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IRANIAN ART & ARCHAEOLOGY

New Research on the Palaeolithic of Lurestan, West Central Iran


By: K. Roustaei, F. Biglari, S. Heydari & H. Vahdatinasab

 

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  Figure 1: Gachi Rockshelter

(Click to enlarge)

Prior to the 1980s, research in Palaeolithic archaeology in Iran was primarily conducted by Western scholars who focused their efforts in the Zagros Mountains in western Iran (for references see Smith 1986). The attraction was highly justified. The highlands of western Iran are part of the so-called Fertile Crescent, where small bands of humans made a living by collecting food and hunting animals for thousands of years prior to the advent of agriculture. Western Iran was also a locus where the initial steps in domesticating certain species of plants and animals were taken.

The cessation of fieldwork by foreign expeditions after 1979 in this region prompted some Iranian archaeologists to continue research on the pre-Neolithic archaeology of western Iran (see e.g. Biglari 2000; Biglari & Abdi 1999; Biglari & Heydari 2001). However, it was not until September 2000 that the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization (ICHO) established a programme to integrate sporadic Palaeolithic research in Iran. The members of the new Center for Palaeolithic Research at ICHO took the opportunity not only to consolidate their efforts, but also to prepare a framework for systematic and goal-oriented research in Iran. As our first systematic archaeological campaign we chose the province of Lurestan in central Zagros. Our goals were to evaluate the characteristics of Palaeolithic sites in the region, and to understand their relations with their natural settings. We began our survey in late December 2000 and continued to work until early January 2001. During our survey we discovered, mapped and sampled 21 sites. In addition, we revisited and mapped the sites sounded earlier by Hole & Flannery (1967). Flint artefacts were used to estimate the age of the sites, which ranged from the Middle Palaeolithic to the Neolithic periods, some continuing to be occupied even later.

 

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  Figure 2: Dozaleh Rockshelter, Kuhdasht. (Click to enlarge)

 

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Figure 3: Flaked stone tools from Leang Burung 2: levallois points (after Glover 1977: figure II). (Click to enlarge)

The sites we discovered fall into three major types: caves, rock-shelters, and open-air sites. They can also be divided into three groups according to their geographical distribution. All the 10 sites found near Khorramabad are located within a 10-km stretch on the southern slope of the Yafte Mountain. In this cluster of sites, nine yielded Zagros Aurignacian and Zarzian industries (c.40,000–12,000 BP), and only one, Gachi Rockshelter (Figure 1, above), dates to the Mousterian period, the largest site in this cluster, with an area of 185 sq. m; the smallest, Tang Barik 3 Rockshelter, has an area of 10 sq. m.

The second group consists of three sites, one cave and two rockshelters; they were clustered at the foot of the Mapel Mountain, northeast of Kuhdasht (Figure 2, left). The small lithic samples collected from these sites do not contain diagnostics and therefore the sites are dated by the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age potsherds associated with the stone tools.

 

The third group consists of eight sites, out of which one is an open-air site, one is a cave, and six are rockshelters. Of these, two sites, Takht-e Shir A (an open-air site) and Takht-e Shir B (a rockshelter) may be dated to the late Epi-palaeolithic or early Neolithic. The third site, the rock-shelter of Vare Zard Complex, shows characteristic features of Neolithic chipped stone industry, namely bullet cores, reamers and various kinds of retouched bladelets. The other sites, Fare Kash 1 and 2, Toul Kash 1 and 2 and Dare Eshkaft (Figure 3, right) yielded an unidentifiable flake industry with a few retouched tools. Lithic assemblages with the same characteristics were found at some rockshelters during two seasons of archaeological survey in the neighbouring region of the Islamabad Plain (Abdi 1999). Because the industry is known only from surface collection, in the absence of stratified materials the chronological position of the sites will remain uncertain until further investigation. Nevertheless, the possibility remains that the lithic industry of these sites may date to the post Pleistocene era.

In general, the lithic assemblages found in our survey can be divided into four groups:

  1. The Palaeolithic, comprising Mousterian, Zagros Aurignacian, and probably Zarzian industries;

  2. possible late Epi-palaeolithic and early Neolithic industries;

  3. possible Chalcolithic and Bronze Age lithic assemblages; and

  4. unidentified flake industry.

 

Our preliminary analysis of the data suggests two different environmental settings for the Palaeolithic and post-Palaeolithic sites. The older sites are primarily located in what is known as the Zagros Thrust Zone in central Lurestan. The younger, post-Palaeolithic sites are located in the geologically Folded Zone in southwestern Lurestan. Once our research is completed, we should be able to attribute the various environmental niches of these sites to their chronological positions.

 

 

Acknowledgements
We would like to thank Abbas Alizadeh (University of Chicago) who provided a thoughtful evaluation of the manuscript,and Mazyar Ashrafian (ICHO) for his support and encouragement. We also wish to thank Jalil Golshan, Research Deputy of the ICHO, and Masoud Azarnoush, Director of the Centre for Archaeological Research of the ICHO, for financial support and permission for publishing our results.

 

 

References

ABDI, K. 1999. Archaeological research in the Islamabad Plain Central Western Zagros Mountain: preliminary results from the first season,Summer 1998, Iran V.37: 33–4.

BIGLARI, F. 2000. Recent finds of Paleolithic period from Bisotun, Central Western Zagros Mountains, Iranian Journal of Archaeology and History 28: 50. (In Persian, with an English abstract.)

BIGLARI, F. & K. ABDI. 1999. Paleolithic artifacts from Cham-e Souran, the Islamabad Plain, Central Western Zagros Mountains, Iran, Archaologische Mitteilungen aus Iran und Turan 5(31): 1–8.

BIGLARI, F. & S. HEYDARI. 2001. Do-Ashkaft: a recently discovered Mousterian cave site in the Kermanshah Plain, Iran, Antiquity 75:487–8.

HOLE, F. & K.V. FLANNERY. 1967. The prehistory of southwestern Iran: a preliminary report, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 33: 147–206.

SMITH, P.E.L. 1986. Paleolithic archaeology in Iran. Philadelphia (PA): The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania.

 

 

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Extracted From/Source: Antiquity Vol 76 No 291 March 2002

 

 

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