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. Ghâr-Neshini

Cave & Stone Age Cave Dwellers in Iran


By: Prof. Ezzat. O. Negahban


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Kamarband Cave

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Hutu Cave

  (Click to enlarge)

Caves and rock shelters were particularly attractive living places for the hunter gatherers of the early Paleolithic period and the geographic situation of the Iranian Plateau with its bordering mountain systems including the Zagros range on the west and the Alborz range on the north has meant that there were many cave sites which would have been suitable for early cave dwelling man. Although this multiplicity of cave habitats would seem to lend itself to the extended study of the early Stone Age hunting and gathering way of life, there has in fact been comparatively little scientific study of early cave man in Persia, possibly because of the stronger attraction to the archeologists of the rich Neolithic remains of prehistoric agricultural settlers found throughout the country.

There are, however, a few excavations which have produced material throwing light on the Paleolithic period in Persia. An early expedition by Jacque De Morgan in the Caspian area collected stone implements in a Pleistocene geographic context, while Henry Field observed Paleolithic implements among surface finds near Shiraz in Fârs province (Field, 1939, pp. 553-55). One of the most notable early excavations was carried out in the 1950s when an expedition under the direction of Carlton Coon worked at Ghâr-e šekârchîân (Hunter's Cave) near Bîsotûn, Tamtama Cave near Lake Urmia, Khonîk Cave in southern Khorasan, and most importantly at Kamarband and Hûtû Caves on the Caspian shore (Coon, 1951, 1957).

In general the Zagros highlands have been subject to more Stone Age research and investigation than have the Alborz mountains and therefore a more detailed picture of early cave dwelling life has been developed for the Zagros region where traces of cave dwellers from the Lower Paleolithic to the Middle Paleolithic, Upper Paleolithic, and Epipaleolithic periods have been found. Although other parts of Persia have been less investigated than the Zagros highlands, traces of cave dwellers have also been found at sites scattered throughout the Iranian Plateau and in the lowlands.


Lower Paleolithic (pebble tools? 

Acheulian 1,500,000-100,000 B.C.E.)


Remains of the Lower Paleolithic period, characterized in its earlier phase by stone tools made on pebbles, cobbles, or heavy flakes, and in its later phase by bi-facial tools such as hand axes and cleavers, have been found in eastern Azarbaijan (Sadek-Kooros), in the Kašafrûd basin of Khorasan (Ariai and Thibault), and at Lâdîz on the Sarhad plateau in Baluchistan (Hume). Archeological surveys have also found Lower Paleolithic remains at Pol-e Bârîk in Luristan (Mortensen), at Gakia Tepe in Kermânšâh (Braidwood), and at sites in Azarbaijan (Singer and Wymer).



Middle Paleolithic

(Mousterian 100,000-40,000 B.C.E.)

Much more in the way of remains from the Middle Paleolithic period, characterized by stone tools made on flakes with scrapers, notched pieces, borers and burins, have been found in various parts of Persia, especially in the Zagros highlands. Approximately twenty-two sites have produced material from this period, of which some of the most notable are Tamtama Cave near Lake Urmia (Coon, 1951), Ghâr-e Koba near Kermânšâh (Smith), Ghâr-e Khar near the Bîsotûn inscription (Young and Smith), Hunters' Cave also near Bîsotûn (Coon), several sites near Khorramâbâd including Konjî, Arjana and Qomrî Caves (Hole and Flannery), and the site of Hûmîân in Luristan (McBurney, 1970; Bewley). Some surface material of this period has also been found at Dašt-e Gol at Èva and on the Èdha plain in northeastern Khûzestân (Wright), at Key Ârâm I cave in the Caspian lowland (McBurney, 1964), at Khonîk Cave near Bîrjand in Khorasan (Coon, 1957), near Lâdîz (Ladizian Culture) in Baluchistan (Hume), and on the Tehran and Kermân plains (Smith). Most of these sites are concentrated in the Zagros highlands in the provinces of Azarbaijan, Kurdistan, and Luristan, with only limited remains found in other parts of Persia.


Upper Paleolithic

(Baradostian 40,000-15,000 B.C.E.)

The Upper Paleolithic period is characterized by burins and scrapers on flakes and notched blades as well as picks, choppers, and grinding stones. Although one would expect there to be more material from the Upper Paleolithic as compared to the Middle Paleolithic period found throughout Persia, remains thus far found from the Upper Paleolithic period are rather scant and restricted for the most part to the Zagros highlands. Limited material related to the beginning of agriculture and food production has been found at Ghâr-e Warwasî near Kermânšâh (Smith), at Gâr-e Khar near the Bîsotûn inscription (Young and Smith), and at Pâ Sangar, Yâfta, and Arjana caves near Khorramâbâd (Hole and Flannery).



(Zarzian 18,000-10,000 B.C.E.)

Rather more remains from the Epipaleolithic period, characterized by micholithic stone tools with some geometric elements such as triangles, crescents, and trapezoids have been found in Persia, centered mainly in the Zagros highlands and the Caspian lowlands. Major sites include Mar-Ruz, Mar-Gurgalan Sarab, Dar Mar, and Ghâr-e Gogel in the Holeylîân valley of Luristan (Young and Smith; Smith), Pâ Sangar near Khorramâbâd (Hole and Flannery), Ghâr-e Khar near Bîsotûn (Young and Smith), Ghâr-e Warwasî near Kermânšâh (Smith), Dašt-e Gol at Èva and on the Èdha Plain in northeastern Khûzestân (Wright), Kûhbanân in Kermân province (Huckriede), and, most notably, the caves of Hûtû, Kamarband (Coon 1957) and ´Alî Tappa I (McBurney) on the Caspian foreshore.


Hûtû and Kamarband caves

(Coon 1952, 1957)

Both Hûtû and Kamarband caves are located in a massive projecting cliff on the northern slope of the Alborz mountains at the southeastern corner of the Caspian Sea. Hûtû Cave is rather large, with a northern wall about 30 m. long and a southern wall about 20 m. long. Several trenches (A,B,C, and D) cut at the site produced pottery sherds, stone implements and samples for C 14 determination. The excavator arranged the twenty-two samples for carbon analysis determination dates obtained from Hûtû Cave into eight groups, each corresponding to a different culture which is separated from the others in the face of the trenches by soil changes. From the most recent to the earliest, these eight groups, with corresponding dates, are given in Table 1.

In addition to these remains, traces of earlier periods were observed and only chance prevented Coon from also identifying the Upper Paleolithic period (Baradostian Culture) at Hûtû Cave (Coon 1957; Smith 1986).

It is evident that although some information has been developed on the cave dwelling way of life in Stone Age Persia, much more survey, investigation, and excavation in ancient caves and other prehistoric sites is required to produce a detailed and comprehensive picture of development during this period.



A. Ariai and C. Thibault, "Nouvelles pre‚cisions a propos de l'outillage paleolithique ancient sur galets du Khorassan (Iran)," Paleorient 3, 1973, pp. 101-8. 

R. H. Bewley, "The Cambridge University Archaeological Expedition to Iran 1969. Excavations in the Zagros Mountains: Houmian, Mir Malas, Barde Spid," Iran 22, 1984, pp. 1-38. 

R. J. Braidwood, "Seeking the World's First Farmers in Persian Kurdistan," Ilustrated London News, no. 237, 1960, pp. 695-97. 

C. S. Coon, Cave Explorations in Iran 1949, Museum Monographs, The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1951. 

Idem, "Excavations in Hotu Cave, Iran, 1951: A Preliminary Report," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 96, 1952, pp. 231-69. Idem, The Seven Caves: Archaeological Explorations in the Middle East, New York, 1957. 

J. de Morgan, "Le plateau iranian pendant l'e‚poque Ple‚istocene," Revue de l'École d'Anthropologie de Paris 17, 1907, pp. 213-16, 1907. 

H. Field, Contributions to the Anthropology of Iran, Chicago, 1939. Idem, "Reconnaissance in Southwestern Asia," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 7, 1951, pp. 86-102. 

F. Hole, "The Palaeolithic Culture Sequence in Western Iran," in Actes du VII Congres International des Sciences Prehistoriques et Protohistoriques I, Prague, 1970, pp. 286-92. 

F. Hole and K. V. Flannery, "The Prehistory of Southwestern Iran: A Preliminary Report," Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 22, 1967, pp. 147-206. 

R. Huckriede, "Jung-Quartär und End-Mesolithikum in der Provinz Kerman (Iran)," Eiszeitalter und Gegenwart 12, 1962, pp. 25-42. 

G. W. Hume, The Ladizian: An Industry of the Asian Chopper-Chopping Tool Complex in Iranian Baluchista, Philadelphia, 1976.

C. B. A. McBurney, "Paleolithic Excavations in the Zagros Area," Iran 8, 1970, pp. 185-86. 

C. M. B. McBurney, "Preliminary Report on Stone Age Reconaissance in North-Eastern Iran," Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 30, 1964, pp. 382-99. 

Idem, "The Cave of Ali Tappeh and the Epi-Palaeolithic in North-Eastern Iran," Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 34, 1968, pp. 385-413. 

J. T. Marucheck, "A Survey of Seasonal Occupation Sites in Northern Baluchistan," in F. Bagherzadeh, ed., Proceedings of the 4th Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran, Tehran, 1976, pp. 272-83. 

P. Mortensen, "A Survey of Prehistoric Settlements in Northern Luristan," Acta Archaeologica 45, 1974, pp. 1-47. 

Idem, "A Survey of Early Prehistoric Sites in the Holailân Valley in Lorestân," in F. Bagherzadeh, ed., Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran, Tehran, 1974, pp. 34-52. 

Idem, "Survey and Soundings in the Holailan Valley 1974" in F. Bagherzadeh, ed., Proceedings of the 3rd Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran, Tehran, 1975, pp. 1-12. 

H. Sadek-Kooros, "Palaeolithic Cultures in Iran" in F. Bagherzadeh, ed., Proceedings of the 2nd Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran, Tehran, 1974, pp. 53-65. 

R. Singer and J. Wymer, "A Hand-Ax from Northwest Iran: The Question of Human Movement between Africa and Asia in the Lower Palaeolithic Periods," in L.G. Freeman, ed., Views of the Past, The Hague, 1978, pp. 13-27. 

P. E. L. Smith, Palaeolithic Archaeology in Iran, Philadelphia, 1986. R. S. Solecki, "Survey in Western Azarbaijan," Iran 7, 1969, pp. 189-90. 

J. Speth, "Kinji Cave," Iran 9, 1971, pp. 172-73. 

H. T. Wright, ed., Archaeological Investigation in Northeastern Xuzestan, 1976, Research Reports in Archaeology, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan, 1979. 

T. C. Young, Jr. and P. E. L. Smith, "Research in the Prehistory of Central Western Iran," Science 153, 1966, pp. 386-91.


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