What is it about?

The terms dakhma (open-air tomb) and astodān (ossuary) are often used interchangeably despite the fact that they refer to two distinct structures with different meanings in pre-Islamic Iranian burial practices. The present study explores the differences between the two structures, along with burial-related terms used by ancient Persians, by examining ancient and medieval Iranian manuscripts and by conducting a field study of surviving artifacts from ancient times. The results show that dakhma (or dakhmagāh) was a general term referring to the entire burial site and its constituent elements—as opposed to the specific astodān. Both of these structures should be differentiated from small hollowed ledges on the edges or surfaces of mountains, which were engraved as late as the early Islamic period (seventh to ninth centuries), even though the terms dakhma and astodān appear in their inscriptions. Although the latter have led some scholars to conflate the terms, the present study finds that these small stone structures and hollows are neither dakhma nor astodān, but rather served as a symbolic memorial to the departed. Furthermore, other burial-related structures in the environs of the dakhma, including mortar-shaped hollowed stones (sang-ābs) and cascade-like stone grooves (called sor-sor-e hāy-e sangi), which have received scant attention, can be traced back to Zoroastrian rituals in Avestan texts and point to the presence of a dakhma. Finally, the present field study, which explored ancient burial sites in the Marvdasht plain in Fars Province, includes unique information and details that are presented here for the first time.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

From the perspective of Iranian customs in ancient times


This study has analyzed the terms dakhma and astodān on the basis of both literary and archeological evidence, concluding that they represented twoA Clarification of the Terms Dakhma and Astodān 51 Journal of persianate studies 14 (2021) 31–56 distinct structures—despite the prevailing perspective in contemporary (and even pre-modern) scholarship that conflates them. As such, the dakhma is a general term for burial sites, while terms such as astodān, ašwar (aspānūr), tanbarīg (tabangōg), and gūr indicated distinct elements that may each have been a part of the larger dakhma. Specifically, the astodān was a hollowed stone pit into which the remaining bones of the deceased would be transferred after the corpse had decomposed in a stone grave (the dakhma) and the latter was then re-used for another body. Based on the extant writtern sources, it appears that the construction of dakhmas was considered a charitable act. Stone ledges that include the words dakhma or astodān served most likely as a symbolic memorial to the deceased; the presence of hollowed stone pits (astodān) indicated the existence of a nearby dakhma. Furthermore, two other structures that formed a part of the dakhma require further study: the sang-āb (stone mortars) and stone grooves that appear to have been associated with burial rituals in ancient Iran. Two points require further investigation. First, can we apply this terminology to the rectangular hollow-formed tombs from the Achæmenid era at Naqsh-e Rostam or the tomb of Cyrus in Pasargadæ? This article has proposed that a dakhma contains several components, including a stone coffin (see Figure 22), a hollow pit or astodān (see Figure 23), memorial stone ledges, ritual stone mortars or sang-ābs (see Figures 24 and 25), and even stone grooves. Hence, a royal burial site, such as that of Naqsh-e Rostam, must have contained all of these elements; we will examine further dakhmas of the Achæmenid tombs of Persepolis in a future study. Finally, one can infer the ritual significance of the stone mortars from their abundance in ancient sites outside of Fars Province and across Iran—likely, as we have suggested, for the ceremonies such as the āb-zohr ritual. These mortars and the stone grooves are introduced for the first time in this study and we hope to draw more scholarly attention to these interesting elements from others in the field.

Mojtaba Doroodi
Persepolis World Heritage Site

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: A Clarification of the Terms Dakhma and Astodān on the Basis of Literary Records and Archeological Research in Fars Province, Journal of Persianate Studies, August 2022, Brill, DOI: 10.1163/18747167-bja10022.
You can read the full text:




The following have contributed to this page