Fri Mar 18, 6:24 PM ET
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ATHENS (AFP) - The mysterious Margianan civilisation which flowered in the desert of what is now Turkmenistan some 4,000 years ago was the cradle of the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism, Greco-Russian archeologist Victor Sarigiannidis claimed here.
He said the theory would provoke controversy amongst his fellow archeologists, but said his excavations around the site of Gonur Tepe have uncovered temples and evidence of sacrifices that would consistent with a Zoroastrian cult.
The religion was founded by Zarathustra, a Persian prophet who was one of the world's first monotheists, and is still practiced today in Iran (news - web sites) and India. A team of archeologists in the eastern Turkmenistan region have discovered the foundations of a huge palace, seven temples and a vast mausoleum.
Sarigiannidis believes the civilisation emerged with the arrival in the region of people seeking an escape from drought in Mesopotamia (now Syria).
"Ninety-five percent of the ruins of the mausoleum look similar to those of Mesopatamia," Sarigiannidis, a member of the Russian Science Academy said.
He also pointed out the similarity in the palace gate with the Minoan Palace of Knossos on the Greek Island Crete.
The latest finds from excavations in 2004 are on exhibit in the Turkmen capital and suggest a highly refined civilisation. They feature superb mosaics depicting griffins, wolves and lions, as well a marble statue of a ram and finely highlighted vases in gold and silver.
Sarigiannidis has called on the Greek government to continue to fund his excavations at the site and said the 17,000 euros per year grant he had been accorded until 2007 by the former socialist government had been cut by the current minister of culture.