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The Iranian Plateau during the Bronze Age

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

Production and trade

The biography of a dagger type

The diachronic transformation of the daggers with the crescent-shaped guard

Babak Rafiei-Alavi

Résumé

Les poignards à manche en forme de croissant sont connus en Iran à partir du milieu du IIe millénaire jusqu’aux premiers siècles du Ier millénaire av. J.-C. Ils apparaissent tout d’abord dans des sites élamites de la plaine du Khuzestan. Ils sont présents pendant tout le dernier quart du IIe millénaire et connaissent une expansion à travers une vaste aire géographique, du nord et nord-ouest du Plateau iranien jusqu’au sud du golfe Persique. Au début du Ier millénaire, leur extension géographique diminue et se limite, cette fois-ci, au nord-ouest de l’Iran. Le manche de ces poignards est au cours du temps un attribut alternativement fonctionnel et non fonctionnel. Son rôle fonctionnel dans la première phase se transforme en rôle décoratif dans la seconde phase, et, avec le développement graduel d’une lame en fer dans la troisième phase, le manche retrouve une fonction utilitaire. En considérant le manche en forme de croissant comme un style technologique qui reflète à la fois les changements technologiques et les traditions culturelles, cet article tente non seulement de comprendre la distribution temporelle et spatiale de ces poignards et ce qu’elle peut révéler, mais également d’examiner les aspects sociaux du style comme imitation, communication et démarcation sociale.

Texte intégral

The dagger itself is after something else. It is more than a thing of metal. Men dreamed it up and fashioned it for a very precise purpose.
J.L. Borges, “The Dagger”, Selected Poems, Penguin Books

Short introduction

1There is a type of dagger and in some cases sword which is named after its guard, known as the dagger with a crescent-shaped or penannular guard. The focus of this article is on the biography of this dagger through time and the transformation of its shape and specially its guard as a stylistic attribute. In the Late Bronze Age (hereafter LBA: 1600-1300 BC), the guard has a functional role, it is part of the hilt and holds the blade. In the Iron Age I (hereafter IA: 1300-1000 BC) the functional guard was in several cases changed to a non-functional and ornamental unit. With the gradual development of iron blades in the Iron Age II (hereafter IA II: 1000-800 BC), this non-functional attribute was mostly transformed back to its functional trait. Up to now, these daggers have been found mainly in the western and northern part of the Iranian Plateau, together they form a sloping horizon as they have a meaningful relationship with each other in both, synchronic and diachronic ways. This article attempts to investigate these changes from the LBA to the IA II by examining new archaeological finds and applying a new theoretical framework.

Opening

2Daggers and swords are good candidates in material culture studies for investigating concepts such as technological transformation, social boundaries and long-distance contacts over time and space. They have a complex technology; they are composed of different parts which should be joined efficiently, and like cars, they should be both applicable and attractive. As an extension of our hand, they develop our abilities and may have different levels of function from household utensils to tools and weapons, and different levels of meaning from prestige goods to symbols of wealth and power.

3The main focus in this paper is on daggers with a particular form of guard. In a dagger, the guard performs a pivotal role; it attaches the two main components of a dagger, namely hilt and blade, and serves as a connector for two separate parts with different functions. Daggers to some extent resemble the tripartite form of our bodies and represent a kind of anthropomorphism; pommel and grip as the head and neck, the guard as the upper body sometimes with two outspread hands, and the blade as feet. We use this tripartite form in the creation of many tools and objects, because this structure, head-body-feet, seems to be deeply rooted in our minds. Regardless of the functional role of the guard, a dagger or sword without a guard seems aesthetically imperfect. A sword, in its purely abstract form, consists of a simple vertical line with a short horizontal crossed line as a guard. It is the guard that transforms this simple line to a sword. The guard distinguishes the hilt from the blade and gives the line an iconic meaning as a sword. Given its vital role in the construction of daggers, the guard is a suitable unit in the classification of group of metal objects, and it is an appropriate attribute to convey a stylistic message, as is the case of the daggers with crescent-shaped guards which will be discussed in this paper.

Evidences

4In the following sections I will investigate the daggers with crescent-shaped guard and the transformation of the guards within their archaeological context from the LBA to the IA I and II in the western and northern part of the Iranian Plateau. After that, the reason and meaning of this transformation will be discussed. It should be noted that there are many daggers with this kind of guard in museums and collections, but in this paper I am going to consider only those daggers which have a definite archaeological context.

Late Bronze Age: The first examples with functional guard

  • 1 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2014, tab. 5.

5The earliest examples of this kind of dagger appeared in the south-western and western part of the Iranian Plateau in the last centuries of the LBA (fig. 4). There are nine of these early examples from the Middle Elamite city of Haft Tappeh (1500-1300 BC), the biggest collection during this period, and in contrast to other examples, they have been found in residential layers, mostly belong to 14th century BC (Bauschicht III)1, and not in graves. The blade and hilt of all nine examples have been moulded separately and then joined together (fig. 1‑3).

  • 2 Negahban 1991, pl. 31, no. 214; Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2012, pl. 33, no. 10.
  • 3 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2010, pl. 6, no. 5; pl. 52, no. 3.
  • 4 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2012, pl. 33, no. 12.
  • 5 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2012, pl. 33, no. 13.
  • 6 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2010, pl. 35, no. 7; pl. 50, no. 5.
  • 7 Rafiei-Alavi 2012, fig. 1.
  • 8 Negahban 1991, pl. 31, no. 215.
  • 9 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2010, pl. 6, no. 1; pl. 52, no. 1.

6These daggers can be classified in three subtypes (fig. 3): The first subtype consists of four daggers with flanged hilt: two of them are inlaid2, one with rivet holes3 and one with a simple hilt4. The second subtype is made up of daggers with a tubular hilt encompassing the tang of the blade. Four daggers belong to this subtype: the first one has a complete blade with grid-shaped tubular hilt5; the blade of the second one has been re-sharpened6; the third example was found without blade7; of the last one which was found in the seventies we only have a photo8. The third subtype is a dagger with a rod-shaped hilt of which only one example has been found in Haft Tappeh9.

 

  • 10 Rafiei-Alavi 2012.

7The hilt in the daggers with tubular hilt (subtype 2) is composed of different component parts. Different pieces of the hilt have been found that show how these parts were each moulded as a separate unit before they were connected. Obviously the guard has a functional role (fig. 2)10. And obviously, at least, this subtype of daggers was manufactured in Haft Tappeh. The guard of the other two subtypes are also functional with the crescent-shaped guard holding the blade. An X-ray photo from the dagger of subtype 3 clearly confirms this assumption (fig. 1).

 

  • 11 De Mecquenem 1922, pl. IV, no. 16.

8Apart from the Haft Tappeh examples, we know of only five more daggers that could be dated in the LBA (fig. 3). One of them with crescent guard and tubular hilt was found in Susa in the Khuzestan plain11. Based on the published photo which shows a heavier corrosion in the blade, it seems that the blade and the hilt were made from different copper alloy. We may conclude that hilt and blade were manufactured separately.

  • 12 Contenau and Ghirshman 1935, pl. XXIV, no. 2‑3; pl. 82, tomb 1, no. 7.

9The second dagger comes from a grave in Bad Hora in the Asadabad plain12 that, based on the painted pottery in the grave, was dated around 1600 BC. Contenau and Ghirshman excavated Bad Hora in 1934 for just one or two weeks without sufficient documentation. The form and manufacturing method of this dagger are similar to the examples from Haft Tappeh; its parts were cast separately and its crescent-shaped guard has a functional role. I am therefore quite sure that this dagger cannot date earlier than 1500 BC at the very most it may be as old as Haft Tappeh examples.

  • 13 Young 1969, fig. 25, no. 11; Henrickson 2011, fig. 6, no. 15.

10The third dagger was found in a grave at Godin Tepe in the Kangavar valley in the west of the Iranian Plateau13. The Godin grave was first dated by Young to the IA I, but recently and based on the ceramics it has been dated to the LBA layers of the Godin III period. Considering the drawing and the photo, it seems that the guard had a functional role.

  • 14 Fukai and Ikeda 1971, p. 97, pl. XXVIII, no. 3; pl. XLV, no. 35.
  • 15 Fukai and Ikeda 1971.
  • 16 Piller 2008, fig. 33.

11The fourth dagger with a functional guard was discovered in a grave in Ghalekuti on the Dailaman plain in north Iran14. The dagger has a simple hilt, and the X‑ray photo clearly shows that both the hilt and the blade were manufactured separately15. The graves of Ghalekuti I are mostly dated to the end of the LBA, from the 15th to the 13th century BC16.

  • 17 De Morgan 1905, fig. 638.
  • 18 Schaeffer 1948, fig. 217, no. 3.

12Many daggers with crescent-shaped guard from different cemeteries were retrieved in the old excavation of de Morgan in the Talesh region17 and dated from the LBA to the IA. At least one of these daggers from the Agha Evlar cemetery can be dated in LBA. It is very similar to the Ghalekuti dagger and to the subtype 1 dagger from Haft Tappeh; its hilt and blade were made separately and the guard has a functional role; it was dated by Schaeffer from 1450 to 1350 BC18. In the next two sections we will discuss other daggers from the Talesh region which belong to the IA I and II.

13As we have seen above, in all of the daggers from the LBA the blade and hilt were moulded separately. At this stage, the crescent-shaped guard has an effective functional role and holds the blade firmly to the hilt. By this method, the junction point between the blade and the hilt becomes wider and makes an ideal fulcrum point at the end of the hilt.

Fig. 1 – The daggers with functional crescent guard from Haft Tappeh (©Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 1 – The daggers with functional crescent guard from Haft Tappeh (©Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 2 – Different component parts of the tubular hilt with crescent guard from Haft Tappeh (©Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 2 – Different component parts of the tubular hilt with crescent guard from Haft Tappeh (©Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 3 – The daggers with crescent guard belonging to the LBA (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 3 – The daggers with crescent guard belonging to the LBA (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 4 – The distribution of sites with crescent guard daggers in the LBA (based on “NASA visible earth” satellite picture, processed by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 4 – The distribution of sites with crescent guard daggers in the LBA (based on “NASA visible earth” satellite picture, processed by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Iron Age I: Increase in Number and the Appearance of the Non‑Functional Guard

14The crescent-shaped guard daggers were widely used in the IA. Up to now, fifty-seven daggers with this kind of guard have been reported from different archaeological sites; forty-four of them can be dated to the IA I, the rest to the IA II. Thus, a tangible increase has occurred in the number of daggers in the IA I. The IA I daggers differ to some extent from the daggers in the LBA. Most of the daggers in the IA I were manufactured in one or maybe two pieces; the shape of the guard became penannular and, what is more important, in several cases the guards do not perform any functional role. Most IA I daggers come from graves in the north and northwest Iran. Marlik with eighteen has the largest collection in the North, next is the Talesh region in the Northwest with thirteen daggers from six different cemeteries (fig. 9‑10).

  • 19 Six daggers in tomb 1, four in tomb 2, two in tomb 3, one in tomb 5, two in tomb 13, two in tomb 4 (...)
  • 20 Piller 2008, fig. 17, 33.
  • 21 Negahban 1996, vol. 1, p. 262.
  • 22 Negahban 1996, fig. 33, no. 729 (tomb 2); fig. 31, no. 667 (tomb 45).
  • 23 Negahban 1996, pl. 119, no. 669, 671.

15An extensive collection of crescent-shaped guard daggers in different forms has been found in seven graves at Marlik19. The graves containing this type of dagger have recently been dated by Piller to IIb and III levels, namely from the late 12th century to 1000 BC20; ergo, the daggers can also confidently be attributed to the IA I. In most of these daggers the guard has no functional role, and Negahban mentioned that the penannular part was cast separately on top of the blade21. In addition, there are two unique daggers in Marlik which have the non-functional penannular attribute but in a totally different shape22. It should be noted that there are also a few daggers in Marlik, probably with iron blades, in which the guard has a functional role and hilt and blade were cast separately (e.g. tomb 123).

16I was able to personally inspect five of the Marlik daggers in the National Museum of Iran (fig. 5). Looked at with the naked eye, it seems that the penannular guard is not part of the hilt and was separately cast on the blade, because a slit is visible between the end of the hilt and the beginning of the blade (fig. 6). The slit can only be seen in this part of the hilt where the craftsman did not try to cover it because it would eventually be hidden under an organic inlay which has not survived. Therefore we can safely assume that these daggers were cast in one piece consisting of blade and hilt, and that the penannular part was later cast on the dagger.

17It is also possible that the hilt was made first and then the blade was cast on the tang of the hilt. This manufacturing method is not common; normally it is the hilt that was cast on the tang of the blade. However, this technique is clearly visible in the golden dagger of Klardasht, which I was able to closely examine in the National Museum of Iran (fig. 7). Due to its material, the dagger has no corrosion in comparison with the Marlik daggers, and it is easy to see the junction where the hilt goes into the blade; certainly, more analyses are needed to verify such assumptions. In any case, these examples indicate that the penannular unit in these daggers is rather ornamental and not part of a hilt that would joins hilt and blade, like its prototype in the LBA.

Fig. 5 – Five daggers with penannular guard from Marlik in the National Museum of Iran (no. 14645-7645, 25217-8217, 14635-7635, 14618-7618, 25219-8219) [©Rafiei-Alavi].

Fig. 5 – Five daggers with penannular guard from Marlik in the National Museum of Iran (no. 14645-7645, 25217-8217, 14635-7635, 14618-7618, 25219-8219) [©Rafiei-Alavi].

Fig. 6 – Three examples of daggers with separately cast penannular guard from Marlik (no. 25217-8217, 14618-7618 and 25219-8219) [©Rafiei-Alavi].

Fig. 6 – Three examples of daggers with separately cast penannular guard from Marlik (no. 25217-8217, 14618-7618 and 25219-8219) [©Rafiei-Alavi].

Fig. 7 – The golden dagger of Klardasht with non-functional penannular guard in the National Museum of Iran (no. 5687) [©Rafiei‑Alavi].

Fig. 7 – The golden dagger of Klardasht with non-functional penannular guard in the National Museum of Iran (no. 5687) [©Rafiei‑Alavi].

 

  • 24 Four daggers from Veri (De Morgan 1896, fig. 63, no. 4‑7), one from Tülü (De Morgan 1896, fig. 56, (...)
  • 25 Maxwell-Hyslop and Hodges 1964, p. 52, fig. 1, no. 5.
  • 26 Maxwell-Hyslop and Hodges 1964, p. 52, fig. 1, no. 4.

18It seems that in some of the daggers of the six cemeteries in Talesh region24 the penannular guard has a non-functional role as well. In most cases, these daggers are similar in shape to the examples from Marlik. Maxwell-Hyslop and Hodges say about a dagger from Veri in this region and about another one out of archaeological context: “we find that blade, flanged handle and pommel are a single casting, while the closed crescent has been cast on afterwards as a completely non-functional embellishment”25. Based on their observation there is another dagger from Veri in “which the solid handle and crescent are cast-on as a single piece”26, thus this dagger has a functional guard. The cemeteries of the Talesh region are generally dated between 1450 and 1000 BC. In my opinion and based on the new dating of the Marlik graves, except one dagger which has been mentioned before, almost none of these daggers belongs to the LBA. They must be younger than 1200 or at the very most 1300 BC meaning that they date to the IA I. Further detailed researches are necessary to determine the validity of this dating.

  • 27 Samadi 1959, fig. 11, 16.
  • 28 Vanden Berghe 1964, pl. XXXIV, no. 227.

19In addition to Marlik and the Talesh cemeteries, this type of dagger has been reported from other sites in the Iranian Plateau: Two daggers, one of them made of gold (fig. 7), were found in Klardasht in the North27, and one was found in the Khurvin cemetery south of the Alborz Mountains28.

 

  • 29 Winter 1989.

20This type of dagger is also depicted between two other daggers without crescent guard on the famous golden bowl of Hasanlu (fig. 8). Even though the bowl was discovered in IA II layers, it is most probably older and should be dated to the IA I29.

 

  • 30 Yule and Weisgerber 2001, pl. 2, no. 20‑22.
  • 31 Lombard 1984, fig. 2, no. 1.
  • 32 Lombard 1984, fig. 2, no. 2.
  • 33 Yule 2014, fig. 17, no. 2, 4.

21Interestingly, there are five more examples with maybe non-functional guard which have been reported from three different sites in the south of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea (fig. 9): three daggers from ʼIbrī/Selme30, one from Gebel Hafit31 and one from Rumeilah32. These daggers seem to be cast in one piece, and all are dated to the IA, or, as the term is in this region, “Early Iron Age”33. Although they are slightly different with regard to shape, I think they could be included in the same category as the Iranian examples, but some of them may have been manufactured locally.

Fig. 8 – Depiction of a dagger with crescent guard on the golden bowl of Hasanlu (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 8 – Depiction of a dagger with crescent guard on the golden bowl of Hasanlu (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 9 – The daggers with crescent/penannular guard belonging to the IA I (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 9 – The daggers with crescent/penannular guard belonging to the IA I (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 10 – The distribution of sites with crescent/penannular guard daggers in the IA I (based on “NASA visible earth” satellite picture, processed by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 10 – The distribution of sites with crescent/penannular guard daggers in the IA I (based on “NASA visible earth” satellite picture, processed by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Iron Age II: Decrease in Number and Transformation back to the Functional Guard

22With the appearance of iron as a solid and strong material for weapons in the IA II, the dagger blades began to be made of iron. The daggers with crescent or penannular guard were still in use in the IA II, however their number had decreased since the IA I, and their geographic expansion is limited mostly to the northwest and west of the Iranian Plateau (fig. 11‑12). Interestingly, most of the crescent-shaped guards regained their functional role in the IA II, and like the early examples in the LBA, they hold the blade, but now mostly an iron blade.

  • 34 De Morgan 1905, fig. 468.
  • 35 Vahdati 2007, fig. 1, no.  1, 3‑4, 7‑8.
  • 36 Thornton and Pigott 2011, fig. 6, no. 22.
  • 37 Fukai and Ikeda 1971, pl. XLIV, no. 1.
  • 38 Malekzadeh 2012, ST84 E.049, ST84 E.028 and ST84 E.140.
  • 39 Azarnoush and Helwing 2005, fig. 40.

23In the IA II, a new type of dagger, some with crescent-shaped guard, emerged; they are called daggers with cotton-reel pommels. Daggers with iron blade have been found at few sites in the northwest of Iran: one dagger with cotton-reel pommel and crescent-shaped guard from Chagoula Derre34 and at least five examples with this kind of guard and some with cotton-reel pommels from Toul-e Talesh35 in Talesh region. There are also three daggers with tubular hilt and iron blade from Hasanlu IVb with the functional guard in a slightly different shape36. From north of the Iranian Plateau, we only know one dagger with cotton-reel pommel and iron blade, found at Ghalekuti II in the Dailaman region. In this example, both ends of the functional guard are rather blunt and not pointed37. Three bronze daggers with tubular hilt were found in Sangtarashan in the Pish-Kuh region, dated by the excavator to the IA II38. Even though their blades are not made of iron, it seems that the guard, like the counterparts with iron blade, has a functional role and holds the blade. It should be noted that this picture is not uniform for all IA II examples. There is a number of daggers which are dated to the IA II but still seem to have the non-functional guard, such as the two examples from Shahriyari in Northwest Iran39.

Fig. 11 – The daggers with crescent/penannular guard belonging to the IA II (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 11 – The daggers with crescent/penannular guard belonging to the IA II (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 12 – The distribution of sites with crescent/penannular guard daggers in the IA II (based on “NASA visible earth” satellite picture, processed by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Fig. 12 – The distribution of sites with crescent/penannular guard daggers in the IA II (based on “NASA visible earth” satellite picture, processed by B. Rafiei-Alavi).

Discussion

24After this introduction to the archaeological evidence, we can move on to address some of the questions relating to this type of dagger: Why was the functional role of the crescent-shaped guard in the LBA changed in some cases to a non-functional and decorative unit in the IA I, so much that the crescent-shaped part was cast separately on top of the blade as a kind of “false affordance”? And why did the guard in some of the daggers again take on the functional role in the IA II?

  • 40 Maxwell-Hyslop 1962, p. 127.

25More than half a century ago, Rachel Maxwell-Hyslop explained this phenomenon as a kind of skeuomorphism: “Influence from Crete is certainly possible and the Aegean might provide the prototypes for the skeuomorphic rendering of the penannular guards of the Talish daggers”40. As has been shown, we can declare the Elamite daggers from the Khuzestan plain to be much more plausible candidates as prototypes for the examples from Talesh in the IA I than a possible influence from the Aegean. However, her idea about skeuomorphism has some merit and should be given consideration.

  • 41 Vickers 1998.
  • 42 Basalla 1988, p. 107.

26Skeuomorphism has different aspects41, but by a general definition “it is an element of design or structure that serves little or no purpose in the artefact, fashioned from the new material, but was essential to the object made from the original material”42. The classic examples for skeuomorphism are potteries with imitated rivets that are reminiscent of similar pots made of metal. In such a case, an object from cheaper material imitates a more precious one. This kind of skeuomorphism does not seem to apply to our daggers. At least in the case of the Klardasht dagger, the object with the skeuomorphic attribute was made of gold, while the daggers with functional guard were made of bronze or copper.

27Another aspect of skeuomorphism is imitation of an old-fashioned ornament or technique in order to make the new object look comfortably old and familiar. Nowadays, the most familiar examples can be seen in computer software such as digital calendars that emulate the appearance of a paper desk calendar. Accordingly, it might be assumed that the non-functional penannular guard was reproduced in the IA I, because people used to manufacture daggers with the same but – at the time – functional attribute in the LBA. In other words, they continued to make them in that way because the style was too deeply ingrained to be washed away and the form acted as a storage of memory.

  • 43 Sackett 1973; Sackett 1977; Dunnell 1978; Dunnell 1996; Hegmon 1992; Roe 1995; Wobst 1999; Conkey  (...)

28Much as this aspect of skeuomorphism is applicable to our case, it does not yet explain the phenomenon adequately. I believe the crescent-shaped guard and its transformation should be regarded under the multidimensional concept of “style” and its relation to other concepts such as “function” and “technology”43.

  • 44 Lechtman 1977, p. 7.

29I prefer to open my discussion by emphasizing the relation between culture and technology. The study of the role of style as a cultural unit in technology goes back to the pioneer work of Lechtman in 1977. She used the term “Technological Style” and concentrated on the cultural dimension of technique. What is important here is that Lechtman sees the “Technological Style” as an emic behaviour which is chosen by people, but which is also limited by the natural and technological etic44. In our case that would mean that the use of the crescent-shaped guard for connecting the blade and hilt can be seen as an emic behaviour that chosen by artisans in the LBA, who were well aware of the technological limitations.

  • 45 Sackett 1982; Sackett 1986; Sackett 1990.
  • 46 Sackett 1990, p. 33; Hegmon 1998, p. 267.
  • 47 Sackett 1990, p. 36‑37.
  • 48 Sackett 1990, p. 36.

30In a series of articles, Sackett has looked at the relation between chosen style and technological limitation from another angle introducing the term “Isochrestic style”45. Isochrestic style is a chosen way to manufacture an artefact which depends not only on the technological limitations but also on the cultural tradition46. Sackett subsumed the Isochrestic style under the “passive style” in which the iconic information is latent and hidden in contrast to the “active style”47. This isochrestic perspective on style was actually a response to the iconological approach which, as Sackett believed, overemphasised the intentional iconic and symbolic role of style48. Within this framework and using the same terminology, we can consider the functional crescent-shaped guard in the LBA daggers as a sample of the “passive style” with a still hidden cultural meaning. The change to “active style” came about during the IA I when the guard lost its functionality and gained an iconic meaning. During the IA II, the “active style” seems to have shed its iconic role and the guard became again a functional part of the dagger.

  • 49 Wobst 1977.
  • 50 Wiessner 1990.
  • 51 Stark 1998.

31In order to get at the reason behind this switch between active and passive style, we need to consider the role of style in the information exchange. Style “as a strategy of information exchange” was first discussed in archaeology by Wobst49. In this approach, style conveys a kind of non-verbal messages or signals among the members of a system who communicate with each other through the style50. In this context, the guard of the IA I daggers, as an “active style” and with an iconic meaning, had also a specific social referent and established a kind of communication between users of the daggers. This leads us to another issue, namely, the relation between style and social boundaries51, meanings that the communicative role of stylistic attributes can also be an indicator of group boundaries between the people who use this style and those who do not.

  • 52 Piller 2008, p. 210‑211.
  • 53 Negahban 1996, map 5, tombs 1, 2‑3, 5.
  • 54 Piller 2008, fig. 17, 27‑28.
  • 55 Wiessner 1983, p. 257‑258.
  • 56 On the basis of the different dagger types in the grave site of North Iran, Haerinck also believes (...)
  • 57 Negahban 1996, fig. 33, no. 729; fig. 31, no. 667.
  • 58 Wiessner 1983, p. 258.

32We may see a meaningful relation between the spatial distribution of the daggers and social boundaries in Marlik with its biggest collection of crescent-shaped guard daggers in the IA I. In the Marlik cemeteries, the graves with crescent-shaped guard daggers do mostly not contain any other form of dagger (e.g. tombs 1, 2, 3 and 44). In Marlik there are also few some cylinder seals, imported from Mesopotamia and probably Elam52, which were mostly found in these graves (e.g. tombs 1, 2 and 3). The graves with crescent guard daggers are mostly (13 out of 18 daggers) clustered on the north-western part of the hill53. Other forms of daggers without crescent guard, on the other hand, were mostly found along with artefacts that, stylistically, could be designated as typical of Marlik and North Iran (e.g. tombs 18, 26, 27, 32, 33, 47, 52). Piller regards these differences as a sign of chronological variance between the Marlik daggers. However, based on his dating there is still considerable chronological overlap between the graves with and without crescent-shaped guard daggers54. I think the presence of this feature on some of the daggers and its absence on others could also be seen as an example of an “emblemic style”55, which would indicate an emic classification and group boundaries for the users56. Furthermore, as has been mentioned before, there are special forms of crescent-shaped guard daggers57 in Marlik, samples of “assertive style”58, which could imply a kind of assertion of an individual identity and self-image within the group boundaries. Further researches on the distribution of this kind of daggers in the graves of the Talesh region may increase our knowledge about the issue.

33So far the issues discussed above have contained a hidden question: Is it possible to imagine a relation between these kinds of daggers and the Elamites as a cultural and linguistic social group?

  • 59 For a discussion concerning other metal artefacts, see: Rafiei-Alavi 2014.

34Searching for an answer to this question we need once again to view our evidence from both the spatial and the chronological perspective. Spatially, these daggers were mostly found in the western and northern parts of the Iranian Plateau where, metal artefacts show the influence of the Middle Elamite urban centres in the Khuzestan plain. Looking at our evidences through the lens of this settlement pattern we see that some of the metal artefacts like this type of dagger come mostly from the large Middle Elamite urban centres in the Khuzestan plain, whereas similar objects from the final century of the LBA and IA I, in the west and north of Iran, were mostly discovered in rich cemeteries. It could be claimed that some of these metal artefacts were manufactured in the Elamite urban centres, then the products or at least the technological knowledge and style were transported to the highlands, where they were finally buried as grave goods59.

35Chronologically, except for the IA II, this type of dagger appeared during the Middle Elamite period, which is contemporaneous with the second part of the LBA and most of the IA I in the Iranian Plateau. The first examples of daggers in the LBA are mostly from Middle Elamite cities such as Haft Tappeh and Susa. At this time the functional guard takes on an “isochrestic”, “passive style” on daggers which were mainly found in their homeland in the Khuzestan plain, and when discovered out of Khuzestan they were only found in graves. In the IA I, they left their homeland in the Elamite cities, lost, in several cases, their functional guard and expanded over a wide geographical area. They were found from the north and northwest of the Iranian Plateau to south of the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea but mostly in graves and not in settlement contexts. The main part of this period covers the heyday of the Middle Elamite kingdom in Khuzestan, when the Elamites introduced their stylistic idea and material culture, including this type of dagger, to the western and northern part of the Iranian Plateau. The non-functional guard of the daggers in the IA I can be seen as having an “active” and “iconic style” through which people exchange information, communicate and set their group boundaries.

36Besides the iconic style, technological progress has an important role in the transformation of the crescent-shaped guard. The multistage manufacturing process of the daggers in the LBA changed widely to a single process in the IA I. A one-piece dagger was more resistant to blows and needed less energy during manufacturing, but it also required a more sophisticated technology. The smith should be able to create a large and complex mould to make a dagger in one casting. In this way the crescent-shaped attribute had no functional role anymore. However, it remained on the blade and in some cases was separately cast on top of the blade showing the stylistic connection to the Elamite prototypes and probably the cultural boundaries of its users.

37During the IA II and after the Middle Elamite period, the use of the crescent-shaped guard daggers went back and they were mostly limited to the northwest and west of Iran. In the last centuries of its existence, the guard once again performed a functional role. One of the main reasons behind this reversion is again technological progress, since using the iron blade forced the artisan to use a functional crescent guard for connecting the blade to the hilt. Moreover, it seems that after the decline of the Middle Elamite kingdom the crescent-shaped guard lost its iconic meaning and transformed back to the “passive” style. Like all cultural phenomena, this picture is not completely homogeneous, and as mentioned above there are always some exceptions.

38If we regard artefacts as a means of cultural performance through which information was exchanged, communication took place and visible cultural codes were manifested, then we may agree that our dagger with its guard as a stylistic unit displayed a kind of meaningful behaviour in a restricted time and space. Furthermore, the transformation of this dagger shows how concepts such as style and function are mutable through time and that the functional trait of a unit could be transformed to a non-functional one by technological changes.

Concluding remark

39At the end I would like to address the question of the probable meaning of the crescent-shaped guard per se. Why had this form of guard continued in use as a stylistic attribute over several centuries? Is there any symbolic meaning behind this attribute?

  • 60 Ilan 2014.

40The crescent shape is seen in various artefacts as a possible symbol of the moon god60. However, assuming a relation between the moon god and this type of Elamite dagger is no conceivable answer. First of all, the crescent icon as the representation of the moon god has rarely been seen in the Iranian Plateau in general and in Elam in particular. Moreover, in many cases the crescent-shaped guard changed to a penannular one which cannot be regarded as representative of the moon.

41A look at another type of weapon may shed more light on the subject. In some axes contemporary with this type of dagger and mostly found in the same regions, the blade is springing out of a predator’s jaw, probably a lion. The crescent-shaped guard during the IA I might base on the same stylistic idea of the blade coming out through the conical teeth of a fierce animal, an idea that in our dagger was reduced and abstracted to the crescent form. The ends of the crescent or penannular guard call to mind the open mouth and the conical teeth of the lion, a possible metaphor for the sharpness and ferocity of the blade (fig. 13).

Fig. 13 – The dagger and axe from Haft Tappeh with a possible similarity in their stylistic idea.

Fig. 13 – The dagger and axe from Haft Tappeh with a possible similarity in their stylistic idea.

Acknowledgments

42This paper is made possible through the support of Enki (Verein zur Förderung Archäologischer Grabungen im Vorderen Orient, Frankfurt am Main). I gratefully acknowledge the following for providing access to the metal artifacts in the National Museum of Iran: Ms. Dr Gorji the then director of Museum, Ms. Gezvani, Ms. Zehtab, Ms. Akbari and Ms. Prian.

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Notes

1 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2014, tab. 5.

2 Negahban 1991, pl. 31, no. 214; Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2012, pl. 33, no. 10.

3 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2010, pl. 6, no. 5; pl. 52, no. 3.

4 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2012, pl. 33, no. 12.

5 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2012, pl. 33, no. 13.

6 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2010, pl. 35, no. 7; pl. 50, no. 5.

7 Rafiei-Alavi 2012, fig. 1.

8 Negahban 1991, pl. 31, no. 215.

9 Mofidi-Nasrabadi 2010, pl. 6, no. 1; pl. 52, no. 1.

10 Rafiei-Alavi 2012.

11 De Mecquenem 1922, pl. IV, no. 16.

12 Contenau and Ghirshman 1935, pl. XXIV, no. 2‑3; pl. 82, tomb 1, no. 7.

13 Young 1969, fig. 25, no. 11; Henrickson 2011, fig. 6, no. 15.

14 Fukai and Ikeda 1971, p. 97, pl. XXVIII, no. 3; pl. XLV, no. 35.

15 Fukai and Ikeda 1971.

16 Piller 2008, fig. 33.

17 De Morgan 1905, fig. 638.

18 Schaeffer 1948, fig. 217, no. 3.

19 Six daggers in tomb 1, four in tomb 2, two in tomb 3, one in tomb 5, two in tomb 13, two in tomb 44, one in tomb 45 (Negahban 1996, fig. 31, no. 667; fig. 32, no. 718, 722‑723, 726; fig. 33, no. 729; pl. 119, no. 667, 669, 671; pl. 121, no. 712, 716, 720; Löw 1995‑1996).

20 Piller 2008, fig. 17, 33.

21 Negahban 1996, vol. 1, p. 262.

22 Negahban 1996, fig. 33, no. 729 (tomb 2); fig. 31, no. 667 (tomb 45).

23 Negahban 1996, pl. 119, no. 669, 671.

24 Four daggers from Veri (De Morgan 1896, fig. 63, no. 4‑7), one from Tülü (De Morgan 1896, fig. 56, no. 10), one from Djüodjik (De Morgan 1896, fig. 62, no. 2); Two or four from Tchila Khane (De Morgan 1905, fig. 416‑417), two from Chagoula Derre (De Morgan 1905, fig. 460, 463) and one from Hassan Zamini (De Morgan 1905, fig. 541).

25 Maxwell-Hyslop and Hodges 1964, p. 52, fig. 1, no. 5.

26 Maxwell-Hyslop and Hodges 1964, p. 52, fig. 1, no. 4.

27 Samadi 1959, fig. 11, 16.

28 Vanden Berghe 1964, pl. XXXIV, no. 227.

29 Winter 1989.

30 Yule and Weisgerber 2001, pl. 2, no. 20‑22.

31 Lombard 1984, fig. 2, no. 1.

32 Lombard 1984, fig. 2, no. 2.

33 Yule 2014, fig. 17, no. 2, 4.

34 De Morgan 1905, fig. 468.

35 Vahdati 2007, fig. 1, no.  1, 3‑4, 7‑8.

36 Thornton and Pigott 2011, fig. 6, no. 22.

37 Fukai and Ikeda 1971, pl. XLIV, no. 1.

38 Malekzadeh 2012, ST84 E.049, ST84 E.028 and ST84 E.140.

39 Azarnoush and Helwing 2005, fig. 40.

40 Maxwell-Hyslop 1962, p. 127.

41 Vickers 1998.

42 Basalla 1988, p. 107.

43 Sackett 1973; Sackett 1977; Dunnell 1978; Dunnell 1996; Hegmon 1992; Roe 1995; Wobst 1999; Conkey 2006; Gosselain 2011.

44 Lechtman 1977, p. 7.

45 Sackett 1982; Sackett 1986; Sackett 1990.

46 Sackett 1990, p. 33; Hegmon 1998, p. 267.

47 Sackett 1990, p. 36‑37.

48 Sackett 1990, p. 36.

49 Wobst 1977.

50 Wiessner 1990.

51 Stark 1998.

52 Piller 2008, p. 210‑211.

53 Negahban 1996, map 5, tombs 1, 2‑3, 5.

54 Piller 2008, fig. 17, 27‑28.

55 Wiessner 1983, p. 257‑258.

56 On the basis of the different dagger types in the grave site of North Iran, Haerinck also believes that “Specific dagger types do belong to specific population groups” (Haerinck 1988, p. 69).

57 Negahban 1996, fig. 33, no. 729; fig. 31, no. 667.

58 Wiessner 1983, p. 258.

59 For a discussion concerning other metal artefacts, see: Rafiei-Alavi 2014.

60 Ilan 2014.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – The daggers with functional crescent guard from Haft Tappeh (©Rafiei-Alavi).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 977k
Titre Fig. 2 – Different component parts of the tubular hilt with crescent guard from Haft Tappeh (©Rafiei-Alavi).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,2M
Titre Fig. 3 – The daggers with crescent guard belonging to the LBA (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 429k
Titre Fig. 4 – The distribution of sites with crescent guard daggers in the LBA (based on “NASA visible earth” satellite picture, processed by B. Rafiei-Alavi).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Fig. 5 – Five daggers with penannular guard from Marlik in the National Museum of Iran (no. 14645-7645, 25217-8217, 14635-7635, 14618-7618, 25219-8219) [©Rafiei-Alavi].
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 590k
Titre Fig. 6 – Three examples of daggers with separately cast penannular guard from Marlik (no. 25217-8217, 14618-7618 and 25219-8219) [©Rafiei-Alavi].
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,2M
Titre Fig. 7 – The golden dagger of Klardasht with non-functional penannular guard in the National Museum of Iran (no. 5687) [©Rafiei‑Alavi].
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 920k
Titre Fig. 8 – Depiction of a dagger with crescent guard on the golden bowl of Hasanlu (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 523k
Titre Fig. 9 – The daggers with crescent/penannular guard belonging to the IA I (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 925k
Titre Fig. 10 – The distribution of sites with crescent/penannular guard daggers in the IA I (based on “NASA visible earth” satellite picture, processed by B. Rafiei-Alavi).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-10.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
Titre Fig. 11 – The daggers with crescent/penannular guard belonging to the IA II (schematic drawing by B. Rafiei-Alavi).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-11.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 927k
Titre Fig. 12 – The distribution of sites with crescent/penannular guard daggers in the IA II (based on “NASA visible earth” satellite picture, processed by B. Rafiei-Alavi).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-12.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Titre Fig. 13 – The dagger and axe from Haft Tappeh with a possible similarity in their stylistic idea.
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8181/img-13.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 225k

Auteur

Department of Archaeology, Art University of Isfahan

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