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Author: Michael Shenkar
Winner of the the Roman and Tania Ghirshman Prize 2015 by the French Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. This prize was established in 1973 by the donation made by Roman Ghirshman, one of the prominent French archaeologists of Pre-Islamic Iran. It is awarded annually for a publication in the field of Pre-Islamic Iranian Studies.

In Intangible Spirits and Graven Images, Michael Shenkar investigates the perception of ancient Iranian deities and their representation in the Iranian cults. This ground-breaking study traces the evolution of the images of these deities, analyses the origin of their iconography, and evaluates their significance. Shenkar also explores the perception of anthropomorphism and aniconism in ancient Iranian religious imagery, with reference to the material evidence and the written sources, and reassesses the value of the Avestan and Middle Persian texts that are traditionally employed to illuminate Iranian religious imagery. In doing so, this book provides important new insights into the religion and culture of ancient Iran prior to the Islamic conquest.
Author: Michael Shenkar

The sensational finds made at Tillya Tepe in Northern Afghanistan close to the modern city of Sheberghān, are the primary source for reconstructing the cultural history of Bactria in the turbulent period between the end of Greek rule and the rise of the Kushan Empire. The paucity of written sources from this period (mid second century bce to mid first century ce), and our resulting lack of understanding of even major political and cultural events, has led to its apt characterization as the “Dark Age” of Bactrian history. In this context, a special place should therefore be reserved for archaeological finds and Tillya Tepe is undoubtedly the most important site of this period. The significance of the Tillya Tepe finds for the reconstruction of Bactrian history and its cultural landscape has long been recognized, but they still have much to offer in terms of historical inquiry. In what follows I shall attempt a new reconstruction of the headdress of a “prince” buried in Grave iv and conclude that it allows us to place him within the orbit of the Indo-Parthian Gondopharid dynasty, one of the most powerful regional political entities of the period.

In: Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia
Author: Michael Shenkar

Abstract

The article offers a survey of temple architecture in the Iranian world before the Macedonian conquest. Despite the observations that ancient Iranians worshipped in the open air, structures of cultic significance have been discovered in some areas of Eastern Iran. While the attribution of the earliest, second millennium temples to the Iranian tribes is still disputable, Iranians definitely had temples before the Achaemenids. The earliest temples found in the Iranian settlements are the ones from Tepe Nush-i Jan (for Western Iran) and Dahān-i Ghulāmān (for the Eastern). However, it seems that the majority of ancient Iranians, including the first Achaemenids, worshiped under the open sky. Given the nomadic background of the ancient Iranians they probably became acquainted with temple architecture once they came into close contact with the highly developed civilisations, which preceded them in some areas of what was later to become the Iranian World. In general it is impossible to speak of one “Iranian culture” or a unified “Iranian cult” in the second and first millennia BCE; instead, temple architecture demonstrates a variety of different regional traditions. More temples have been discovered in Eastern Iran than in Western. The architectural evidence from Eastern Iran in this period also suggests a complex picture of heterogeneous local cults, at least some of which made use of closed temples. Another kind of cultic structure was the open air terraces. There is also some evidence for domestic cults. Iranian cults also share a number of common, dominant features. Special significance was attributed to fire and ashes. Most temple altars (often stepped) were at the centre of the cult and rituals. Another important feature is the absence of cult statues and images. It is remarkable that most of the temples were erected on the highest point of the site or on an artificial elevated platform.

In: Iran and the Caucasus
In: Intangible Spirits and Graven Images: The Iconography of Deities in the Pre-Islamic Iranian World
In: Intangible Spirits and Graven Images: The Iconography of Deities in the Pre-Islamic Iranian World
In: Intangible Spirits and Graven Images: The Iconography of Deities in the Pre-Islamic Iranian World
In: Intangible Spirits and Graven Images: The Iconography of Deities in the Pre-Islamic Iranian World
In: Intangible Spirits and Graven Images: The Iconography of Deities in the Pre-Islamic Iranian World
In: Intangible Spirits and Graven Images: The Iconography of Deities in the Pre-Islamic Iranian World
In: Intangible Spirits and Graven Images: The Iconography of Deities in the Pre-Islamic Iranian World