Meymand, a Village From the Stone Age

Meymand, a Village From the Stone Age

Near Shahr-Babak city in the southeastern province of Kerman, there is a village dating back to the Stone Age. The village was once a troglodyte settlement providing cozy caves and rock shelters for early inhabitants of the Iranian Plateau some 12,000 years ago, according to heritageinstitute.com.
Hand-dug houses are carved into a range of hills, beside the natural caves. They have been the residences of the local people since 3,000 years ago; and they are still in use. Compared to Kandovan, another troglodytic village in the country which has been inhabited for 700 years, Meymand is really ancient; it is in fact one of the oldest surviving villages as 10,000 year-old stone engravings and 6,000 year old potteries were discovered.
The village is a UNESCO world heritage site and won UNESCO’s 2005 Melina Mercouri International Prize. The purpose of the prize is to award outstanding examples of action in safeguarding and enhancing the world’s major cultural landscapes.

The village has a population now of between 130 and 150 people many of whom are semi-nomadic shepherds, living in the village caves during the winter months when the population is at its peak. They move to higher pastures in summer, leaving about 60 people behind.
The villagers have done little to add color to the natural earth tones of the landscape. Their homes and streets have no potted flowers or ornamental plants. The village’s stark appearance is complimented by the spartan life of its inhabitants. Adults wear sober colored clothes and visitors have noted in their travel logs that they could hear no music.
Meals consist of flat bread, yogurt and a thin soup made from milk and dried herbs. The custom is to tear the bread into bit-sized pieces and pat them into the bowl of soup. The meals are supplemented by a diet of dairy products, nuts and traditional breads. Eggs are a treat and meat is eaten on special occasions only.

  Places not to be Missed
One of the caverns is now a museum. It has a sign post stating that the place was once a fire temple. Locals call the place Kicheh Dobandi, literally meaning ‘double cave dwelling’.
There is a 400 sq meter complex of 15 circular rooms in the village. Bones and personal belongings, discovered in the complex, suggest that the place might have been a crypt or a series of ossuaries.

Most of the cave dwellings have been dug out by hand. The caverns are scattered on the two sides of a shallow valley.
There are a total of 406 residential cave units with a total of 2560 rooms. Some of the cave apartments are five stories high. A large number of the units are deserted.
The dwelling units were made by burrowing into the hillside’s soft sedimentary rock deposited in layers during the Mesozoic age some 100 to 200 million years ago. The concrete-like consistency of Meymand’s sedimentary rock is soft enough to be shaped by manual labor while still being hard enough to support the roofs of the cave units.
The units are about 2 meters high and have an area of around 20 sq meters. Windows, about 75 cm wide, are hewn wherever possible. Otherwise, the dwellings are windowless and dark not just because of the lack of natural light but also because of the soot from fires and candles that coat the walls. Some dwellings have more than one room and even an attached stable or animal shelter.
Doors to the dwellings are commonly made of wood and fitted with a secured latch which locks onto a hole drilled into the stone frame. Not all the doors are rectangular. Some have the shape of a standing human body, narrower at the base and widening at the top to shoulder width. To keep water from running inside, the threshold of the doors are raised some 15 cm above the level.
In the lower areas of the valley where the slope is slight, the entrance to the unit is often preceded by a trench whose walls gradually rise until the hill is tall enough to accommodate a dwelling height.
Some lower cave dwellings are grouped together. Their entrance trenches meet on a terrace used for family and social gatherings.

  Community Structures
The community structures include a bath, public toilet, school, restaurant, museum, shops, and a handicrafts store.
There is an eight-room guest house near the entrance to the village; but visitors can sometimes find lodgings with some of the residents. The guesthouse has felt carpets on the floors, beds carved into the walls, warm lighting, and shared but clean bathrooms with steaming showers. A step into the house and one is sucked far into history.

  Other Dwellings
Some residents, who do not migrate to summer quarters, construct cool, wooden dwellings called kapars. The kapars are constructed in a manner that allows air to circulate. In addition to the stone and wood structures, the people also erect tents. The tents are made from a whitish fabric with the vertical threads made from cotton and the horizontal threads from goat wool.

Meymand’s winter is cold and harsh. It is hot and dry in summer. Rainfall is variable. The village is supplied with water by two underground aqueducts, bringing water down from the upper slopes of the surrounding hills.
Local vegetation consists of hardy plants and wild mulberry, pistachios, pomegranates, and almonds trees. The ravines are dotted with tiny oases where hazel trees, vineyards, jujubes, almonds and other trees are grown. The oases are surrounded by tilled fields. Visitors can receive advice and herbal remedies based on generations of experience.

Income of the villagers is based on agriculture, herding, animal husbandry, carpet weaving, and tourism. Meymand’s carpets have an international reputation. There are also other crafts such as dyeing, felt-making, kilim-weaving, basketry, and crochet lacework.

  Rock Art
Rock art can be found in and around Meymand. Three km northeast of Meymand, beside a gravel road that runs towards the Tela valley, lies a hill called Mar Khazineh (Mar in the local dialect means hill). Some 350 meters down the hill, there is a site filled with scattered pieces of ossuaries decorated with rock arts.
Another site with numerous petroglyphs is the Eshkaft grotto, eight km north of Meymand. The grotto, a shallow cave with a large mouth, is reached by traveling on a dirt road that heads northwest from the village. The road terminates at the foot of Tekhorin Mountain on whose slopes Eshkaft is located. People come here and light candles beside the rock arts.


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