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Development of geological perceptions and explorations on the Iranian Plateau: From Zoroastrian cosmogony to plate tectonics (ca. 1200 BCE to 1980 CE)

Manuel Berberian
Manuel Berberian
Fellow, School of Mathematics, Science, and Technology, Department of Science, Ocean County College, Toms River, New Jersey 08754-2001, USA, and Onduni Grung Scientific Enterprise, 1224 Fox Hollow Drive, Toms River, New Jersey 08755-2179, USA
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December 21, 2017
Publication history
15 June 201623 March 201723 March 2017


This is an in-depth review and analysis of the long and untold history of development of earth science, geological thinking, research, and exploration on the Iranian Plateau within its historical, political, and socioeconomic context. Widespread mineral resources and ancient civilization helped in exploration, excavation, smelting, and usage of different metals, precious stones, and minerals since the Neolithic Period. Extant ancient Avestan and Middle Iranian Pahlavi Zoroastrian texts, as well as the classic Greek and Roman scholars, clearly demonstrate the Iranian geological activity through the Median (ca. 615 BCE), Achaemenid (550–330 BCE), Parthian (250 BCE–224 CE), and Sassanid (224–642 CE) Dynasties, interrupted by disrupting periods of socioeconomic and political problems, followed by foreign invasions and devastation in 330 BCE–250 CE and 637–652 CE, when the Iranians could no longer make scientific advancements. Long after the invasion of Alexander III of Macedon (330 BCE), scientific activity culminated in the establishment of the academies of Gundishāpur, Ctesiphon, and Resaina, the three higher educational centers of the Sassanid Dynasty that focused on comprehensive observation, painstaking research, and advanced education during the sixth and seventh centuries CE. Careful observation, research, and experiment by brilliant and genius scholars such as Karaji, Biruni, and Avicenna took place during a period of great activity and growth in science, engineering, medicine, literature, art, architecture, and philosophy in the tenth and eleventh centuries CE in Iran. This Iranian two-century “intermezzo intellectual zenith,” with a stable state and economic prosperity, was nurtured by the vast heritage of the ancient Iranian, Mesopotamian, Indian, and Egyptian civilizations and elements of the ancient Avestan, Sanskrit, and Pahlavi writings since ca. 1200 BCE. Social, economic, and political conflicts followed by invasions by Central Asian nomadic tribe warlords and their accompanying hordes in 1000–1040 CE (Saljuqs), 1218–1231 CE, and 1256 CE (Mongols), and 1370 CE (Timurids), and their occupation caused the process of irreversible decay, retrogression, and general intellectual decadence until the Safavids (1491–1772 CE). During this relatively long dark period, there was a drastic decline in interest in geological research and writing, though some old mining efforts were active. Throughout the eighteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries, foreign travelers made some contributions to the geology and mineral resources of Iran. It was during the second half of the twentieth century when once again earth science research blossomed in Iran with the help of European geologists. This ushered in a new period of modern geologic studies of Iran by native geologists.

In memory of Emil Tietze (1845–1931), Alexander von Stahl (b. 1850), Setrāk Ābdāliān (1894–1963), Eugène Rieben (1899–1972), Heinrich Martin Huber (1917–1992), Jovan Stöcklin (1921–2008), Ricardo Assereto (1939–1976), and all pioneers in the past, who enthusiastically and rigorously intruded ever deeper into virtually unexplored territories in difficult and uncomfortable circumstances, extremely devoted to scientific pursuits, and shaped our understanding of the geology, tectonics, mineral resources, earthquakes, and seismotectonics of the Iranian Plateau.

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GSA Special Papers

Tectonic Evolution, Collision, and Seismicity of Southwest Asia: In Honor of Manuel Berberian’s Forty-Five Years of Research Contributions

Geological Society of America
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