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The Iranian Plateau during the Bronze Age

Jan-Waalke Meyer
Emmanuelle Vila
Marjan Mashkour
et al.

The global context of the Bronze Age on the Iranian Plateau

Early urbanisation in Iran

A view from the west – some considerations about the theory of urbanisation

Jan-Waalke Meyer


For quite some time, controversy has surrounded discussions concerning the beginnings of urbanisation in Iran, for a number of reasons, for example:
– the mountainous landscape differs considerably from the alluvial plain of Mesopotamia;
– many publications are only in Farsi;
– many results are not yet available, or have only appeared in preliminary publications;
– there is a lack of systematic survey in certain part of Iran.
Based on investigations in Syria and Iraq, this contribution aims to present largely accepted parameters for the term ”urban”, which can then serve as a common basis for further discussions about urbanisation in Iran.

Depuis un certain temps, les débuts de l’urbanisation en Iran ont fait l’objet de débats controversés, et cela pour de nombreuses raisons, comme par exemple :
– le paysage est fortement modelé par les chaînes de montagnes et diffère donc considérablement de la plaine alluviale de la Mésopotamie ;
– de nombreuses publications n’apparaissent qu’en farsi ;
– de nombreux résultats ne sont pas encore disponibles, ou apparaissent uniquement dans des publications préliminaires ;
– le manque de prospections systématiques dans certaines zones de l’Iran.
Fondé sur des analyses respectivement en Syrie et en Iraq, cette contribution vise à présenter les paramètres généralement admis pour définir le terme “urbain”, qui pourraient ensuite servir de base commune pour un débat plus approfondi sur la question de l’urbanisation en Iran.

تقریبا مدت زمانی طولانی است که آغاز شهرنشینی در ایران مورد بحث و چالش است، مهمترین دلایل این بحث­ ها شامل موارد زیر است:
– چشم انداز فلات ایران به علت وجود رشته کوه های آن، متفاوت از دشت آبرفتی بین النهرین است.
–بیشتر مطالعات انجام شده باستان شناسی این دوره زمانی در ایران به زبان فارسی است.
–نتایج پژوهش­ های میدانی انجام شده در این زمینه در ایران یا در دسترس همگان نیست یا فقط گزارش اولیه آنها چاپ شده است.
–بررسی­ های میدانی باستان شناسی انجام گرفته مربوط به این دوره غالبا روشمند نبوده است.
در نوشتار حاضر نگارنده بر اساس نتایج مطالعات و تحلیل­ های باستان شناسی در همسایگی غرب ایران که به ترتیب در سوریه و عراق انجام گرفته، پارامترهای عموما پذیرفته شده برای تعریف اصطلاح شهرنشینی را ارائه داده است. این پارامترها می توانند به عنوان چهارچوبی بنیادی برای ژرف اندیشی بیشتر راجع به شهرنشینی در ایران نقش داشته باشند.

Texte intégral

  • 1 Petrie Cameron 2013.

1For the past 40 years I have worked almost exclusively in Syria and most of my research has focused on the early historical development of Upper Mesopotamia. Therefore, I find it difficult to give a comprehensive answer to the question of the early urbanisation of Iran. Furthermore, I have to admit that my knowledge of the literature pertaining to Iran is rather limited and even the recent volume of C. Petrie notes that the shortcomings in Iranian archaeology still deter investigations1. These shortcomings stem from several factors:

  • first of all, the enormous size of the country;
  • secondly, the Iranian landscape is completely different from Mesopotamia.
    In contrast to the alluvial plain of Mesopotamia, Iran consists of an enormous plateau filled with many small valleys. Precipitation is insufficient to guarantee water supplies for the subsistence of urban settlements, and only regions with rivers, wadis or lakes, such as Khuzistan, Fars, the region around Jiroft and possibly around Tepe Sialk, for example, are propitious to urban development. Besides, there are many plains without any water (precipitation) – for example, most of the area between Jiroft and the Persian Gulf – or mountainous or desert‑like regions;
  • thirdly, the state of publication is problematic: many results are only available in Farsi, and many have not yet been published at all (for example, the archaeological maps of some archaeological centres);
  • fourthly, systematic surveys are lacking, and when they exist, at times the size of the settlements is not indicated (for instance, Deh Luran);
  • and finally – but most importantly – some regions have undergone intensive agriculture, which may have led to the complete destruction of many settlements through ploughing. Deep ploughing and irrigation seem to be more common in Iran than in the West.
  • 2 Adams and Nissen 1972.
  • 3 Adams 1965.

2The situation is somewhat different in Southern Mesopotamia. An intensive survey was carried out there as early as the 1960s2, and slightly earlier in the Diyala3. The results described the regional development of Southern Mesopotamian settlement systems and the emergence of urban centres.

  • 4 Cf. Roaf 1998.
  • 5 Christaller 1933.

3When, for political reasons, excavation activities were largely transferred to Syria, surveys there also intensified. Northeast Syria, in particular, was almost completely explored in this way (fig. 1). These intensive research activities in North Syria markedly changed the picture of the political landscape – along with the information gathered from cuneiform tablets, especially those found in Ebla. We are now able to reconstruct city‑states in that region, at least since the middle of the third millennium, and the centres of these city‑states can definitely be considered as urban4: Tell Brak/Nagar, Tell Mozan/Urkeš Tell Leilan/Šehna. In addition, we now know a lot about the distribution of settlements during those periods and about the origins of settlement patterns, according to the Central Place Theory5.

Fig. 1 – Early Bronze Age sites and survey in northeastern Syria (after Quenet 2011).

Fig. 1 – Early Bronze Age sites and survey in northeastern Syria (after Quenet 2011).
  • 6 DFG/ANR-projekt, Runde Siedlungen des 3. Jts. v. Chr. in marginalen Gebieten Nordsyriens – Genese, (...)

4At this stage, I would like to draw attention to the results of the long‑term excavations in Tell Chuera (Northeast Syria) – presumably the urban centre of an ancient city‑state, possibly Abarsal – and in the nearby site of Kharab Sayyar. Furthermore, I will present an interpretation of the survey results in this region. All these activities are now part of a regional program which aims to investigate the birth, development and fall of urban settlements in North Syria and the respective settlement systems6.

  • 7 Hüls 2013, p. 157‑161; Weninger, Neef and Meyer 2010, p. 187‑197.
  • 8 Meyer 2011, p. 129‑136.

5Tell Chuera is situated close to the Turkish border, in a region with no more than 200 mm of precipitation per year. Based on calibrated C14‑dates7, the foundations of the town can be dated to the beginning of the Early Bronze Age I (ca. 3100 BC). The urban centre initially extended over 50 ha, and the settled area subsequently expanded to about 80 ha, consisting of an upper and a lower town (fig. 2)8. According to our geophysical survey, which covered almost the entire area of the settlement and beyond (fig. 3), there was a planned street network with a central square, a central axis and streets converging radially towards the centre. Most of the monumental public buildings, like temples and the palace, were situated along the central axis. In addition, there were large private quarters (in the upper and lower town) and production areas (mostly in the lower town and on the outskirts) – and a sophisticated defensive system for urban protection.

Fig. 2 – Schematic plan of the development of the settlement during Early Bronze Age.

Fig. 2 – Schematic plan of the development of the settlement during Early Bronze Age.

Fig. 3 – Tell Chuera, geophysical map.

Fig. 3 – Tell Chuera, geophysical map.
  • 9 Comp. Hempelmann 2013.

6Kharab Sayyar, around 12 km south of Tell Chuera, is a much smaller town, extending over 10 ha in the southeast corner of an Abbasid fortified town dating to the 3rd century after hijra (9th century AD). Besides the excavation of several Islamic buildings, we dug out a step trench through the Early Bronze Age settlement, exposing private houses and part of the city wall (fig. 4). From here, we took C14‑dates to determine the foundation date of the earliest Bronze Age levels (ca. 3100 BC; EB I), and then compared the pottery from these levels to the pottery from Tell Chuera9. The settlement in Kharab Sayyar existed – like in Tell Chuera – without a hiatus until the Early Bronze Age IVB (ca. 2200 BC). The excavation of the small village of Mgeddi, of about one hectare, further to the south, was planned but was not carried out (fig. 5) as no excavation could be conducted there because of the war. However, from a surface survey it seems to be clear that this settlement was only populated during the EB I. All of these settlements are circular‑shaped, which is typical for this region and period.

Fig. 4 – Kharab Sayyar, geophysical map.

Fig. 4 – Kharab Sayyar, geophysical map.

Fig. 5 – Mgeddi, geophysical map.

Fig. 5 – Mgeddi, geophysical map.

7In 1996, I established a new programme at Tell Chuera, including excavation activities in the settlement areas as such, but also in the settlement surroundings. My decision was influenced by general developments in archaeological field research, which was at that time moving away from “pure” settlement excavation to a more extensive consideration of the environment – for example land use as understood by economic archaeology, and settlement patterns with central places. Furthermore, in those days, I participated in the Research Training Group “Archaeological Analytics”, sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG). There, archaeologists worked together with scientists from various geographical disciplines, such as soil science, mineralogy, physical geography, aerial photogrammetry. This intensive and productive cooperation continued until 2011, when political conditions prevented further work.

8I worked out a regional project focusing on settlement patterns – mainly archaeologically orientated – and land use – mainly scientifically orientated. The survey was led by Alexander Pruß, and later by Veronika Kudlek, whose results I use here. The range of investigation was 15 km in diameter around Kharab Sayyar and we found more than 180 archaeological sites. These intensive research activities resulted in a comprehensive knowledge of the settlement history of Tell Chuera and the use and development of its natural environment (fig. 6).

Fig. 6 – Settlement pattern in the area of Tell Chuera (after Veronika Kudlek: Copyright Tell Chuera excavation).

Fig. 6 – Settlement pattern in the area of Tell Chuera (after Veronika Kudlek: Copyright Tell Chuera excavation).
  • 10 The complete results will be presented in Veronika Kudlek’s PhD study.

9In order to locate individual settlements in the area under investigation, Veronika Kudlek chose to use the well‑tested Thiessen polygons. Sites defined as places of central importance, on account of their size, location and/or shape, form the basis of this method. The central places are the corner points of the triangles and the geometrical centre of the triangle is a so‑called Thiessen point. By connecting the Thiessen points, we obtain polygons, which represent the settlement clusters around the respective central places. These would be second order central places, whereas Tell Chuera is considered as a first order central place. All places, at least down to the third category, are round in shape – which is characteristic of this region. In the prospected area, six closed and 13 partially closed settlement clusters with, all in all, about 100 Early Bronze Age sites were geometrically reconstructed. Most of the pottery collected belongs to the EBA IV periods (2450‑2200 BC), but some older material was also collected10.

10A settlement system with at least three layers seems to have existed since the beginning of site occupation, with Tell Chuera being the largest site (ca. 50 ha) and thus probably a first order central place, Kharab Sayyar (ca. 10 ha) a second order site, and Mgeddi (one hectare) a third order site. It remains uncertain, for the time being, whether hamlets and farmsteads already existed – fourth or fifth order places –, such as those recorded for the later Early Bronze Age EBA IVA, ca. 2450 BC. At Tell Chuera, a double fortification wall was recorded since the EBA II (ca. 2800‑2600 BC) – an inner and an outer one –, like at Dekhliz and Ragha Kebira to the west and Abu Shahad to the east, whereas a single fortification existed in Kharab Sayyar throughout its entire history, like at Tell Gle’a to the east. Mgeddi and the other small villages were probably unfortified. A reasonably secure dating of these sites still remains uncertain but most of them existed during EB II‑IV.

11With regard to the environment and land use, I shall start with the immediate surroundings of Tell Chuera and go on to describe further anthropogenic interferences in the landscape. The Tell Chuera settlement cluster (ca. 2,000 ha out of almost 5,400 ha) has been investigated in more detail. Here, the distribution of sites and their respective location resulted in the following interpretation of land use during the Early Bronze Age.

12The retention area in case of flooding, situated northwest of Tell Chuera, can be seen in the context of the adjoining production area; the same may apply to the perhaps artificial wadi (canal) in the east of the settlement. Here, a production area was excavated outside the settlement, including single rooms with production facilities like ovens, pits and traces of the above‑mentioned artificial canal.

  • 11 Krätschell, Wunderlich and Thiemeyer 2009, p. 77‑86; Krätschell 2010.

13The area between the supposed fields was almost 1 km from the settlement and may have been used to grow vegetables, but especially to make mud bricks. Digging and boring carried out in the course of our geomorphological research11 imply that the latter possibility was more probable: they show that the upper (that is the younger) layers of soil apparent elsewhere were lacking here. Finally, the surroundings were used as a quarry for the stone foundations of the monumental buildings, mostly the platform constructions of the temples (stone buildings I‑IV).

  • 12 Kudlek forthcoming.
  • 13 Ernst 2014.
  • 14 Kudlek forthcoming.

14At least during the ID period (ca. 2500 BC), and probably earlier, canals were built throughout the surroundings12. They either made use of small tributary wadis or they were connected to larger wadis. Either way, water seems to have been sufficiently plentiful for most of the third millennium. The large wadis bordering the first and second order settlements, such as Wadi Chuera or Wadi Dehliz, probably carried water for much of the year. The water came mainly from the foothills of the Taurus. Obviously, we can expect sufficient rainfall during the first part of the third millennium BC and it was only at the end of that millennium that the climate became more arid, with periods of drought13. Small farmsteads (under 0.5 ha) were dotted along the canals, at more or less regular distances, and a relatively large number of smaller settlements (villages) extended over 1 to 5 ha near the immediate vicinity of the central places, such as Tell Chuera (1st category) and Kharab Sayyar (2nd category, without extension). Additionally, there is evidence for the use of wells in the surroundings. They have been found in the wadi and also in the settlement itself. We may therefore presume that irrigation was used, at least to a limited degree. Close to Dekhliz, there was even a water reservoir14.

  • 15 Kudlek forthcoming.
  • 16 Krätschell 2010.
  • 17 Tamm 2016.

15Furthermore, small stone structures are quite frequent in the area under investigation; they may have served as towers (burji) for the protection of the arable acreage15. The existence of hollow paths – possibly created as a result of use as a pathway for people and animals – which in general led away from the settlement16, implies that the settlement may also have contained gardens. Finally, in the area to the northeast and southwest of the settlement, graves have been found, so there were at least two different extra‑mural cemeteries with pit graves and stone cists17.

  • 18 Van Liere and Lauffray 1954-1955.
  • 19 Moortgat‑Correns 1972, p. 10‑24, pl. IX‑XXII.
  • 20 Meyer 1997.

16Sacred areas were also created in the immediate surroundings of the settlements. In Tell Chuera itself, that function was filled by the so‑called “Außenbauten” – a temple in antis and the road of the stelae. A comparable structure was also found during the survey near Tell Ragha, west of Chuera, a second order site. Stone stelae were erected there as well but unfortunately, I only saw them after they had been razed by a bulldozer, therefore I cannot be sure of their original location, which was at any rate outside the settlement. This finding is in keeping with a statement by van Liere18, who maintains that he saw such stelae outside several settlements (Beydar, Bogha). The installation of temples and stelae outside settlements seems to be characteristic of the organisation of Round Cities in Northeast Syria in the late third millennium BC (ca. 2600‑2300 BC). We cannot rule out a connection with the stelae on the Djebel al Beida (Ras et‑Tell) in the Djebel Ab del Aziz; some of which bear figurative decoration, while others are undecorated19. Perhaps they were part of a form of ancestor worship, as I have argued elsewhere20.

  • 21 Krätschell 2010.

17I will conclude this section with a summary of our survey results. We have undertaken a lot more interdisciplinary work, for example, intensive borings and percussive drillings to learn about the development of soils, soil formation and surfaces in order to estimate anthropogenic influences. This has provided information about the appearance of the landscape behind the fields, mostly to the south – in a sebkha, a flat depression, temporarily filled with water, and without surface runoff21. According to the botanical and archaeo-zoological analyses (traces of tamarisk, gazelle, onager), this must have been a kind of bush savanna. Strontium-isotope analyses from sheep teeth point to a pastoral way of life for part of the population, who moved further south to the Euphrates Valley and beyond to feed their animals during winter. Such comprehensive interdisciplinary research is very important for understanding complex societies.

18I will now come back to the question of urbanisation, which seems to be closely connected to the definition of the term “city”, or urbanised settlements. I consider internal structures as well as external features as parameters for the definition of a settlement as urban.

Settlement pattern

Settlement size

  • 22 Algaze 2008.

19The size of the settlement refers first of all to the sheer extension of the settlement, as has recently been emphasised by Algaze22. It is, of course, not possible to define a specific settlement size as urban, but the settlement should contain more inhabitants than could be fed by the agricultural produce available from the immediate surroundings. As a rule, it is assumed that in a dry‑farming area (at least 200 mm precipitation per year), up to a distance of 5 km, the cultivation of fields does not present any problem. That calculation would yield an arable area of 80‑100 square km or ca. 8,000‑10,000 ha.

  • 23 Cf. Meyer 1996, with further literature.

20All further calculations remain speculative23. If we assume that the yield from one hectare is sufficient for one person, that area could feed up to 10,000 people per year. With an estimated population density of 250 people per hectare, a settlement extending over more than ca. 40 ha would need to enlarge the arable land in order to feed its inhabitants. To that end, new dependent settlements would have to be founded, which would provide the necessary victuals (we shall come back to this point in connection with settlement systems). With regard to any number of imponderables – such as public buildings, open spaces, streets – I propose a minimum size of ca. 30 ha to meet the necessary preconditions for urbanisation in a region with the above‑stated conditions (dry‑farming).

Settlement organisation

  • 24 Conzen 1968; Conzen 1988.
  • 25 Rapaport 1988; Rapaport 1990a; Rapaport 1990b.

21A further parameter consists in the internal organisation of the settlement, the “urban morphology”, as defined by Conzen in various articles24. This includes the separation of public buildings – palace, temple, fortifications – and private ones, the installation of streets and lanes and squares. Such a network is bound to strengthen the internal communication of the inhabitants – but also hints at the marked distinction between social groups, which is a characteristic feature of urban settlements. Here, I am referring to defining social identities in terms of wealth, status, power, etc., as described by Rapaport25.

  • 26 See De Marrais, Castillo and Earle 1996, for the concept “materialization of ideology”; Trigger 19 (...)

22All of those aspects can be found in the results of our excavations in Tell Chuera, which confirm the use of the term “urban” for that settlement. None of these features can exist without organisation and planning. The same is true for the construction of monumental buildings26, which are considered to symbolize power in either direction, inside and out. In this way, social dependencies and social groups are already recognizable in the layout of the city – which is an indispensable prerequisite for the urban character of a settlement.

Settlement system

  • 27 Rapaport 1990a; Rapaport 2006.
  • 28 Adams 1965.
  • 29 Christaller 1933.

23Another necessary prerequisite for the formation of urban settlements is the use of the natural environment. In this context, several publications by Rapaport should be mentioned27, where he emphasises the reciprocal influence between Man and his environment: fields, pastures (subsistence), rivers and/or canals (higher yields), roads (communication). The intensive use of the landscape guarantees subsistence and improves the food supply of the population. The population then increases, and a time comes when the produce from the cultivable land within easy reach is no longer sufficient. One of the possible decisions taken in the ancient Near East from about the mid‑third millennium BC onwards is the foundation of “filial settlements” to supply the “mother settlement” with provisions. This kind of development occurred in Southern Mesopotamia28 and can be reconstructed from the results of our survey for northeastern Syria, at least from the middle of the third millennium BC onwards. In this way, not only was subsistence guaranteed, but also further growth – resulting in more new foundations and finally in a multi‑layered settlement system. Geographically, these settlements tend to be arranged according to the central place theory, as proposed by Christaller29. The sizes of the settlements differ – for instance city, town, village, hamlet – and the higher ranking (bigger) settlements comprise more functions than the lower ones: for example, administrative organization, erection of temples, societal structure, diversification of production.

  • 30 For detailed data, see Kudlek forthcoming.

24These types of settlement systems can only be detected by surveys specifically conducted with that aim in mind. I would like to mention our Wadi Hamar survey as an example. For the region around Tell Chuera (15 km in diameter), it was possible to demonstrate that the settlement system consisted of at least four, presumably even five layers. When it was founded towards the end of the fourth millennium BC, it already consisted of at least three layers30.

  • 31 Contra Lyonnet 1998.

25In the ancient Near East, such settlement systems associated with the urbanisation of the centre only developed for settlements based on agricultural or craft production. The situation is somewhat different for settlements relying primarily on trade. Furthermore, I do not think that pastoralism plays a major role in urbanisation – but it does play a role in providing urban centres with provisions. In Mesopotamia, nomadism did not lead to urbanisation, nor did pastoralism31.

26This leads to the question: is more than a two‑layered settlement system necessary to ascribe the status of “city” to a settlement? I think that this is the case, because only then is a settlement big enough for sufficient differentiation of the society. According to the available studies, which of these criteria are applicable to Iran?

27As far as I know, no studies of such complexity have yet been undertaken for Iran. Due to space restrictions, I wish to concentrate on two geographical districts: the Susiana Plain in Khuzistan and the Kur River Basin (Tell i‑Malyan) in the Fars.

  • 32 Hole, Flannery and Neely 1969.

28The carefully conducted Deh Luran survey in North Khuzistan has yielded indications of relatively small settlements (1‑2 ha)32. The somewhat larger settlement at Tepe Musiyan (13 ha) appears to be much younger (Parthian?). All the settlements date to the Chalcolithic period, a time when urbanisation is hardly to be expected.

  • 33 Johnson 1973.
  • 34 Cf. Alizadeh 2008.
  • 35 Wright 2013, pers. comm. by A. Alizadeh.
  • 36 Johnson 1973.
  • 37 Alizadeh 2008, p. 23.
  • 38 Alizadeh 2008, p. 23‑27.

29For the Susiana Plain in the Early Susa 2 period (Early Uruk ca. 4000‑3800 BC), Johnson counted 49 settlements extending over 95 ha in total33. He reconstructed a three‑layered settlement system with Susa (Susa 5‑12 ha) and Abu Fanduweh as regional centres34. For the subsequent Middle Susa 2 period (Middle Uruk, ca. 3800‑3500 BC), 52 settlements extending over 127 ha have been identified, with Susa (25 ha) as the centre. Meanwhile, the existence of settlements in Choga Mish (10 ha) and Abu Fanduweh (8 ha), which Johnson also attributed to that time span, has now been called into question35. In addition, four settlements of 3.5‑6.5 ha, 17 of 1.5‑3 ha and 30 of less than 1.5 ha have been documented. Susa can clearly be considered as the centre, but whether or not it was an urban centre remains uncertain, due to the lack of information, and appears to me rather doubtful. The following protoliterate period 1 (End of Susa 3; Late Uruk, end of the third millennium BC) saw a considerable decline in the number of settlements. Only 13 settlements remained, covering a total area of 100 ha. This period is also – sparsely – represented in other Iranian regions: in the Fars (Tepe Malyan, Mamasani) or Kerman (Tepe Yahya). In the Susiana, Susa obviously became less important (ca. 9 ha)36, especially compared to Choga Mish (18 ha)37. Thanks to Abbas Alizadeh’s excellent publication, we are now quite well informed about the architecture in that time span in Choga Mish. The remains of many private houses have been exposed beside a three‑aisled building with a similar ground plan to that of the buildings in Eanna. In addition, at Choga Mish, remains of other structures have to be considered as well, including the platform, canals, various house shapes. Furthermore, for that time, there is a relatively wide diffusion of Proto‑Elamite tablets (Susa 3‑tablets). These aspects undoubtedly point to a society with a hierarchy, the formation of elites, the need for an administration, the organisation of labour – only the platform may perhaps have had some religious function and the three‑aisled building does not qualify as a religious structure. This is of course not sufficient proof of an urban character. There is no doubt that Choga Mish was a regional centre, possibly with trans‑regional relations, as Abbas Alizadeh maintains38, but it probably cannot be described as urban, at least not in the Mesopotamian sense of the term.

30I am also reluctant to describe Tell i‑Malyan as urban. The occupational history of the Fars is definitely comparable to that of the Susiana. For the Early Banesh period (3400‑3250 BC), no more than 20 ha of settled ground have been documented altogether (including 6 ha for Tell i‑Malyan alone). During the Middle Banesh phase (2950 BC), Tell i‑Malyan grew to cover an area of 50 ha; besides there are only a few (8) smaller settlements with a collective size of 10 ha. In the Late Banesh phase (2700-2600 BC), Tell i‑Malyan covered no more than 25 ha, but a city wall is said to have enclosed 200 ha. In this time span, the settled area in the vicinity of Malyan (in the Kur River Basin) decreased from 60 ha to 36 ha.

31To me, some of these statements appear problematic:

    • 39 Sumner 2003, p. 41.
    • 40 Alden 1979, p. 195‑196.
    • 41 Sumner 2003, p. 204.
    • 42 Wright 2013, p. 56.
    • 43 As does Wright 2013, p. 56.
    • 44 Wright 2013, p. 56.

    I do not see how the assumed settlement sizes in Tell i‑Malyan for the Middle and Late Banesh phases were calculated.
    According to Sumner39, area ABC had a double fortification during the Middle Banesh phase, as had area TUV40, and perhaps others as well41. Were these individual areas settled at the same time?
    Another possibility – at least hinted at by Wright42 – would consist in a more tribally organised settlement pattern with a fortified place allotted to each clan or lineage.
    In any case, I do not see a single concrete hint that would allow us to consider these settlements as urban centres43. In principle, Wright confirms this view, when he implies that the population of Tell i‑Malyan was not organised according to a strict hierarchy44.

    • 45 Alden 2013, p. 225.

    In addition, in the surroundings of Tell i‑Malyan, there is no settlement that could have helped to supply a city45, or at least no such settlement has been identified (maybe ploughed under?).

    • 46 Wright 2013, p. 56.
    • 47 Wright 2013, p. 56‑57.
    • 48 Alizadeh 2006, p. 35‑36.

    Wright assumes that at least part of the population – about half – was just seasonally residing in Tell i‑Malyan46. From a Mesopotamian perspective, the urban character of the settlement would be rather questionable in this case.
    However, mural paintings, Proto‑Elamite tablets, seals, and clearly imported objects (obsidian, mother‑of‑pearl) imply that this was a settlement of regional importance – but to my mind, it was still a village, or several villages.
    I accept the view advanced by Wright47 and Alizadeh48, who maintain that the settlements in Tell i‑Malyan had close connections, maybe even family relations, to the pastoral nomads in the surroundings and that they all cooperated to secure the subsistence of the permanent residents and even accumulated riches.
    In the Late Banesh phase, the settlement pattern is comparatively reduced.

    • 49 Wright 2013, p. 56‑57.

    The foundation of a wall enclosing all the settled areas plus more than 100 ha of open space are quite striking.
    Again, I follow the reasoning of Wright49 and others, who consider that the construction of this wall was a consequence of changed relationships between the residents and mobile groups. Occupation activities were generally on the decline, and I think it was rather improbable that conditions were auspicious to the foundation of a city in the Mesopotamian sense. I would interpret the erection of that wall as arising from the protective needs of a village community.


  • 50 Weiss 1986.

32My proposal is that neither the Susiana nor the Fars underwent any urbanisation in the Mesopotamian sense before the end of the third millennium BC. I consider that settlement patterns developed out of village structures, as they are known from Susa 1 and Tell i‑Bakun A – a Chalcolithic tradition. Marked relationships between the country and the city, settlement size and settlement organisation – which are all fundamental for the origin of Mesopotamian cities, and cities in general – seem to be lacking. In addition, the differences in economy – dry‑farming in Iran, irrigation agriculture in Southern Mesopotamia – cannot be taken as a strong argument, as we have an economy based on dry‑farming in northern Mesopotamia as well50. The new data from Tell Chuera mark the beginning of urban settlements and point to the overall development of this region, followed by the subsequent urbanisation under dry‑farming conditions at the end of the fourth millennium BC.

33If we want to use the term “urban” or urbanisation for Iranian settlements, I suggest that we have to look for other factors. One of those factors could be pastoralism, which is more distinctive in Iran than in Mesopotamia. I would like to cautiously propose that the settlements at the end‑points of migration routes might be called urban (e.g. Tell i‑Malyan), as well as settlements at the end‑points of caravan routes (e.g. Shadad, Shar i‑Sokhta). In Khuzistan, under dry‑farming conditions, this development might be comparable with northern Mesopotamia, although it occurred slightly later (second half of the third millennium BC). If we accept this proposal, we can use the term “urban” or “urbanisation”, but we should add “Iranian urbanisation”.


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1 Petrie Cameron 2013.

2 Adams and Nissen 1972.

3 Adams 1965.

4 Cf. Roaf 1998.

5 Christaller 1933.

6 DFG/ANR-projekt, Runde Siedlungen des 3. Jts. v. Chr. in marginalen Gebieten Nordsyriens – Genese, Entwicklung, Untergang (Akronym: BADIYA) 2010‑2013. Direction: Corinne Castel (Lyon), Philippe Quenet (Strasbourg), Jan‑Waalke Meyer (Frankfurt).

7 Hüls 2013, p. 157‑161; Weninger, Neef and Meyer 2010, p. 187‑197.

8 Meyer 2011, p. 129‑136.

9 Comp. Hempelmann 2013.

10 The complete results will be presented in Veronika Kudlek’s PhD study.

11 Krätschell, Wunderlich and Thiemeyer 2009, p. 77‑86; Krätschell 2010.

12 Kudlek forthcoming.

13 Ernst 2014.

14 Kudlek forthcoming.

15 Kudlek forthcoming.

16 Krätschell 2010.

17 Tamm 2016.

18 Van Liere and Lauffray 1954-1955.

19 Moortgat‑Correns 1972, p. 10‑24, pl. IX‑XXII.

20 Meyer 1997.

21 Krätschell 2010.

22 Algaze 2008.

23 Cf. Meyer 1996, with further literature.

24 Conzen 1968; Conzen 1988.

25 Rapaport 1988; Rapaport 1990a; Rapaport 1990b.

26 See De Marrais, Castillo and Earle 1996, for the concept “materialization of ideology”; Trigger 1990, for “scale equals power”.

27 Rapaport 1990a; Rapaport 2006.

28 Adams 1965.

29 Christaller 1933.

30 For detailed data, see Kudlek forthcoming.

31 Contra Lyonnet 1998.

32 Hole, Flannery and Neely 1969.

33 Johnson 1973.

34 Cf. Alizadeh 2008.

35 Wright 2013, pers. comm. by A. Alizadeh.

36 Johnson 1973.

37 Alizadeh 2008, p. 23.

38 Alizadeh 2008, p. 23‑27.

39 Sumner 2003, p. 41.

40 Alden 1979, p. 195‑196.

41 Sumner 2003, p. 204.

42 Wright 2013, p. 56.

43 As does Wright 2013, p. 56.

44 Wright 2013, p. 56.

45 Alden 2013, p. 225.

46 Wright 2013, p. 56.

47 Wright 2013, p. 56‑57.

48 Alizadeh 2006, p. 35‑36.

49 Wright 2013, p. 56‑57.

50 Weiss 1986.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – Early Bronze Age sites and survey in northeastern Syria (after Quenet 2011).
Fichier image/jpeg, 723k
Titre Fig. 2 – Schematic plan of the development of the settlement during Early Bronze Age.
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Titre Fig. 3 – Tell Chuera, geophysical map.
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,0M
Titre Fig. 4 – Kharab Sayyar, geophysical map.
Fichier image/jpeg, 940k
Titre Fig. 5 – Mgeddi, geophysical map.
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Titre Fig. 6 – Settlement pattern in the area of Tell Chuera (after Veronika Kudlek: Copyright Tell Chuera excavation).
Fichier image/jpeg, 718k


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