The untraceable Barlekin

By Senna Yousef

My introduction to Barlekin was one of curiosity, as myself and another youth researcher, Goldis Gorji,  stared at the Manchester Museum’s log of an object from Iran from a region named Barlekin. Having never heard of it, we turned to google for help but quickly realised that this place had never been recorded and did not exist on any internet records. After attempting to look at various locations within Iran with similar sounding names and attempting a google search in Arabic and Farsi, we decided to try and get our hands on a copy of archaeologist T. Burton-Brown’s book Barlekin, named after the site.

Manchester Museum’s catalogue entry for the Barlekin object in question (inv. 1981.85). Note that the Museum’s online catalogue is currently being rebuilt and is not accessible to external users.

As I was reading through Burton-Brown’s book I came across multiple clues that I began collecting in the hopes of being able to locate the region his book was named after, especially after discovering that many of the objects that he had donated to the museum had come from Barlekin, which became an indicator of how important it was for us to uncover the exact location of said site so we could ensure the museum’s records of these objects were detailed. However, as I began researching the information that I had collected I began to find it contradicted itself.

For instance, at the beginning of the book, T. Burton-Brown addresses the excavation site to be ‘a little south of Tehran’ and that it had existed during the 3rd Millennium BC. Its timestamp already made the quest for finding it extremely difficult but I decided to see if I could find more locational clues. In the book, he addresses a place called ‘Kara Tepe’ and references them as being near one another. I began researching Kara Tepe and I hit a dead end. Not only were there multiple regions in Iran with the name Kara Tepe, but the one I was able to pinpoint as possibly being the Kara Tepe Burton-Brown was referencing was modern-day, West Azerbaijan province in Iran however, it is nowhere near the south of Tehran. 

The cover of Theodore Burton-Brown’s book, Barlekin, published in 1981

For the rest of the book, T. Burton-Brown continues to reference only the objects he excavated from the site and more information about some of the objects he had found in previous excavations at other sites. It was very frustrating to reach a dead end, however, it highlighted to me the importance of preserving names of places and also adding maps to documents and archives as well as the use of the alphabet of the country’s language to spell the name of the locations researchers may have visited, to ensure minimal loss in translation. 

Around six months after my fruitless search, I came across an article by UCLA’s ‘Pourdavoud Center for the study of the Iranian World’, published on 10th February 2023 in the Archaeological Gazetteer of Iran, just over a month before I had found it, in which the writer, Ali Mousavi has not only pinpointed the location of Barlekin but also corrected its spelling and had written it in the Farsi script. 

From his article (accessible here), I found that the excavation site had been mistransliterated by T. Burton-Brown into Barlekin (بالکین) when the correct transliteration would have been Balekin. Furthermore, Mousavi refers to the location by its full name, Tepe Balekin, which was quite liberating to read as it finally gave the place its rightful name again. 

This long and almost unsuccessful journey had finally come to an end and, personally, I couldn’t be more relieved. It showed me how important it was not only to preserve the linguistic names of places but also, to ensure that these names are being transliterated correctly so that future generations do not struggle to access information about these locations.

Homepage of The Archaeological Gazetteer of Iran: An Online Encyclopedia of Iranian Archaeological Sites

One thought on “The untraceable Barlekin

  1. It is such a thrill to have the correct name and location of this enigmatic site in Iran revealed for the first time. We hope that it will raise the profile of Manchester Museum’s archaeological collections from this part of the world and encourage a new generation of researchers to take an interest in them. Congratulations to Senna for solving this long-standing puzzle.


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