as a source for luxury goods.

Scholars have been desperately trying to determine the location of these regions, different scholars proposing different parts of Iran as the land of Aratta. Anshan was positively identified as Tall-i-Malyan, but no positive identification has been determined for Aratta.

There have been four theories as to where Aratta was located: “(1) S. N. Kramer equated the state of Aratta with the modern province of Luristan in the southwestern Iran; (2) the second proposal was made by Georgina Herrmann, while discussing the lapis lazuli trade, who located the state of Aratta “somewhere south or southeast of the Caspian”; (3) the third suggestion was made by Hansman in a footnote, where he identified the city with Shahr-i-Sokhta, an archaeological site on the southeast side of Lake Hilman which has produced thousands of flakes of lapis lazuli and carnelian during recent excavations; (4) and finally, Sol Cohen has identified Aratta with the combined areas of Hamadan-Nahavand-Kermanshah- Sanandaj in a very detailed discussion in his Ph.D. dissertation”.

Aratta as Luristan by Kramer, as south or southeast of the Caspian by Herrmann, and as Hamadan-Nahavand-Kermanshah- Sanandaj by Cohen are not feasible since it is well known that the Aratta neighboured Anshan.

It was Enmerkar, the second king of the Dynasty of Uruk that first mentions Aratta. He states that gold, silver, and lapis lazuli were demanded from Aratta as a gift to the goddess Inanna in return for advice. The goddess tells the king were they can be found. “Accordingly, in order to get to Aratta, the emissary had to cross Susa (the modern province of Khuzistan) and traverse Anshan (the modern province of Fars). Furthermore, we know that after crossing Anshan and before arriving at Aratta, one had to cross seven mighty mountains”. This corresponds with the mountainous region that passed on the way to the modern province of Kerman.

The valleys in this region are scattered with the remains of settlements from the 3rd and 4th millennium BCE, such as Shahr-i-Sokhta, located in Sistan. However, this could not be Aratta since the ancients provided detailed descriptions of the land of Aratta and would have mentioned the crossing of the salt desert of Dasht-i-Lut and Hilmand.

We know from the ancient texts that the people in Aratta were metal-workers, stone cutters, masons, and sculptors, and if we look at the archaeological evidence in Kerman, we find a great deal of evidence showing skilled craftsmanship – ‘the highly-developed steatite carvings of Tepe Yahya IVB suggest that at the time of Early Dynastic II-III Periods this settlement was an advanced centre for a lithic industry. In addition to this, significant evidence for the metallurgical advancement of the Kerman region has been documented at Tal-i-Iblis.

In appears that the modern day province of Kerman is the location of the state of Aratta ; however, it is only with further research and archaeological excavations that will one day prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt.


Majizadeh, Yousef (1976) The Land of Aratta, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, The University of Chicago Press.