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The Iranian Plateau during the Bronze Age

 | 
Jan-Waalke Meyer
, 
Emmanuelle Vila
, 
Marjan Mashkour
, 
et al.

Elamite Kingdom

Susa at the turn of the 4th and 3rd millennia

Alain Le Brun

Résumé

Les deux chantiers stratigraphiques entrepris par la Mission de Suse il y a plus de 40 ans, à Suse, sur les tépés de l’Acropole (“Acropole I”) et de la Ville Royale (“Ville Royale I”), avaient pour but l’établissement d’un cadre de référence allant des origines de l’agglomération dans la première moitié du IVe millénaire, jusqu’à la fin du IIIe millénaire. L’article reprend les principaux résultats de ces recherches touchant le moment où Suse, au tournant des IVe et IIIe millénaires a quitté la sphère d’influence mésopotamienne pour entrer dans la sphère d’influence proto‑élamite.

Texte intégral

1The organizers of this colloquium asked me to present an overview of research on the end of the 4th and beginning of the 3rd millennium conducted at Susa, more than 40 years ago. This look back will not be the occasion to present a state of the question as it is today but more simply to present what was done then at Susa.

2This research was embedded in the stratigraphic research program undertaken by the Susa Mission at the initiative of its Director, Jean Perrot, under the umbrella of one of the programs of the CNRS team known as “Préhistoire et protohistoire du Proche-Orient asiatique” or RCP 50. The goal was to establish an archaeological sequence, as precise and complete as possible, from the founding of Susa until the Islamic period. Such a sequence was indispensable for any attempt to reconstruct the history of Susa and its region, southwestern Iran.

  • 1 Le Breton 1957.

3Indeed, we had a rich documentation in the layers of ancient Susa laid down during the course of the 4th and 3rd millennia, from the research conducted on the tepe of Acropole and that of Ville Royale by par Jacques de Morgan, and then by Roland de Mecquenem. In fact, it was the analysis of this material that permitted Louis Le Breton1 to build a sequence. However that sequence was essentially founded on ceramic typology in the absence of precise stratigraphy.

4The goal was to remedy this absence of stratigraphic control and to establish a sound archaeological sequence spanning from the original settlement in the first half of the 4th millennium until the end of the 3rd millennium. That is to say, a period that saw the emergence of a settlement at Susa and the invention of writing, but also the swing of Susa between different cultural worlds; therefore, two operations of stratigraphic control had to be undertaken. Two soundings were opened, not far from one another, one on Tepe “Acropole” and the other on Tepe “Ville Royale” (fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – Susa. “Acropole 1” and ”Ville Royale I” excavations (archives of the Délégation archéologique française en Iran).

Fig. 1 – Susa. “Acropole 1” and ”Ville Royale I” excavations (archives of the Délégation archéologique française en Iran).
  • 2 Le Brun 1971; Le Brun 1978.
  • 3 Carter 1978; Carter 1980.

5The sounding called “Acropole I”2 is located southeast of the tepe, on the northern edge at R. de Mecquenem’s “Sondage 2”. There remained a 100 m2 column of earth dominating the entire area, with vertical sides, called “Morgan’s Témoin” which is the only vestige of de Morgan’s Level II. The second sounding, called “Ville Royale I”3, lies at the northwest edge of de Mecquenem’s “Chantier I”, at about 150 m east-southeast of “Acropole I”.

 

6At the Acropole sounding, cleaning of the western face of the “Temoin” and establishing a vertical section of the northern edge of de Mecquenem’s “Sondage 2”, allowed the reading of 27 geo-archaeological layers (fig. 2). The examination of the material from these layers permitted three separate periods to be distinguished.

Fig. 2 – Susa. “Acropole 1”: east‑west Section. A white line indicates the transition of levels 17‑16 (archives of the Délégation archéologique française en Iran).

Fig. 2 – Susa. “Acropole 1”: east‑west Section. A white line indicates the transition of levels 17‑16 (archives of the Délégation archéologique française en Iran).

7Susa’s Period I corresponds to levels 27‑23 and represents the first occupation of Susa, during which a monumental stepped platform, “la Haute Terrasse”, was erected. The hallmark of this period is a well‑known painted buff ware.

8Susa’s Period II corresponds to levels 22‑17. At this time Susa enters into the Mesopotamian cultural and socio-political sphere. Mass-produced moulded bowls, the “Bevelled Rim Bowls” give this period its unity. This period is also marked by the appearance, in level 20, of the first cylinder seals, and then, in level 19, of a system of accounting with counters encased in clay envelopes, or bullae, sealed with cylinder seals and carrying occasional impressions of the encased counters on the outer surface. The ways in which these devices for the control of goods and information were used, were perfected in levels 18 and 17, especially with the invention of a new mode of recording: numerical tablets.

  • 4 Johnson 1987, fig. 30.

9At that time, Susa was one of the three great centers of the region with Abu Fanduweh in the South and Chogha Mish in the east of the Diz4.

10Susa’s Period III corresponds to levels 16‑14 and sees the appearance of a system of writing with the Proto‑Elamite tablets. In the first quarter of the 3rd millennium Susa enters in a new cultural sphere encompassing the central and eastern part of Iran, the Proto‑Elamite sphere.

 

  • 5 Wright 1987, p. 149.
  • 6 Johnson 1973, p. 143‑147; Johnson 1987, p. 124‑125.
  • 7 Alden 1982.
  • 8 Cf. Alden 1987, fig. 41.

11According to the surface surveys carried out by different expeditions, the population appears to have declined at the end of period II whereas the population of the Warka area increased. There are several possible causes5 that might explain this decline and Susa’s swinging from the Mesopotamian sphere of influence toward the Proto‑Elamite. One possible cause might have been the inability of the economic structures to renew themselves; another possible cause might have been competition and hostility between the two rival administrative centers, Susa and Chogha Mish6, or possibly the shifting of commercial relations7, or finally the ruinous raids of mountain dwellers into the region. Whatever the reasons, the situation on the plain between the Kerkha and the Diz had changed. Most of the localities that had been active before were now abandoned. They were replaced by new creations: a few village‑sized settlements probably seasonally occupied. Susa appears to have been isolated8.

12The work that was done earlier on the Acropole by J. de Morgan and R. de Mecquenem largely removed the deposits corresponding to the transition between the levels under Mesopotamian influence, that is Susa II, and the Proto‑Elamite levels, Susa III. The resulting image of this transition in Acropole I, still legible across 10 meters, is stark.

13The remains of the last architectural level of Period II, 17B, are covered by a thick ashy deposit, 17A, which contains nevertheless material in every way identical to that found in the habitation below.

14This assemblage is sealed by a layer of tamped earth surmounted by a mud‑brick paving which constitutes the sub‑basement of the level 16 habitation. Yet in level 16, many forms disappear – the jars with twisted handles and grooved shoulder, the jars with reserve slip and punctate shoulder, the high cylindrical jars and the nose‑lug jars with incised decoration, all made on grit‑tempered ware and all commune and distinctive ceramic features of the Period II. However new ceramic material appears, a new glyptic as well as the first written documents, those tablets bearing Proto‑Elamite signs.

15If, from the stratigraphic point of view, nothing indicates an abandonment between levels 17 and 16 of this sector of Acropole, an examination of the material culture, so different from that of the preceding period, leads us to envisage a hiatus between these two levels. This hiatus might reflect a temporary abandonment in this sector of Acropole, which might have profited another zone of the tepe. Circumstances caused the researchers to be unable to complete the program, which was to determine precisely the duration and nature of the transition between 17 and 16.

 

  • 9 Despite the two Proto-Elamite tablets found in one of the burials excavated in the “Donjon”, the P (...)

16The Proto‑Elamite period at Susa corresponds to a remodelling of the location of the settlement and a diminution in its size. The entire Acropole was occupied (but the sector north of the Acropole was probably abandoned) whereas the occupation extends to the East in the southern portion of Ville Royale9. The existence of economic tablets dealing with large quantities of items suggests that the settlement continued to be active.

 

  • 10 Madjizadeh 2001.
  • 11 Hessari 2011.

17If in the preceding levels we could follow the improvements in the economic documents, it is in level 16 that there is a decisive step. In effect, it is then that the first written documents appear. These are tablets of a different character, less heavy, less thick than those of the preceding levels. Apart from the numerical notations, these documents bear signs of writing: ideograms or pictograms representing a different language from that of contemporary Sumer, the Proto‑Elamite. This type of writing is widespread on the Plateau as evidenced by examples found in western Fars (Tell‑I Malyan), in Kerman (Tepe Yahya), in Seistan (Shar‑I Sokhta), on the western border of the Kevir desert (Tepe Sialk). In addition we now have Ozkaki10 and Tepe Sofalin11 in northern Iran. This type of writing, an original creation or an imitation inspired by the Mesopotamian example, is immediately well established at Susa.

18As to the architecture, less can be said as a result of the narrowness of the exposed surfaces. That portion of the habitation – 75 m2 were uncovered –, consists of long rectangular chambers built next to one another. This arrangement remains the same from level 16 to level 14b with some modifications and remodelling. One of these rooms is equipped with a new kind of hearth, an elaborate raised‑box hearth consisting of a lower plastered compartment, adjacent to an elevated box, both partially set into the wall. This type of hearth is also known at Godin Tepe V as well as in the Middle Banesh levels at Tell‑i Malyan.

19The glyptic, judging by its style and inspiration, is different from that of the preceding period as illustrated by the material uncovered at Acropole. Among the documents collected are cylinder seals carved in burnt steatite and engraved with geometric patterns common in the Diyala: hatched bands or lozenges and four-petalled rosettes. More characteristic of Susa is a cylinder seal combining a hatched cross and a coarsely cut quadruped.

20One of the familiar themes of the glyptic is the representation of animals acting as humans, vivid and fluidly rendered: rows of lion‑archers holding bows, or animals manipulating vases, such as small spouted jars. These jars belong to an earlier period and are no longer in use.

21As to ceramics, wares and shapes have changed. On the one hand, the use of chaff temper becomes general. On the other hand, although the bevelled rim bowls continue, they are a smaller percentage of the ceramic assemblage than they were in the preceding period, and they differ from the classic type. The best parallels of these forms are not often found in Mesopotamia. Rather they are found on the Iranian Plateau, in the Middle Banesh levels at Tell‑i Malyan. Apart from this, the spread of mass-produced wares ceases in Susiana in contrast to Babylonia where it intensifies.

22The ceramic types that mark the period are trays with rounded everted rims, solid‑footed goblets, ledge rim bowls, frequently with a brown‑red wash, low necked globular jars. These are sometimes, but rarely, decorated with horizontal or wavy painted bands applied on the surface or on slip. Rare sherds with fugitive red and black geometric painted patterns on buff ware were recovered in level 15.

23Because they were severely attacked by erosion, levels 14A‑13 are not well known. Nevertheless, it seems that the juncture between 14B‑14A corresponds to a cultural subdivision: the solid‑footed goblets, the coarse‑ware trays and the black and red bichrome wares are no longer seen. The presence of fugitive bichrome decorations diminishes. That a break exists between 14B and 14A is substantiated by the excavation at Ville Royale.

24The following sequence at Acropole is very poorly documented because the high part of the “Témoin” was difficult to access, and only superficial observation was possible of levels 1 to 13. Nevertheless, it may be noted, by way of a chronological landmark, that an Old Akkadian tablet from the Agada period was found in the partial collapse of one of the corners of the “Témoin”: that is to say from the higher levels, 1‑9.

 

  • 12 See for example Le Brun 1971, fig. 59, no. 4, 9, 6 and Carter 1980, fig. 17, no. 6, 4, 7.

25The following history of Susa during the 3rd millennium may only be read in the Ville Royale sequence. This sector, which was uninhabited until this period, saw the creation of a new quarter of the settlement. The continuity of the archaeological sequence between Acropole and Ville Royale is established by the contemporaneity of Acropole I, levels 14‑13 with the bottom levels 18‑17 of the Ville Royale tepe which seems reasonably substantiated, based on a consideration of the ceramic and glyptic assemblages12.

26The levels 18‑17 of Ville Royale I (level 18 being directly founded on virgin soil), were explored over an area of approximately 200 m2. The remains of two large habitations separated by a roughly rectangular open space containing several ovens and kilns were found there.

  • 13 Carter 1978, p. 211.

27However, the excavated area from level 16 onwards diminishes in size to about 20 m2. As is pointed out by E. Carter13, the area excavated is small and the changes appear to be gradual rather than abrupt, the phase divisions are tentative.

 

  • 14 Amiet 1986, p. 98.

28Nevertheless, level 18 to 13 were attributed by E. Carter to period III. Levels 18‑17 might represent, according to P. Amiet14, the classical Proto‑Elamite period whereas levels 16 to 13, where neither tablets nor seals nor seal impressions were found, might illustrate the extinction of the Proto‑Elamite cultural character at Susa. The juncture between levels 12 and 13 was marked by an erosion surface.

  • 15 Carter 1980, p. 31.

29Isolated in the middle of a nearly deserted plain, Susa, although reduced in size, continued to be an active center, as evidenced by numerous economic tablets. Doubtless this activity was due to its position as a small frontier town on the edge of the Proto‑Elamite cultural sphere with easy access to Mesopotamia. The Proto‑Elamite writing system is short‑lived and disappears around 2900 BC, and until the introduction of Mesopotamian cuneiform around 2300‑2200 BC, no examples of writing from Iran are known. And little by little, during the course of the millennia, Susa passes, according to the formulation of E. Carter15, from the status of “the most Mesopotamian of Elamite towns to the most Elamite of Mesopotamian cities”.

Bibliographie

Alden J.R. 1982, “Trade and Politics in Proto-Elamite Iran”, Current Anthropology 23/6, p. 613‑640.

Alden J.R. 1987, “The Susa III Period”, in Fr. Hole (ed.), The Archaeology of Western Iran. Settlement and Society from Prehistory to the Islamic Conquest, Smithsonian Series in Archaeological Inquiry, Washington D.C., p. 157‑170.

Amiet P. 1986, L’âge des échanges inter-iraniens. 3500‑1700 avant J.‑C., Paris.

Carter E. 1978, “Suse, ‘Ville Royale’ ”, Paléorient 4, p. 197‑211.

Carter E. 1980, Excavations in Ville Royale I at Susa: the Third Millenium B.C. Occupation, Cahiers de la Délégation archéologique française en Iran (DAFI) 11.

Hessari M. 2011, “New Evidence of the Emergence of Complex Societies Discovered on the Central Iranian Plateau”, Iranian Journal of Archaeological Studies 1/2, p. 35‑48.

Jonhson Gr.A. 1973, Local Exchange and Early State Development in Southwestern Iran, Anthropological Papers 51, Ann Arbor MI.

Jonhson Gr.A. 1987, “The Changing Organization of Uruk Administration on the Susiana Plain”, in Fr. Hole (ed.), The Archaeology of Western Iran. Settlement and Society from Prehistory to the Islamic Conquest, Washington D.C., p. 107‑139.

Le Breton L. 1957, “The Early Periods at Susa, Mesopotamian Relations”, Iraq 19, p. 79‑124.

Le Brun A. 1971, “Recherches stratigraphiques à l’Acropole de Suse, 1969‑1971”, Cahiers de la Délégation archéologique française en Iran (DAFI) 1, p. 163‑216.

Le Brun A. 1978, “Suse, chantier ‘Acropole 1’ ”, Paléorient 4, p. 177‑192.

Madjizadeh Y. 2001, “Les fouilles d’Ozbaki (Iran). Campagnes de 1998‑2000”, Paléorient 27/1, p. 141‑145.

Wright H.T. 1987, “The Susiana Hinterland during the Era of Primary State Formation”, in Fr. Hole (ed.), The Archaeology of Western Iran. Settlement and Society from Prehistory to the Islamic Conquest, Smithsonian Series in Archaeological Inquiry, Washington D.C., p. 141‑155.

Notes

1 Le Breton 1957.

2 Le Brun 1971; Le Brun 1978.

3 Carter 1978; Carter 1980.

4 Johnson 1987, fig. 30.

5 Wright 1987, p. 149.

6 Johnson 1973, p. 143‑147; Johnson 1987, p. 124‑125.

7 Alden 1982.

8 Cf. Alden 1987, fig. 41.

9 Despite the two Proto-Elamite tablets found in one of the burials excavated in the “Donjon”, the Proto-Elamite occupation of that portion of the site is uncertain, Amiet 1986, p. 92.

10 Madjizadeh 2001.

11 Hessari 2011.

12 See for example Le Brun 1971, fig. 59, no. 4, 9, 6 and Carter 1980, fig. 17, no. 6, 4, 7.

13 Carter 1978, p. 211.

14 Amiet 1986, p. 98.

15 Carter 1980, p. 31.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – Susa. “Acropole 1” and ”Ville Royale I” excavations (archives of the Délégation archéologique française en Iran).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8026/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1011k
Titre Fig. 2 – Susa. “Acropole 1”: east‑west Section. A white line indicates the transition of levels 17‑16 (archives of the Délégation archéologique française en Iran).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8026/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 849k

Auteur

UMR 7041-ArScAn (CNRS, Sorbonne Universités), Maison René Ginouvès, 21 allée de l’université, 92023 Nanterre

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