The ruins of the ancient Elamite city of Dur Untashi at the site now known as Chogha Zanbil, in southern Iran.

They were scouting for oil in Iran. They found an ancient temple instead

Chogha Zanbil was first spotted from a surveillance airplane in 1935. The excavated complex was discovered to be one of the few ziggurats built outside Mesopotamia.

The ruins of the ancient Elamite city of Dur Untashi at the site now known as Chogha Zanbil, in southern Iran.
Georg Gerster/Age Fotostock

Flying a reconnaissance mission in 1935 over the Khuzestan region in southwestern Iran, oil prospectors noted an odd looking hill on the landscape.

The Iranian Archaeological Service was notified of the sighting. They in turn contacted the French archaeological delegation to Iran, which was excavating at nearby Susa, the ancient capital of the Elamite kingdom. When French archaeologists led by Roland de Mecquenem inspected the mound, they found it contained the ruins of a city. Later studies would reveal a ziggurat at its heart, the largest outside of Mesopotamia.

Local people knew the hill as Chogha Zanbil, meaning “basket-shaped mound.” It became the official name for the site whose excavation began in 1936, under the direction of Mecquenem.

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