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The Iranian Plateau during the Bronze Age

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

Elamite Kingdom

In search of cities in Elam. For a geoarchaeological approach to the toponym-hydronym interaction

Elnaz Rashidian

Résumé

Malgré plus de 150 ans de recherche à la fois philologique et archéologique sur l’Élam antique, très peu de choses seulement sont connues et beaucoup restent à découvrir sur le milieu et sur le système d’occupation. L’une des questions les plus intéressantes à cet égard est celle de l’urbanisation de l’Élam à partir du IIIe millénaire av. J.‑C. Pourtant, la rareté des données géographiques sur la distribution spatiale des sites en Élam rend quasi impossible une reconstitution, même sous forme d’esquisse, de l’Élam urbanisé et de son interaction avec l’environnement naturel. Les fouilles archéologiques jusqu’à maintenant sont souvent pour la plupart sporadiques et incomplètes. En outre, les données écrites sont du point de vue philologique, au mieux, vagues et contradictoires.
Lorsque l’on cherche à comprendre un toponyme donné d’une manière exacte, il n’y a évidemment pas d’autre alternative que de faire une série de fouilles programmées accompagnées de prospections extensives. Cependant, en raison des cas individuels dans le processus de formation des sites, cette approche n’est pas toujours garante de résultats. L’utilisation des méthodes géo-archéologiques est suggérée pour mieux comprendre l’interaction entre toponyme et hydronyme. L’analyse morphologique – de loin la méthode la plus utile dans la recherche géo-archéologique – est proposée ici comme un outil indispensable, quoique complémentaire, pour les recherches actuelles dans ce domaine. La macro- et la micro-morphologie fournissent chacune des indications précieuses sur un site (toponyme) et ses environs (p. ex. hydronyme) tout en étant de faible coût et sans dommage pour le contexte archéologique.
Les définitions de “Élam” et de “[pré] urbain” sont discutées ici avant tout. Puis, la plupart des obstacles aux problèmes mentionnés ci‑dessus, dus aux incohérences archéologiques et philologiques, ainsi que la recherche des spécificités dans la formation des villes en Élam sont résumés à travers des exemples. Enfin, des méthodes morphologiques sont suggérées pour aborder ces questions, en prenant des exemples dans la recherche actuelle en géo-archéologie d’autres régions.

Texte intégral

Issues regarding urban Elam

  • 1 Carter and Stolper 1984; Potts 1999; Dittmann 1986; Amiet 1966.
  • 2 For example, Steinkeller 1982, p. 265, fig. 2.

1Where are the cities in Elam and the rivers which part them and shape their toponym-hydronym setting? The fact is that we know little of Elam’s geographical setting (see fig. 1 for an outline) despite 150 years of Elamite archaeology along with huge amounts of written evidence both from Elam and its neighbors. There were attempts to reconstruct this interaction1. But none of them was compelling enough to take us further towards a better understanding in this regard. Our maps of Elam are therefore filled with question marks before the names and locations2. One may blame the lack of extensive surveys and successive excavations as the main reason for our lack of information. However, it is known that excavation and survey data are deficient if they are not correlated to other methods. Maybe now is the time to look at the issue from another perspective, to approach the question of toponym-hydronym interaction geoarchaeologically.

Fig. 1 – An outline map of the discussed areas.

Fig. 1 – An outline map of the discussed areas.
  • 3 3400‑525 BCE.
  • 4 Carter 1985, p. 313.

2But some commonly used terms shall be defined and clarified foremost. Firstly, to be careful not to limit our understanding to the historical aspect of the archaeological evidence from Elam, the term “Kingdom” is better avoided here. In the following, it is substituted by “Elamite period”, as merely a term for a time span discarding the political issues of an entity of governance. This term is used to refer to the time from the mid-4th to the 1st millennium BCE3, which includes Proto-, Old-, Middle- and Neo-Elamite periods taken from the current chronology of Elam agreed among most scholars4.

3In dealing with a topic as complex and broad as urbanization, one should first pause at definitions such as “city”, “town”, and “urban center” in order to clarify the extent of their range and to avoid confusion over their use and meaning. Some may even exclude the whole concept of “urban” places prior to classical times, denouncing any possible definition for the ancient times as vague and idealistic at best. In the latter case, one would avoid to call those centers cities in order to distinguish the fundamental differences from the actual meaning of the concept of the city as we know it from classical times onwards. Though, for the sake of the argument, let us assume that the urban centers in the Elamite period with their distinguished characteristics could be regarded as cities. Furthermore, let us take “urbanization” as a process both evolutionary and intentional. In addition, the term “urban place” is preferred here as referring to the combination of the urban and the natural setting of a toponym and its satellite settlements, while other terms bear social meanings that would go beyond the scope of this essay.

  • 5 Tosi 1978, p. 59.
  • 6 Wright 1979; Wright and Johnson 1975.

4The first issue is one of definition. As mentioned before, the definition of an urban place is still vague at best. There is yet no clarity in the use of terms such as city, town, and urban centers in ancient Elam. The current approach of a generalized concept of urbanization based on the rich urban heritage of ancient Mesopotamia does not fit the extremely different geographical setting of regions like the dynamic riverine landscape of Khuzestan, the mountainous Zagros, the arid wadi of Kerman, the flat central plateau of Ray, and the vast eroded region of Helmand. In other words, the Mesopotamian concept of urbanization does not seem to fit geographically in the lands under Elamite cultural influence. As Tosi warns us not to generalize the Mesopotamian concept of urbanization and to transfer the Mesopotamian idea of city to the Elamite setting5, we have to bear in mind that in order to find the spatial distribution of urban places in Elam, we must know what we are looking for. Merely seeking to find ruins of cities of several hectares’ extension, with walls and palaces, might be a fruitless search, as some case studies have already shown6.

  • 7 Adams 1960; Johnson 1973; Wright 1979.
  • 8 Christaller 1933, p. 21, 48, 62, etc.
  • 9 Known as the CPT model.
  • 10 Christaller 1933.
  • 11 Pacione 2009, p. 127‑130.

5How do we identify a settlement as urban? There must be factors by which to categorize and sort the settlements. In this regard, there have been long discussions and numerous propositions by several scholars. Some7 find the size of a settlement to be a primary index. This view is based on the law of “spatial dominance”, which states that the paramount center in an area has dominance over all others8. Therefore, by sorting the settlements of an area based on their size, one shall find the center in the largest settlement. This point of view has probably direct roots in the geographical theory of the “central place”9, which has been successfully used to explain the number, size and location of human settlements in an urban system since its introduction by the German geographer Walter Christaller in 193310; at the same time the theory is sharply criticized for its static nature in producing models of settlement pattern11.

  • 12 Mellaart 1975.
  • 13 Mellaart 1975, p. 273.
  • 14 For example, M. Voigt 1976, in her comment on Mellaart’s book, in Science Magazine 192/4240, p. 68 (...)
  • 15 For example, Matney 2012, p. 556‑574.

6Other scholars12 discard the size as not primarily important or indicative, but take the long duration of a settlement occupation as a far more decisive criterion regarding the differentiation of sites as cities or non‑cities. They even go further and state that “… there were cities as well as villages in the Neolithic Near East, … the urban communities of the third millennium … were in all probability only later, larger and more elaborate versions of their Neolithic prototypes”13. Such interpretations are regarded as controversial14. Yet, their credibility is still not investigated via methods other than mere site surveys. However, a similar view at the development of first urban centers in the ancient Near East and their possible roots in the Neolithic period has been recently discussed anew by others15.

  • 16 Zeder 1985.
  • 17 Von Bertalanffy 1968.
  • 18 For tracing that, it suffices to take a look at any fundamental archaeological publication concern (...)
  • 19 Mellaart 1975; Nissen 1995.
  • 20 Bairoch 1988, p. 9‑30.
  • 21 Bairoch 1988, p. 9.
  • 22 For further discussion see Alizadeh 2009, p. 135.
  • 23 Vallat counts hundreds of toponyms, which are listed in either Mesopotamian or Elamite writings fr (...)

7Another group of scholars16 defines urbanization as an economic process embedded in a developing state as a polity and refuses the spatially based definition of urbanization. Such definitions are set in the framework of the “system theory”17 which seems to be a favorite theoretical approach regarding urbanization especially in the American discipline of anthropology18. Population is another important factor which is considered by some as an indicator for an urban place19. Furthermore, population and size are reflected in a third criterion, density, which is directly related to the degree of urbanization, say others20. They suggest the term “pre‑urban cities”, which distinguishes the overall concept of city from the process of urbanization, resulting in the state of urbanism21. As one comes to recognize the vague understanding of those indicators and their definitions, the difficulty of identification of any given settlement as an urban place becomes clearer. But the problem is not even that. Our current archaeological record is unable to provide us with satisfying answers to such questions. In the case of the settlement size, as many have noted, the estimated size of surveyed sites in the Greater Susiana is mostly approximate and often disputable22, especially since only a small portion of them has been subject to geo-prospection and extensive archaeological investigations23.

8To summarize, there are as many criteria for a definition of urban places as there are definitions! Every one of these definitions is the result of years of research based on case studies. Yet, the issue with such criteria is their need to be defined and limited as well; e.g. one cannot exclude a settlement as a city without arguing its size or estimated population. In addition, each of these criteria is indeed as complex as the urbanization itself. For example, the existence of an administrative body in one settlement is not easy to prove or disprove, obviously not with the help of some surface ceramic sherds and a test trench. While extensive archaeological excavations are not always an option, and even so, there is strong evidence of site formation process (see two examples for erosion in fig. 3) which makes it impossible to find such answers merely with the traditional tools of archaeology, one shall make use of other methods to gain more solid data on each and every site, in order to categorize them both for further investigations, and to make a priority list of sites with promising aspects regarding urbanization. In this regard, geoarchaeology is going to help.

  • 24 König 1965.
  • 25 Vallat 1993, p. CIII.

9The second issue is related to our philological treasures accumulated over the years, as most of the toponyms and hydronyms are localized first by making use of the written evidence. At first glance, the written evidence might seem to be a formidable source of data on this matter24. Unfortunately, there is little agreement among scholars regarding Elamite settlements and their toponyms, which shows its extent when it comes to localizing major Elamite urban centers. Anyone with a bit of experience in working with these sources would agree that the accuracy of their interpretation is unsatisfactory at best. As François Vallat mentions, many well-studied texts about the Elamite geography come from the Mesopotamian side, i.e. indirect sources. Scholars with a focus on Assur, Akkad, Sumer, and Babylon ignore the Elamite side of the events, so that the Elamite sources become victims of their ignorance25.

  • 26 For a detailed discussion see Vallat 1993, p. CVII.
  • 27 Vallat 1993, p. CXLV.

10The most telling example is the issue of the terms “Susian” and “Elam” which can refer to the same territory at some point in time, while they are distinguished at another point26. Furthermore, from the Mesopotamian point of view the term “Elam” referred to different Elamite territories at different times in history. From the 3rd to the 2nd millennia the whole Iranian Plateau was considered as Elam in Mesopotamian texts. This included the Susian (modern Khuzestan province) and Anšan (ancient Persis or modern Fars province). In the Sukkalmah period, Elam was solely the ensemble of Susian and Fars. By the 1st millennium Elam had already shrunk to the lands of Susiana27. Obviously it is rather hard to locate toponyms from such accounts. Such inaccuracies cause huge differences in interpreting the written evidence, which leads to confusion regarding toponyms and their assumed location among scholars.

  • 28 For the full discussion see Vallat 1993, p. CVIII, and the entire entry of “Bessitme” in his notes (...)

11Another good example is the toponym “Bessitme”, which was assumed to be located near Susa in Basinna in Khuzestan by Metzler in the late 50s, identified as the modern “Basht” by Hallock in 1979 and Arfa’i in 1999, localized somewhere in the modern city of “Dezful” by Koch in 1986, assuming to be the 34 ha large settlement of Bisetin (RH‑26) near Ramhormoz by Carter and Wright in 2003, suggested to be in Fahlyan by Potts in 2009, and so on; all based on the same pool of written evidence rendered with sporadic archaeological data available at the time28.

  • 29 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2005.
  • 30 Alizadeh 2013.

12Yet another example delivers the toponym “Huhnur(i)” which was recently re‑localized to Tol‑e Bormi near Ramhormoz by Mofidi-Nasrabadi in 2005, based on an accidentally found stone inscription stating the campaign of Amar-Suena of Ur III and his conquest of the city of Huhnur29. This suggestion has found wide acceptance, while others such as Alizadeh question this localization. Based on lack of representative pottery in the entire region of Ramhormoz in his recent survey, he argues against this suggestion, even shedding doubt on the find location of the stone inscription in Bormi30. Here we have two prominent archaeologists interpreting the same data with totally different results. Unfortunately, the lack of data from other sources regarding Tol‑e Bormi prevents the discussion from moving forward, in order to reach at least a general agreement. With other sources, I mean geo‑data.

  • 31 Adāda – Agarin(n)u – Haju – Harum – Iškuzzu – Meranum – Mēzapmuri – Rakip – Kupla – Sidari – Ukkub (...)
  • 32 Akul – Data – Hutti – Kimasū – Simalli – Šubarū – Šugurri – Zahaki – Zianai.
  • 33 For example, Henkelman 2008. As a counter example see Potts 2005.
  • 34 See for example Schmitt 1991; Ehlers 2011.

13Even the hydronyms suffer from a similar problem. There are for example eleven known names of hydronyms in the environs of urban Susa from both Mesopotamian and Elamite sources31. And there are nine hydronyms known to pass through the city of Susa at this time32. Attempts to localize these hydronyms and identify them with current bodies of water in the region have failed excessively33. The case of Choaspes34 shows best how confusing the names of hydronyms and their identification with current and modern rivers may become, if one does not consider the numerous river shifts that have taken place in the meantime caused by the dynamic character of the Greater Susiana’s riverine landscape.

  • 35 For further information on dimtu see Koliński 2001.
  • 36 Black, George and Postgate 2000, p. 60.
  • 37 For the wide range of meanings and interpretations of dimtu see Koliński 2001, p. 3‑4; Wilkinson 2 (...)

14In the toponym-hydronym interaction, the organic process of becoming an urban center must be considered thoughtfully. One of the problems in this regard is that lack of continued evidence on every single toponym makes it rather difficult to trace their development from small settlements into centers. Some philological evidence shows traces of a particular settlement type, which could be a key to our understanding of Elam’s urban setting. This special type is called “dimtu” in Akkadian35, which presents an alternative type of settlement besides city and village. The term has developed quite diverse writings36 during the millennia, being a commonly used term in Mesopotamian texts, but is yet to be identified in Elam. In his study of this term in the Mesopotamian Nuzi texts, Koliński makes notice of its vague meaning ranging from a building complex to a taxation unit37.

  • 38 Koliński 2001, p. 103‑104.
  • 39 Koliński 2001, p. 520.

15A Mesopotamian dimtu is in Koliński’s definition a fortified rather huge settlement standing alone in the outskirts of cities either in an urban or rural setting; it serves the purpose of both living and working as a semi-dependant center under one person’s control with ties throughout the region, in some cases even intra-regional trade relations. In his own words: “the dimtu structure of Mesopotamia was considerably larger than that of a typical house, and was most probably a free standing structure equipped with defensive features and located outside the larger settlements (towns or cities)”38. He finds it logical to consider at least some of the known settlements with a size of less than 2 ha as dimtu, which would mean that they were semi-dependant city‑like settlements. He notices the absence of dimtu in a city, while there are several dimatu mentioned in the adjacent areas within the urban space and in the rural regions as well39.

  • 40 Koliński 2001, p. 33.

16Tracing the toponyms of these dimatu throughout the 2nd and 1st millennia, he discovers that some of these are mentioned as cities in later times with the exact same location, so that there is no doubt about the evolution of some dimatu to cities40.

  • 41 Toponyms mentioned as dimtu in Nuzi texts in the 2nd millennium: Abu‑tab, Att‑husu, DUB.SAR, Gal(? (...)
  • 42 Koliński 2001, p. 33‑34.
  • 43 For example Langdon 1904 which names the same dimatu of Nuzi texts as “city in Elam”, p. 60‑61.
  • 44 Koliński 2001, p. 88.

17How is this relevant for Elam? There is valid written evidence regarding the existence of several dimatu in the Susiana region adjacent to Susa, with sheep herds, and some of them also include a palace of some sort41. These dimatu seem at least in the 2nd millennium to have enough strength and resource management to conduct trade deals with their Mesopotamian neighbors, as is proved by Nuzi texts among other sources42. Some of them are identified as cities in Elam by other philological sources43. Koliński suggests extended surveys as a means to discover dimtu settlements. He mentions two paradigms of settlement pattern in the region, namely: settlements with a size of several hectares and others with less than two hectares. He considers several examples among the second group as potential dimatu. He also draws our attention to the fact that these “small” settlements seem to be located dominantly in regions with less spacious lands, where the existence of a settlement stretching over several hectares would be less possible44.

18In summary, there are many known settlements in the Elamite influential areas with an estimated size of 2 ha. On the other hand, there seems to be a lack of dense urban setting in these very regions compared to Mesopotamia at the same time. The third important fact is that many of the Elamite regions are rather less vast and spacious compared to the Mesopotamian flood plains. The question is whether it can be concluded that there were numerous dimatu acting as city‑like settlements in Elam in a slightly different urban setting than in Mesopotamia. The answer is beyond the scope of this essay and shall be discussed elsewhere.

19The third issue is the assumed environmental change in the Greater Susiana both during the Elamite period and afterwards, which turns every attempt at a landscape reconstruction into a challenge with far too many variables. Ancient and recent river shifts, the successive transgression of the Persian Gulf coastlines, and modern agricultural and industrial developments of the region not only leave scars on the surface of these areas, but also cause sedimentations and geomorphologic turnarounds which are very difficult to trace with traditional means.

  • 45 For some of the most important references see Lees and Falcon 1952; Sarnthein 1972; Cooke 1987; He (...)
  • 46 Gasche 2005; Pournelle 2003; Alizadeh et al. 2004.

20One of the most important issues of geographical setting in the Elamite period is the reconstruction of the Persian Gulf’s palaeo-coastlines. As the current coastlines are obviously rather young in geological age, the ancient position of the palaeo-coastlines has been often questioned over the years45. There is strong evidence for a drastic change of the northwestern coastlines of the Persian Gulf as well as ancient and recent river shifts46. While a reconstruction of the ancient coastlines attracts many scholars, most of their suggestions do not share a common ground.

  • 47 Cooke 1987, p. 25, fig. 8.
  • 48 For example Petrie 2013, p. 2. Fig. 1.1.a.

21As shown in fig. 2, there are different reconstructions of the ancient coastline putting it in a range of 750 to 8 km northwards of the current one. The cultural and political separation of Elamite and Mesopotamian entities is even explained as actually being a physical separation between the territories by the ancient Persian Gulf47. It seems that this assumption has now been adopted as a fact, so that most recent maps of the region show this hypothetical coastline48.

22Considering these divergences of ancient and current landscape in the Greater Susiana, it would obviously be a fatal mistake to interpret the archaeological and philological data based on the current landscape. Unfortunately, this happens in Elamite studies far too often. To avoid this misinterpretation, one should be provided with solid geo‑data. Let us review a recent investigation in Khuzestan.

  • 49 Heyvaert, Verkinderen and Walstra 2012, p. 495.
  • 50 Heyvaert, Verkinderen and Walstra 2012, p. 498.
  • 51 Kirkby 1977.

23Results of the 2004 joint geoarchaeological campaign in lower Khuzestan shed light on a very dynamic riverine landscape, which has witnessed drastic changes in the course of environmental history. In this regard, the five perennial rivers and their courses were studied and several of their fossil beds were identified49. Out of the at least three ancient courses of the Karun, the so‑called K3 (3rd fossil bed of Karun) is worth mentioning, itself with several shifts and meanders. The Karkheh has proved similarly dynamic with three identified ancient courses. Interesting is KH2 (2nd fossil bed of the Karkheh) which merged with K2 (2nd fossil bed of the Karun) at some point and flowed southwards as an ancient branch of the Karun50. As Kirkby has assumed in 1977, this combined Karun-Karkheh flow might be the source of confusion between these two rivers in the historical record51.

  • 52 Heyvaert, Verkinderen and Walstra 2012, p. 499.

24So, what is the use of this information for further investigation, besides drawing an outline of the palaeo-landscape in general? The data has just recently been published, but one already sees a benefit in the first attempts to put it to use. An example are the survey data based on these ancient courses, which revealed that there are no Elamite sites associated with KH3 (3rd fossil bed of the Karkheh), and that most sites associated with KH2 (2nd fossil bed of the Karkheh) are Islamic in chronology. Also based on archaeological evidence in adjacent surroundings of K2 (2nd fossil bed of the Karun), the investigators assumed that this Karun bed was active in the 2nd millennium BCE52. Of course much has yet to be done in order to benefit from such geoarchaeological output in a way that is both affordable and solid. But it needs both time and an open mind to take into account new approaches, which may challenge the traditional archaeological tools such as mere site surveys and test trenches.

Fig. 2 – Selected reconstructions of the Persian Gulf’s coastlines.

Fig. 2 – Selected reconstructions of the Persian Gulf’s coastlines.

Fig. 3 – Sharafabad (left) is covered with vegetation, while Abu Fanduweh suffers from gulley erosion (for locations see fig. 1).

Fig. 3 – Sharafabad (left) is covered with vegetation, while Abu Fanduweh suffers from gulley erosion (for locations see fig. 1).

Geoarchaeology as a tool

  • 53 Adams 1966; Wright 1979; Johnson 1973; McCown 1949; Nissen 1971.

25In the process of mapping regional settlement systems, there is the traditional tool of surveying the area and documenting as many sites as time and experience allow. But not even the best surveyor can dare to claim having recognized all possible settlement areas of a region. In the case of Elam, the most valuable and much referenced survey data have been gathered during a single survey of a few short days53. Often though, hypothetical settlement patterns are suggested and discussed for decades solely based upon such surveys.

  • 54 Wilkinson 2003, p. 43.

26These methodological problems of survey hinder us to ever comprehend the actual pattern of the space occupied by settlements, especially in case of urban places, which are probably not to be fully perceived via this approach. In his much appreciated contribution to landscape archaeology, Wilkinson points out exactly the same: “In reality, there is no single formula for the maximum recovery of early landscape data. Rather, it is necessary to harness a combination of remote-sensing techniques, detailed field survey, and local information, together with a certain amount of luck”54.

27As mentioned, one should aim to reconstruct the landscape foremost, in order to draw an outline in which to put toponyms. For every toponym has to fit the landscape, especially in interaction with other toponyms as well as relative hydronyms. But this way of proceeding seems to be almost impossible at the time. The paucity of the published geo‑data regarding the landscape of Khuzestan in the Elamite period makes it impossible to reconstruct an outline of the urban and rural settlement clusters and their localities along with the geographical entities of that region. In other words, the toponym-hydronym interaction is yet to be cleared in most cases.

28Fortunately, there are ways to find out more about this interaction which can greatly complement the hard won archaeological and philological data on Elam, namely a geoarchaeological approach with Morphology as its best tool. It is worth mentioning, that in no case such tools are to be considered as substitutes for common archaeological investigations. They are to be seen as complementary tools in order to fill the lack of data and take us one step forwards in our aim to solve the jigsaw of Elamite townscape. In the following some examples are given, in order to show the extent of geo‑data available via this method, which includes satellite imagery and different radars.

  • 55 Casana and Cothren 2013, p. 41, fig. 4.5.

29One of the most valuable sources of geo‑data is declassified regional scale CORONA imagery, which provides the surveyor with an outline of the area before and during the survey. It helps to recognize possible areas of interest, which may be hidden in the current landscape or even be drastically changed now. CORONA’s most valuable benefit is its date, the 60s, which is prior to the intensive industrialization of the area. As this process changed the surface of the landscape remarkably, some settlements have vanished tracelessly and can now be found only on the CORONA images. A recent example from northern Mesopotamia has shown how the professional interpretation of a single CORONA image can change our assumption regarding regional settlement patterns, and so free us from the limitations of traditional survey data55. Using CORONA to identify traces of long lost toponyms and hydronyms seems to be inevitable in order to revise the existing survey material on the Susiana and polish our archaeological data to a more accurate state.

  • 56 For more on SAR see Morrison 2013.

30Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) is a method that provides radar imagery of the ground by sending microwaves towards the ground and processing their echoes independent of the solar illumination. It means that such images are unaffected by clouds and even the thin sand cover of the ground in arid regions56. One of the most valuable aspects of such radar images is their ability to show subsurface features, especially in dry conditions, which is most desirable in areas like Ahwaz in Khuzestan with its moving sand dunes and in the eroded Kerman region.

  • 57 Chapman and Blom 2013, p. 117.
  • 58 Comer, Blom and Megarry 2013, p. 165.
  • 59 Chapman and Blom 2013, p. 114‑115, fig. 10.1.

31But SAR can also provide a surface elevation model in vegetated areas57, which is most needed in northern and eastern Khuzestan, where nearly every ancient settlement is covered by agricultural vegetation. For such delicate work, one needs multi-polarization SAR. The geo‑data provided by this method is to be corrected using other variables like topography. The best results are achieved by using corrected SAR, which is shown in an example from “Agkor Wat”, an urban center of the 19th century in Colombia. A digital elevation model (DEM) with high resolution and low cost was produced of this religious urban center using SAR radar imagery, which expedited the ongoing archaeological investigation and made possible the discovery of the temple traces58. Another example shows the so called “radar river” in the Egyptian Sahara in a now dry and sandy landscape, which is only visible on SAR images59. As mentioned before, SAR is most useful for areas with limited access to archaeological data. Interpreting an SAR image of the vegetated Sharafabad (fig. 1, no. 6; fig. 3) with its solid archaeological record from the 4th to the 2nd millennium can shed light on the spatial setting of different cultural horizons and their distribution on the mound.

  • 60 Fisher and Leisz 2013.
  • 61 Fisher and Leisz 2013, p. 206, fig. 16.4.
  • 62 Fisher and Leisz 2013, p. 199.
  • 63 Fisher and Leisz 2013, p. 207.

32LiDAR (Light detection and ranging radar) is a useful imagery tool, which can collect so called “point‑clouds” and reconstruct every single scratch of an area, given thorough interpretation. Point‑clouds can be used both in micro- and macro‑scales, for they are great scanning tools. But the use of them in reconstructing an urban space in a natural setting by water is rather acknowledged by an example of Mesoamerican archaeology60. In this case, the urban site and the ancient river bed in the urban center of “Angamuco” in modern Mexico were scanned via LiDAR. The results have been analyzed and so different Camplejos (complexes), Neighborhoods and Districts were discovered without even conducting a test trench first61. The density of provided data is rather high, so that a single LiDAR scan of an area of 9 km2 has yielded over 20,000 architectural features of the city core62. This information has served the team of archaeologists to plan the excavations in that city with much more confidence, assured of results, for they had now a better understanding of the spatial distribution of the urban place and its interaction with the nearby river63. The good point is that this kind of imagery can even go down through vegetation and surface disturbance for a meter. This method of geo‑data production can obviously be of great use in the complex urban site of Susa. Foremost because huge parts of the ancient city are not accessible for archaeological investigations on the ground. Therefore, such records of sites like Susa, Dehno, Abu Fanduweh (fig. 3), and even Sanjar (for locations see fig. 1) could be of great value, regarding our desperate need of solid information from these sites and their special condition including their dispersed excavation data. Another use of this imagery tool is its ability to scan over bodies of water and provide an image of the water bed. This ability is much needed in sites like Chogha Mish and Gesser (Ghazir) with their rather puzzling water management (fig. 1, no. 7 and no. 3).

  • 64 Moghaddam and Miri 2007; Wilkinson 2003, p. 93‑94.

33One of the most confusing tasks of archaeology is to reconstruct an ancient landscape based on its current shape and reality. It is well known that for most settlements the site formation process and its interaction with the natural setting is an indispensable factor, which should be studied thoroughly before any attempt at a site reconstruction. Most field archaeologists are familiar with this process, as they have developed a great eye for detail and change during their field work over the years. Yet some formation processes are not to be discovered or understood during a site survey or by merely walking the area. Most of the micro-morphological research in archaeology these days is based on bulk samples and Kubienas taken from both cultural and natural horizons, providing geoarchaeologists with a pool of solid geo‑data which can be interpreted along with other sources to reconstruct the toponym-hydronym interaction with a high degree of confidence. As many field archaeologists have mentioned, such formation processes are common in areas such as Susiana and East Zagros64. An example is shown here (fig. 4), from one hypothetical set of toponym and hydronym, only as a demonstration of what micro-morphology is capable of. In this hypothetical case the ancient settlement with two distinct cultural horizons has developed gradually into a natural relief and become a part of the current landscape. Like most such mounds in the Near East, this hypothetical site has also served later on as a graveyard for the nearby modern village. The rather small meandering river of the current landscape looks stable. However, there are indications of a river shift in ancient times. A surveyor simply cannot spot the ancient settlement and only finds scattered ceramics of a much older period than the graveyard in a very limited number on the slopes of this mound, but no trace of them on the zenith. A series of core samplings can bring the much different subsurface sedimentations into light. These five hypothetical cores show the ancient river bed and buried cultural horizons under the young fluvial sediments of the current river bed. As this kind of sedimentation is rather common, especially in the dynamic riverine landscape of the Greater Susiana, one may ask oneself how many of these settlements are buried and therefore invisible to the surveyor’s eye; how much of the complex and intense network of settlements in the Elamite period are we missing due to such site formation processes? Fortunately, geoarchaeological methods have developed to a great extent, so that such dark points can be removed from our archaeological maps very soon.

Fig. 4 – Benefits of a micro-morphological approach shown in a hypothetical example (a multi horizon settlement and the riverbed in a. bird view and b. section view being studied by 5 core samples).

Fig. 4 – Benefits of a micro-morphological approach shown in a hypothetical example (a multi horizon settlement and the riverbed in a. bird view and b. section view being studied by 5 core samples).

Concluding remarks

  • 65 Maunsell 1925.
  • 66 Carter and Stolper 1984, p. 116.
  • 67 Wright 1979, p. 99‑100.

34Ninety years ago, Colonel Maunsell stated in his travel journal: “What is really desired to be known is the early connection between these cities of Elam and those of Mesopotamia, what relation they had with Ur of the Chaldees, with Erech and Lagash and the then seaports around the head of the Persian Gulf.”65. Now we know rather much more to that question without yet actually being able to localize these very cities on either side. The term “city” stands almost always in front of Susa and Anšan, for the whole Elamite period and in every record. But where are the other cities of Elam? How many were there and with which one of the known mounds in this region can they be identified? These questions are often asked and seldom answered. As Carter mentions, Susa was not the only densely populated center in the Susiana during the Susa II period; Chogha Mish and Abu Fanduweh (fig. 3) were also huge centers66. As discussed above, the geographical setting of lands under Elamite influence is rather unique and must be considered as a major cause regarding the development of different settlement types in this region, compared to the Mesopotamian floodplains. The oval valley of Izeh in Khuzestan (fig. 1, no. 1) is a good example of settlement development dependent on geographical setting and does not fit into the Mesopotamian concept of urbanization; it should therefore be defined apart from it. This region with its unique hydraulic setting and the small-scale drainage system, which just includes two lakes and no major perennial rivers, simply does not answer the concept of cities at the edge of rivers on floodplains. There are at least three settlements, west of the modern city of Izeh, of considerable size, which present distinguished Elamite pottery from the Sukkalmah era. Are they entitled to the term urban? As Wright states, one of them is “large enough to be a town”, but lacks “the depth of debris” and the typical baked bricks of an Elamite town67. So what is it then and why is it larger than the others? Are any alternative settlement types imaginable, as discussed above?

  • 68 Ur 2007.

35The urban issue is obviously very different in Elam and in Mesopotamia, although the problem of urban space is not exclusively on the Elamite side. There are also debates on the Mesopotamian side, especially in regard of disputable settlements such as Tell Brak68. A greater problem for Elam is the sporadic written evidence and the fitful archaeological record. Here a third dimension has been suggested, which is the geo‑data. This shall bridge the two other bases of data and provide a solid ground to shape hypotheses regarding the toponym-hydronym interaction in Elam.

36How can one benefit from this information? In a first step geo‑data should be extracted as completely as possible from the written evidence as well as from the archaeological context in order to build a reasonable basis for further investigation. Obviously, the amount of collected data as well as their degree of certainty varies from one to another toponym or hydronym. Nevertheless, a first profile of each toponym and hydronym should be feasible. As there are always various places presented as possible candidates for a toponym, the second and most important step is to sort out those that do not fit the provided profile, based on original problem-oriented geo‑data, which should be collected via geoarchaeological methods.

37One of the first priorities of current archaeological research in Iran is to urge archaeological expeditions, surveys and excavations to collect geo‑data via geoarchaeological methods, so that these can be worked with in form of an accumulated data pool in the future, when the sites are gone or not to be accessed again. Unfortunately, lack of marine archaeological investigations and contradictory results of fitfully conducted geoarchaeological studies in the discussed area prevent us from completing the jigsaw of the hydraulic systems specially in the Greater Susiana plain. The question of coastline formations and settlement patterns at this point of time and place proves such interdisciplinary approaches all the more necessary. To that end, more joint investigations and exchange of thoughts and results among the archaeologists of different disciplines are necessary. Until then, the interaction of Persian Gulf coastlines and settlement patterns remains a highly complicated though fascinating question in the archaeology of the Elamite period.

  • 69 For example Alizadeh et al. 2004; Moghaddam and Miri 2007; Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2013, p. 89‑132.

38The necessity of engaging new methods for collecting information during excavations and surveys has in recent years been noted by many scholars69. Yet, the dilemma regarding interpretation of geo‑data in geoarchaeological investigations in the course of the time remains unsettled as long as the results are not re‑evaluated every now and then in the light of new results achieved by other disciplines. The issue of the northwestern coastlines of the Persian Gulf is a perfect example of the sort (fig. 2).

39Geoarchaeological methods should be integrated into current research by both collecting and producing geo‑data during and besides excavations and surveys. Fortunately, the use of topographic maps and geographic modeling is now a well established routine in archaeological investigations. Nevertheless, there is even more to geoarchaeology than producing attractive maps for the publication, or showing the walls stretching under the surface. Off‑site intensive surveys, subsurface geo‑sample collecting, SAR, LiDAR or other remote sensing methods should become standard procedures in every investigation, given their multispectral usage and wide data range. Specialists with emphasis on geomorphology and sedimentology must be present at every site during excavation. The description and documentation of natural sediments and their interaction with the cultural deposit regarding post‑burial processes should be given priority and be done by specialists. Only in that case can one benefit from these methods in full extent.

40Is a search not more productive and less expensive if one knows where to search and what to search for? It is now safe to assume that a geoarchaeological approach can indeed provide us with hints that lead to the long sought answers to our questions in this regard. Let us begin to explore!

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Notes

1 Carter and Stolper 1984; Potts 1999; Dittmann 1986; Amiet 1966.

2 For example, Steinkeller 1982, p. 265, fig. 2.

3 3400‑525 BCE.

4 Carter 1985, p. 313.

5 Tosi 1978, p. 59.

6 Wright 1979; Wright and Johnson 1975.

7 Adams 1960; Johnson 1973; Wright 1979.

8 Christaller 1933, p. 21, 48, 62, etc.

9 Known as the CPT model.

10 Christaller 1933.

11 Pacione 2009, p. 127‑130.

12 Mellaart 1975.

13 Mellaart 1975, p. 273.

14 For example, M. Voigt 1976, in her comment on Mellaart’s book, in Science Magazine 192/4240, p. 682‑683.

15 For example, Matney 2012, p. 556‑574.

16 Zeder 1985.

17 Von Bertalanffy 1968.

18 For tracing that, it suffices to take a look at any fundamental archaeological publication concerned with the Ancient Near East in the 60s to 80s in the US.

19 Mellaart 1975; Nissen 1995.

20 Bairoch 1988, p. 9‑30.

21 Bairoch 1988, p. 9.

22 For further discussion see Alizadeh 2009, p. 135.

23 Vallat counts hundreds of toponyms, which are listed in either Mesopotamian or Elamite writings from the 3rd millennium. Only a handful of them is identified based on solid archaeological evidence; see Vallat 1993.

24 König 1965.

25 Vallat 1993, p. CIII.

26 For a detailed discussion see Vallat 1993, p. CVII.

27 Vallat 1993, p. CXLV.

28 For the full discussion see Vallat 1993, p. CVIII, and the entire entry of “Bessitme” in his notes.

29 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2005.

30 Alizadeh 2013.

31 Adāda – Agarin(n)u – Haju – Harum – Iškuzzu – Meranum – Mēzapmuri – Rakip – Kupla – Sidari – Ukkubati.

32 Akul – Data – Hutti – Kimasū – Simalli – Šubarū – Šugurri – Zahaki – Zianai.

33 For example, Henkelman 2008. As a counter example see Potts 2005.

34 See for example Schmitt 1991; Ehlers 2011.

35 For further information on dimtu see Koliński 2001.

36 Black, George and Postgate 2000, p. 60.

37 For the wide range of meanings and interpretations of dimtu see Koliński 2001, p. 3‑4; Wilkinson 2003, p. 120, table 6.2.

38 Koliński 2001, p. 103‑104.

39 Koliński 2001, p. 520.

40 Koliński 2001, p. 33.

41 Toponyms mentioned as dimtu in Nuzi texts in the 2nd millennium: Abu‑tab, Att‑husu, DUB.SAR, Gal(?)di, GIBIL, Ibni‑Adad, LUGAL, Rapasti, sa Halteri, Salak‑denim, Sasa; toponyms of the Neo‑Assyrian period in Elam: Dimtu sa Simame, Dimtu sa Tapap, Dimtu sa Dume‑ilu, Dimtu sa Mar‑biti‑etir, Dimtu sa Sulaia, Dimtu sa Nabu‑sarhili, Dimtu sa Sullume, Dimtu sa Belet‑biti, Dimtu Samas. For details of this list see Koliński 2001, p. 156‑157.

42 Koliński 2001, p. 33‑34.

43 For example Langdon 1904 which names the same dimatu of Nuzi texts as “city in Elam”, p. 60‑61.

44 Koliński 2001, p. 88.

45 For some of the most important references see Lees and Falcon 1952; Sarnthein 1972; Cooke 1987; Heyvaert and Baeteman 2007; Uchupi, Swift and Ross 1999.

46 Gasche 2005; Pournelle 2003; Alizadeh et al. 2004.

47 Cooke 1987, p. 25, fig. 8.

48 For example Petrie 2013, p. 2. Fig. 1.1.a.

49 Heyvaert, Verkinderen and Walstra 2012, p. 495.

50 Heyvaert, Verkinderen and Walstra 2012, p. 498.

51 Kirkby 1977.

52 Heyvaert, Verkinderen and Walstra 2012, p. 499.

53 Adams 1966; Wright 1979; Johnson 1973; McCown 1949; Nissen 1971.

54 Wilkinson 2003, p. 43.

55 Casana and Cothren 2013, p. 41, fig. 4.5.

56 For more on SAR see Morrison 2013.

57 Chapman and Blom 2013, p. 117.

58 Comer, Blom and Megarry 2013, p. 165.

59 Chapman and Blom 2013, p. 114‑115, fig. 10.1.

60 Fisher and Leisz 2013.

61 Fisher and Leisz 2013, p. 206, fig. 16.4.

62 Fisher and Leisz 2013, p. 199.

63 Fisher and Leisz 2013, p. 207.

64 Moghaddam and Miri 2007; Wilkinson 2003, p. 93‑94.

65 Maunsell 1925.

66 Carter and Stolper 1984, p. 116.

67 Wright 1979, p. 99‑100.

68 Ur 2007.

69 For example Alizadeh et al. 2004; Moghaddam and Miri 2007; Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2013, p. 89‑132.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – An outline map of the discussed areas.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8061/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 783k
Titre Fig. 2 – Selected reconstructions of the Persian Gulf’s coastlines.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8061/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 333k
Titre Fig. 3 – Sharafabad (left) is covered with vegetation, while Abu Fanduweh suffers from gulley erosion (for locations see fig. 1).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8061/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 445k
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8061/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 471k
Titre Fig. 4 – Benefits of a micro-morphological approach shown in a hypothetical example (a multi horizon settlement and the riverbed in a. bird view and b. section view being studied by 5 core samples).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8061/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 747k

Auteur

Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften, Goethe Universität, Norbert-Wollheim-Platz 1, Fach 146, 60629 Frankfurt am Main

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