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The Iranian Plateau during the Bronze Age

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

The transition to Iron Age

The Bronze Age and the Iron Age on the Central Iranian Plateau

Two successive cultures or the appearance of a new culture?

Hamid Fahimi

Résumé

La période de transition entre l’âge du Bronze et l’âge du Fer en Iran et la situation au début de l’âge du Fer reste un des sujets les plus discutés en archéologie iranienne sans qu’il n’y ait de véritable consensus entre les archéologues et les historiens. En fait, les raisons et motifs principaux de nombreuses opérations archéologiques sur le Plateau iranien à la fin du xixe et au début du xxe siècle, notamment sur des sites avec des vestiges du IIe et du Ier millénaire av. J.‑C., étaient de prouver et de vérifier les théories des ethnologues et des philologues sur l’apparition d’une nouvelle tribu sur le Plateau iranien au milieu du IIe millénaire av. J.‑C. L’objectif de cet article est de présenter et d’analyser de manière objective le matériel archéologique de ces sites et de documenter leur évolution entre les deux périodes.

In memory of the late Professor Dr Masoud Azarnoush (1945‑2008)

Texte intégral

The main issue: the Late Bronze Age

  • 1 For example, Hakemi 1950; Vanden Berghe 1972; Negahban 1964, p. 44; Talai 1995, p. 5; Talai 2006, (...)
  • 2 Schmidt 1937.
  • 3 Contenau and Ghirshman 1935, p. 80.
  • 4 Young and Levine 1974.
  • 5 Ghirshman 1939.
  • 6 Dyson1965; Dyson 1989a, p. 6.

1The main aim of this paper is, instead, to discuss the archaeological evidence, which is invaluable for a new understanding of cultural change at the end of the 2nd millennium BC and the transitional period between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. New archaeological activities, as well as reassessment projects, could show how ethnological and philological theories can be reviewed. Older theories based only on the migration theory and its consequences need to be discussed again on the basis of archaeological evidence. This paper presents new archaeological and chronological research on this period on the Central Iranian Plateau. According to most archaeologists, the end of the Bronze Age on the Iranian Plateau, including the Central Iranian Plateau, cannot be later than the middle of the 2nd millennium BC1. This chronology is based on dating from some important archaeological sites like Hesar2, Giyan3, Godin4, Sialk5, or Hasanlu6, most of which were excavated during the early decades of the 20th century (fig. 1). This paper aims to discuss these two major themes: Chronology and the archaeological evidence, which can be used for comparative studies but which are always cited to differentiate between the so‑called Bronze Age and Iron Age cultures on the central Iranian Plateau.

Fig. 1 – Location of the mentioned sites (map by Hamid Fahimi).

Fig. 1 – Location of the mentioned sites (map by Hamid Fahimi).

2Of course, the description of the Bronze Age and its onset at the end of the 4th millennium BC is not the primary argument in this paper but for the analysis of the connection between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, it is essential break down this period, which is called the late Bronze Age.

  • 7 Caldwell 1967; Hakemi 1997; Lamberg-Karlovsky 1970; Carter 1980.

3The beginning of the Late Bronze Age on the Central Iranian Plateau, corresponds to a period of the internal transformation of cultures, which were dynamic during the 3rd millennium BC on the Iranian Plateau. The cultural changes during this period are also one of the most important evolutions in the Bronze Age on the Iranian Plateau. These cultural changes do not follow the same chronology or modalities in the different regions of the Iranian Plateau. Also, from a chronological viewpoint, in some geographical regions, for example, southeast or southwest Iran, Bronze Age cultures ended at most Bronze Age sites at the end of the 3rd millennium BC or at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC7, but the main focus of this paper will be the Central Iranian Plateau.

  • 8 Ghirshman 1938; Ghirshman 1939; Malek Shahmirzadi 2002; Malek Shahmirzadi 2003; Malek Shahmirzadi  (...)
  • 9 Ghirshman 1938.
  • 10 Dyson 1965; Dyson 1989a.
  • 11 Dyson 1989a, p. 6.

4Most chronological Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age studies of the Central Iranian Plateau are based on old excavations or comparative studies. Tepe Sialk, the most important archaeological site in this region, with a long prehistoric sequence from the Neolithic period to the late Iron Age8, is always used as a key‑site to establish the chronology and dating of other sites, not only on the Central Iranian Plateau, but also in other regions in Iran. But the upper layers of this site have never been dated with C14 analysis. According to the Ghirshman expedition, the Sialk south mound was abandoned at the end of the 3rd millennium BC and there is thus a gap of about 900 years at this site9. This means that there is no basis for discussing the Bronze Age culture during the so‑called “late Bronze age” at Sialk. Of course, many other scholars who excavated other sites after the Sialk results had been published, tried to explain and analyse their materials and the chronology of their sites based solely on Ghirshman’s theories at the Sialk south mound. But Sialk was not the only key‑site for comparative studies of the Bronze Age and Iron Age in Iran. There were also other sites, such as Hasanlu in northwest Iran, excavated by Dyson. He conducted carbon dating to establish a chronology in Hasanlu for the first time in the history of Iranian archaeology10. According to Dyson, the Bronze Age in Hasanlu continued during the 2nd millennium BC without any gap. He believed that the Late Bronze Age ended during the 15th century BC11. Hasanlu and its chronological table has been the sole reference for dating many other sites in the northwest and also in other regions in Iran for a long time.

New studies and research

  • 12 Piller 2003-2004; Piller 2004.
  • 13 Piller 2003-2004, p. 170.
  • 14 Piller 2004, p. 310.
  • 15 Fahimi 2013, p. 159.

5One of the recent chronological studies is Christian Piller’s research on “Central Grey Way, as the possible pottery type for connection between Eastern and Western Grey Ware”12. Piller omitted some new publications of archaeological activities, published almost exclusively in Persian over the past two decades, but his work is nonetheless important because he studied a large quantity of pottery sherds found by W. Kleiss from several Bronze Age and Iron Age sites in the central Plateau, especially in Qazvin plain, Tehran Plain and Qom plain, which were not studied or published by Kleiss. According to his comparative analysis, the CGW, which is mostly recognizable in the Sialk A graveyard and Sagzabad, does not date to the EIA and is not comparable to the WGW, but dates back to the end of the Middle Bronze Age and the Late Bronze Age and plays an influential role between LBA pottery types from NW‑Iran (like in Hesar and Shah Tepe) and the WGW pottery type from the Zagros area (like Godin and Giyan)13. He also compared LBA painted ware from Sagzabad with CGW from Sialk A, especially from the point of view of forms. Later he published an article and called the CGW Local Early Grey Ware, which he used for introducing the Qeytariyeh pottery type in the northern part of the Central Iranian Plateau. He mentioned that the end of the CGW is contemporaneous with Sialk A (around 1500 BC) and can be dated to the end of the LBA, but his dating of the LBA and EIA is also based on the old studies in Sialk and also in NW‑Iran14. One of the most important results of Piller’s study is that the CGW is older than Grey ware in North‑Central Iran, which is comparable to the NW and NE of the Plateau. This calls for further reflection on the theory, which is based on migration in the middle of the second millennium BC with a direction of movement from the north-northwest or northeast to the south and centre of the Plateau15.

  • 16 Danti 2008, p. 23; Danti 2013, p. 30.

6A few years ago, Michael Danti began to re‑study Hasanlu materials and to re‑analyse BA and IA carbon samples from this site and also from Dinkhah Tepe16. The earlier radiocarbon dates from Hasanlu V derive from insecure contexts. On the other hand, this period was defined on the basis of ceramics from graves at Hasanlu and Dinkhah Tepe, but was dated using radiocarbon determinations from loosely associated and unassociated occupations at both sites.

  • 17 Danti 2013, C‑4, fig. 2, no. 4; Danti 2013, p. 30, fig. 2, no. 2.
  • 18 Danti 2013, p. 313, fig. 5.
  • 19 Dyson 1989b, p. 107.
  • 20 Overlaet 2003.

7According to Danti’s new table of Hasanlu’s chronology17, Hasanlu V dates back to 1450 to 1250 BC, as the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age I started uninterrupted after this period (fig. 2). Based on this new dating, the Grey Ware introduced by Dyson as a new type of pottery in the IVC period, already appeared during the Late Bronze Age. The pottery sequence table from period V and IV‑C also showed the continuity of some typical forms, for example the bowls, carinated bowls or spout jars. This type of ware is also comparable to ware from the early period V to the end of period IV‑b18. The architectural remains of Hasanlu V and IVC also showed continuity between the so‑called “Late Bronze Age” and “Early Iron Age”19. This revised system in Hasanlu corresponds more to the conclusion of Overlaet in Lorestan based on ceramics20 and also to the chronological terminology in northeast Mesopotamia.

Fig. 2 – Radiocarbon date ranges for Hasanlū and Diīnkhāh (after Danti 2013, C‑4, fig. 2.4).

Fig. 2 – Radiocarbon date ranges for Hasanlū and Diīnkhāh (after Danti 2013, C‑4, fig. 2.4).

8On the other hand, new archaeological activities during the past 20 years have shown a new transitional period between the Bronze Age and the Iron Age during the last decades of the 2nd millennium BC.

9One of the examples of the new excavations on the Central Iranian Plateau has been carried out in Qoli Darvish. This site is located about 2 km southwest of the modern city of Qom, excavated by Siamak Sarlak, and the chronological analysis shows a cultural sequence spanning the 7th millennium to the 1st millennium BC. Unfortunately, a lot of this site was destroyed by agriculture, as well as a construction project, but it is clear that this site originally extended over an area of about 50 hectares (fig. 3).

Fig. 3 – Stratigraphical Test Trench in Qolī Darvīš (after Sarlak 2010, p. 62, fig. 1).

Fig. 3 – Stratigraphical Test Trench in Qolī Darvīš (after Sarlak 2010, p. 62, fig. 1).
  • 21 Sarlak 2011, p. 430, fig. 1.
  • 22 Sarlak 2010, p. 60, fig. 7.
  • 23 Sarlak 2010, p. 62.

10Findings from a rich area of settlement-architecture21 (fig. 4), with a pottery kiln and metallurgical activities22 showed that Qoli Darvish was an important settlement centre during the 2nd millennium BC in the Central Iranian Plateau. In this site, a ritual space or room has also been found. According to Sarlak, these remains belong to the end of the Middle Bronze Age, but it was used until the end of the 2nd millennium BC (i.e., during the LBA and Iron Age 1 and 2), without any change in its plan or function23. According to chronological studies and carbon dating, there is no gap between the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age cultural phases in Qoli Darvish. The transitional period between the Bronze Age and Iron Age in this site also shows the continuity of grey ware pottery production with some changes in patterns and the development process for the type of forms and decorations. The architectural pattern of Qoli Darvish VII (Early Iron Age) also presents similar flooring, plaster for walls and brick‑sorting techniques. Even the size of mud‑bricks during the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age is almost the same. The stratigraphic analysis of this site showed that the settlement pattern continued uninterrupted, although with some changes and development during the second half of the 2nd millennium BC.

Fig. 4 – Architectural remains in Qolī Darvīš (after Sarlak 2010, p. 159, fig. 1).

Fig. 4 – Architectural remains in Qolī Darvīš (after Sarlak 2010, p. 159, fig. 1).
  • 24 Fahimi 2013, p. 156, fig. 6, no. 2‑1.

11In Iranian archaeology, the grey ware pottery is still one of the most widely used attributes for demonstrating the appearance of a new tribe on the Iranian Plateau, based on the theory of a great migration in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. In fact, the first appearance and prevalence of grey and grey‑black pottery from the beginning to the end of the third millennium BC (for example in Qabrestan II), and the production of grey and grey‑black pottery is one of the main common characteristics between the internal cultures on the Iranian Plateau during the Early and Middle Bronze Age. During the LBA on the Central Iranian Plateau, most of the known sites have grey ware, which also continues during the Iron Age. Of course, some of the forms and decorations and techniques of pottery production or slips were multifarious during the 2nd millennium BC but the grey ware culture was not a specific characteristic of the so‑called Iron Age24.

  • 25 Fahimi 2013, p. 158.

12The decrease in painted pottery, which is also considered as a sign of a new tribe at the beginning of the Iron Age, is actually one of the events of the LBA on the Central Iranian Plateau. The use of iron to produce metal tools, especially arrowheads, knives or swords, is commonly referred to as the 13th century BC “Iron Age”, but we must still bear in mind that iron never replaced bronze for the production of metal artifacts, even during the so‑called Iron Age25.

Conclusion

13During the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, permanent cultural patterns were increasingly kept out of the established existing cultures and they appeared in new forms of evolved cultures. This is the same as the cultural evolution, which occurred at the end of the 4th millennium BC and has been referred to as the appearance of Bronze Age on the Iranian Plateau.

14According to geomorphological studies and revised studies, despite the present‑day climatic situation, there were many water resources in the Central Iranian Plateau during the 2nd millennium BC and several permanent rivers, which no longer exist today or have become seasonal rivers. Based on this, and also the geographic role of this region as a connection area between the Zagros area in the West, Alborz area in the North and Northeast area, local cultures during the 2nd millennium BC (LBA and EIA) with influence from their neighboring cultures were dynamic and continuous.

  • 26 Fahimi 2003a; Fahimi 2004; Fahimi 2006.
  • 27 Sarlak 2010; Sarlak 2011.
  • 28 Purbakhshandeh 2003; Sarlak 2004.
  • 29 Fahimi 2003b; Fahimi 2010.
  • 30 Tehrani Moghadam 1997.
  • 31 Fahimi 2011.
  • 32 Mehrkyan 1996.

15Tepe Sialk (before new excavations and Iron Age studies in Sialk south mound26: Sialk Reconsideration Project) has been the most important archaeological site for comparative Bronze Age and Iron Age studies for a long time, but now with new excavations and studies, such as Qoli Darvish27, Sarm28, Shamshirgah29, Pishva30, Milajerd31, Ma’murin32, it is clear that it is necessary to review the chronological terminology for the LBA and the EIA on the Central Iranian Plateau, but also the ethnological theories based on the appearance of a new tribe at the beginning of the Iron Age (fig. 5).

Fig. 5 – Chronological Table (after Fahimi 2013, p. 161, fig. 6.7‑2).

Fig. 5 – Chronological Table (after Fahimi 2013, p. 161, fig. 6.7‑2).
  • 33 Mallory 1973; Mallory 1989; Musavi 2001; Anthony 2007.

16To conclude: migration and emigration are common demographic forces and a prevalent part of human life in most populations and widespread evidence of migration in prehistoric and historic periods is recognizable in historical and archaeological studies33. There are several reasons migration events, such as climate change, natural disasters or outbreaks of war. But on the basis of archaeological results, especially new studies and revised studies, there is no conclusive evidence for the wave migration of newcomers ending the “Late Bronze Age” and starting the Iron Age, not only on the Central Iranian Plateau, but also in the southern Lake Urmia Basin.

  • 34 Anthony 1990, p. 908.

… Cultures do not migrate. Migration is a selective, carefully planned, and goal-oriented process. Migration cannot simply be eschewed as a cultural mechanism operating in antiquity34

  • 35 Danti 2013.

17Recent research, as well as the reanalysis of C14 data from Hasanlu and Dinkhah Tepe (Hasanlu V and IV‑C) have shown that it does not operate in the manner that the Iranian migrationist paradigm envisioned, that is, as a sporadic, high magnitude, inexorable force causing sudden population/culture replacement. For a long time, we thought that the Iron Age lifestyle on the Iranian Plateau was nomadic and we always referred to the high number of graveyards mentioned in relation to settlement. Now, because of the discovery of many Iron Age settlement sites on the Central Iranian Plateau, we have to be more cautious with this invalid opinion. Finally, it is important to mention that the historical evidence, like the textural record from Assyria or facts cited by large-migration-theory followers are still interesting to discuss, but our current knowledge and recent results of archaeological activities cannot validate these ideas. On the other hand, they mostly show that gradual cultural change occurred with increased cultural and trade relations between the Iranian Plateau and other regions (especially its northern neighbours and Mesopotamia) during the 2nd millennium BC35.

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Notes

1 For example, Hakemi 1950; Vanden Berghe 1972; Negahban 1964, p. 44; Talai 1995, p. 5; Talai 2006, p. 39.

2 Schmidt 1937.

3 Contenau and Ghirshman 1935, p. 80.

4 Young and Levine 1974.

5 Ghirshman 1939.

6 Dyson1965; Dyson 1989a, p. 6.

7 Caldwell 1967; Hakemi 1997; Lamberg-Karlovsky 1970; Carter 1980.

8 Ghirshman 1938; Ghirshman 1939; Malek Shahmirzadi 2002; Malek Shahmirzadi 2003; Malek Shahmirzadi 2004; Malek Shahmirzadi 2006.

9 Ghirshman 1938.

10 Dyson 1965; Dyson 1989a.

11 Dyson 1989a, p. 6.

12 Piller 2003-2004; Piller 2004.

13 Piller 2003-2004, p. 170.

14 Piller 2004, p. 310.

15 Fahimi 2013, p. 159.

16 Danti 2008, p. 23; Danti 2013, p. 30.

17 Danti 2013, C‑4, fig. 2, no. 4; Danti 2013, p. 30, fig. 2, no. 2.

18 Danti 2013, p. 313, fig. 5.

19 Dyson 1989b, p. 107.

20 Overlaet 2003.

21 Sarlak 2011, p. 430, fig. 1.

22 Sarlak 2010, p. 60, fig. 7.

23 Sarlak 2010, p. 62.

24 Fahimi 2013, p. 156, fig. 6, no. 2‑1.

25 Fahimi 2013, p. 158.

26 Fahimi 2003a; Fahimi 2004; Fahimi 2006.

27 Sarlak 2010; Sarlak 2011.

28 Purbakhshandeh 2003; Sarlak 2004.

29 Fahimi 2003b; Fahimi 2010.

30 Tehrani Moghadam 1997.

31 Fahimi 2011.

32 Mehrkyan 1996.

33 Mallory 1973; Mallory 1989; Musavi 2001; Anthony 2007.

34 Anthony 1990, p. 908.

35 Danti 2013.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – Location of the mentioned sites (map by Hamid Fahimi).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8196/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 586k
Titre Fig. 2 – Radiocarbon date ranges for Hasanlū and Diīnkhāh (after Danti 2013, C‑4, fig. 2.4).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8196/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,0M
Titre Fig. 3 – Stratigraphical Test Trench in Qolī Darvīš (after Sarlak 2010, p. 62, fig. 1).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8196/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 246k
Titre Fig. 4 – Architectural remains in Qolī Darvīš (after Sarlak 2010, p. 159, fig. 1).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8196/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 291k
Titre Fig. 5 – Chronological Table (after Fahimi 2013, p. 161, fig. 6.7‑2).
URL http://books.openedition.org/momeditions/docannexe/image/8196/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 305k

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