Ghadamgahs are sacred places in Iran date back to ancient and historical eras, serving as symbols of Islamic and cultural heritage. Usually, sculpted human footprints at these sites are mostly attributed to the journey across Iran by the Eighth Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Reza AS (765-818 CE). Ghadamgahs are relatively abundant in southern provinces of Iran, such as Fars, Khuzestan, and Bushehr. In the present study, the footprints of some of Ghadamgahs and their relationships with natural footprints are investigated. Besides, the spatial location of Ghadamgahs with water resources is evaluated. The data were gathered based on the available reports as well as the observation of some footprints in Ghadamgahs. The results show that although the natural footprints of humans have been reported from many parts of the world, the type of rock and the geometry of the footprints in Ghadamgahs are evidence of their handiwork and artificiality. Traces of natural footprints are found in sedimentary rocks or pyroclastic rocks (volcanic ash). Meanwhile, the pedestals installed in Ghadamgahs have also been carved on igneous or metamorphic rocks. However, the role of footprints in Ghadmagah is historically reminiscent of the presence of Imam Reza (AS) and the descendants of Imams are miraculously engraved in stone. Ghadamgahs in Iran are often built near springs and water sources and are somewhat associated with the sanctity of water in Iran. Keeping water clean in Iran is associated with ritual approaches and historical-religious beliefs, and the construction of Ghadamgahs shows the efforts of Iranians in this direction.
Holy places are known as respected areas for the people of most religions. Usually, particular ceremonies are executed and special symbols are installed in these places. One of these places is Ghadamgah in Iranian religious folklore, which is known as a holy shrine usually with a footprint slab as a symbol of the presence of religious people. Greeting and bowing, touching, kissing, circumambulating, praying, lighting candles, and lighting fires or the use of fragrant substances are pilgrimage ceremonies in Ghadamgahs.
In the present study, the authors evaluate the nature of the footprints in Ghadamgahs. Also, the location of Ghadamgahs to the natural phenomena, mainly water resources is examined.
Materials and Methods
Natural human footprints have been found in the Quaternary sediments in the world. These footprints and trackways are preserved on the sedimentary rocks and some cases in the volcaniclastic rocks. The biological and sedimentological factors, such as the weight of a human, nature of walking, and the grain size of sediments. To gather the data of the present study, one of the authors of the present study studied some of Ghadamgahs in Iran and other countries that included Ghadamgah of Nishapur, Ghadamgah of Shamil area in Hormozgan province, Ghadamgah of Abhar in Zanjan province, Ghadamgah of Salman and Ali in Arzhan area in Fars province, Ghadamgah of Takeh Mo'aven-ol Molk of Kermanshah, Ghadamgah of prophet Muhammad in Topkapi Museum of Istanbul, and Ghadamgah of prophet Abraham in Mecca. However, based on field data, installed footprint slabs in the Ghadamgah do not include natural footprint, and all of them are handmade because they differ by geometrical indexes, the morphology of footprints, and host rocks against the natural human footprints.
The present study aims to answer the following questions:
1. What is the origin and preservation of human footprints?
2. What is the geographical distribution of the most important Ghadamgahs in Iran?
3. Does the existence of a Ghadamgah attributed to the Prophet, Imam, Imamzadeh or holy people indicate their presence in that area and how can such a presence be historically proven?
4. What is the relationship between pedestrians and natural phenomena, mainly water resources, in Iran?
Discussion of Results and Conclusions
The results of the present study showed that natural human footprints are formed on soft sediments and changed to sedimentary rocks by the diagenesis processes, over geological periods. Therefore, natural footprints can only be found in sedimentary rocks or some cases in the volcaniclastic deposits. Natural footprints have a definite geometry and arrangement, while hand-carved and carved footprints may vary in type of rock, size, and geometry.
Footprints are the simplest human remains and their attribution to important or sacred persons is credible to the general public. The installation of handmade footprint slabs in the footsteps has guaranteed and justified the sanctity of that place. Additionally, the validity of the attributed ancient passageways to the Infallibles, especially to Imam Reza's (AS) migration from Arabia to Central Asia, and the study of their historical presence in the place by the Ghadamgahs in Iran, are validated by specifying the narration of the names of the cities and places and symbolized by the handicraft footprints. Historians and archaeologists may be interested in the reconstruction of the historical passageways and the location of ancient routes. Finally, the proximity of most Iranian worships, such as Ghadamgahs, along water resources, shows the importance of water resources and efforts to popularize water resources through religious beliefs.