Articles | Cultural Heritage
National Museum of Iran (Iran-e Bastan)


Houman Sadr

Tavoos Art Quarterly, No. 7


The National Museum of Iran, whose construction began in 1934 and which became operative in two sections in 1937, not only constitutes the largest museum of Iranian archeology and history, but also ranks among the few great museums of the world with regards to volume, quality and diversity of its collections. This museum is considered to be Iran’s mother museum. The National Museum of Iran comprises two sections, housed in separate buildings: the Iran-e Bastan Museum, inaugurated in 1937, and the Islamic Period Museum, opened officially in 1996.

In 1929, following the ratification of the law on the preservation of national artifacts, the Anjoman-e Asar-e Melli was founded and, in order to assure the protection of Iranian historic objects, the French architect André Godard, then also the director of Iranian archaeology began preparing the plans of the Iran-e Bastan Museum, drawing inspiration from the Arch of Chosroes (Ctesiphon). Red bricks were chosen for the building to recall Sasanian architecture. The museum building has an area of approximately 11,000 square meters and has three stories .

At present, bringing together the Iran-e Bastan Museum and the Islamic Period Museum within a perimeter of 18,000 square meters, benefiting from a built area of more than 20,000 square meters, and housing approximately 300,000 historic items from different historic periods, the National Museum of Iran is the greatest art and history in the world. The oldest item attesting to the presence of man on the Iranian Plateau, which dates back to 600,000 years ago, is preserved in this museum. Various objects unearthed in past years, undergo scientific research in the museum’s laboratories located on its basement floor, before being transferred to the exhibition halls.


The Prehistory section of the National Museum of Iran is devoted to artifacts ranging from the Stone Age to the Iron Age. Covering a wide spectrum of materials ranging from terracotta, metal, stone, and bitumen… the objects preserved in this section were discovered either through scientific archaeological excavations or by accident. The oldest items here are stone blades from Kashafrood, discovered during an archaeological survey carried out in 1974-5  in Khorasan, on the banks of Kashafrood river. Various opinions have been expressed on the age of these artifacts. Claude Thibault attributes them an age of 800,000 to 1 million years, while others make them date back to between 600,000 and 700,000 years ago. According to Thibault, this is the earliest period in which man is known to have appeared on the Iranian Plateau.

Another category of these stone instruments was discovered in the Masileh area, 50 kilometers south of Varamin, by Dr. Sadeq Malek Shahmirzadi. These items date back to between 45,000 and 60,000 years ago.

The oldest artifacts reflecting the religious and spiritual thoughts of prehistoric man are human and animal statuettes discovered at Tappeh Sarab, east of Kermanshah, in 1960. One of these, a clay figurine named “Venus” is 6.5 centimeters high. Red earthenware items discovered at Cheshmeh ‘Ali and Esma‘il-abad, which belong to the 5th millennium BC, are also among the oldest objects visitors can admire. One of these is a vessel in which four human figures are represented facing each other two by two and holding their arms raised, as in some devotional dance.

Notable among the objects discovered in Fars is a footed terracotta plate belonging to the 4th millennium BC, on which ritual dances are depicted. Another is a conical terracotta bowl from  Tall-e Bakun, in , on which an ibex is represented with exaggeratedly large horns, in homage to this highly valued animal in prehistoric times.

Amid the highly varied objects from Khuzestan, one may point out the bull statue from the temple of Chogha Zanbil. This 106 centimeter high and 108 centimeter long glazed terracotta statue was installed at the temple’s gate, as its guardian.