Unable to find leads into prehistoric Iran along the Persian Gulf littoral southeast of Choga Mish and Choga Bonut, I realized the Oriental Institute was my best bet.
Hats off to the OI, again, as both originator and provider of in-depth information on Iranian topics otherwise inaccessible on the web. There’s not much available to laymen about prehistoric sites in Iran, especially to us without a nexus to a research institution, or an expense account for subscription services and expensive site reports.
By “originator,” I mean an institution that sponsors excavations (and symposiums) and publishes the findings–the antithesis of excavations published decades later, or never.
By “provider”, I mean a publisher making results accessible to the public in downloadable PDF format, not just to the cloisters of academia in expensive formats.
On the OI search bar, I discovered a 2003 overview of the Iranian Prehistoric Project and the 2006 Volume 128: The Origins of State Organizations in Prehistoric Highland FARS Southern Iran Excavations at Tall-E Bakun. From these and other OI documents, I found new leads and pieces of the puzzle about the origins of the black on buff potters, whom I continue to label the Ubaid culture.
I have added the author, Dr. Abbas Alizadeh, to the list on the Archaeologists tab of this web site, with links to the above and to the Choga Mish Project and Choga Bonut reports. Here’s a great video of Dr. Alizadeh training docents to present Iranian art at different historical stages to visitors. He discusses the prehistoric first.
For those of you who enjoy the work of the OI, I suggest you express your appreciation and join. Their dues are very reasonable, tiered for students and less monied folks. There’s a double value to membership, as the money goes to support OI activities. My only relationship with the OI is that I today joined as a member at this site.
In this week’s update of the above table, in yellow boxes, you’ll see Ubaid evidence that I found in the above Volume 128 PDF. Note, with the PDF opened, you can use “CNTRL F” to open the search bar in the top right corner, and search for any key word or phrase (and its context) throughout the entire report–to answer your own questions.
You will notice some significant changes to the left column of the table:
First, I have revised the Ophidian figurine with coffee-bean eyes label to reflect that (not obviously Ophidian) figurines with coffee-bean eyes still are unique to the Ubaid figurines. I have replaced “and” with “and/or” to recognize the fact that the figurines may not have had the Ophidian shaped heads, but the people with long, deformed skulls still did–and Ophidian shaped heads remained in various painted figures.
Second, I added a line for complex culture as an Ubaid trait, as evidenced in the formation of the first cities. The Black-on-Buff folks in Iran were not city dwellers with intensive agriculture, but mobile pastoralist tribes who returned from summer pastures in the high country to smaller towns (not city-sized) during the winter. And it was there in the smaller towns that they used the complex cultural traits of sealing jars (probably of perishable foodstuffs, like wine or milk) and securing doors with rope “locks” covered with clay marked with a seal.
Dr. Alizadeh explains this complexity in the video linked above, which I strongly urge you to watch (I watched it up until he got to the historic Persian civilization). But, I’ll recap it by pointing out that people would respect (and not destroy) clay seals only if there was a power structure in place to protect the seals from vandalism and theft i.e. clearly defined procedures, supporting laws, policing, and enforcement of penalties. The pastoralists would leave behind their winter-only goods at the guarded “Jari Storage” warehouse, as they moved their flocks and herds to the high pastures. When they came back, they’d break their seals to get their winter stuff–or, should they find their seal broken, hold the warehouse-man responsible for their losses under the law.
Iranian pastoralist contemporaries of the Ubaid agriculturalists. Composite Source.
As shown above in the green-shaded area, the pastoralist culture with black-on-buff ceramics blanketed the southwestern half of the Iranian littoral and deep into the interior. The dates for the black-on-buff pottery stage of this culture coincide with Ubaid 0 thru 3.
If I correctly interpret what I observe, the Black-On-Buff pottery is the common cultural marker of the three folk-groups whose ancestors populated the Persian Gulf Valley i.e. the pastoralists bordering the Iran littoral (Jari), pastoral and hunter-gatherer sea traders on the Arabian littoral (Dilmun), and the intensive agriculturalists in Southern Mesopotamia (Ubaid). I’ll call their shared river valley ancestors the BOB.
“In a 1981 Journal of Cuneiform Studies article, “The Tangible Evidence for the Earliest Dilmun,” Theresa Howard-Carter espoused her theory identifying Dilmun with Qurna[disambiguation needed], an island at the Strait of Hormuz. Her scenario put the original mouths of the Tigris-Euphrates rivers, which she thought should be the site of the primeval Dilmun, at or even beyond the Straits of Hormuz. Theresa Howard-Carter also wrote: “It is more likely that the original Persian Gulf inhabitants lived along the banks of the lower or extended Shatt-al-Arab, ranging some 800 km across the dry Persian Gulf bed. We can thus postulate that the pre-Sumerian cultures had more than ample time to be born and flourish in a riverine setting, encouraged by the agricultural potential and the blessings of a temperate climate. The fact that the body of proof for the existence of these societies must now lie at the bottom of the Persian Gulf furnishes at least a temporary excuse for the archaeologist’s failure to produce evidence for their material culture.”
Painted pottery from Tall-e Jari B. © The University Museum, The University of Tokyo. Source.
That’s enough for this post. We’ll return to these Iranian pastoralists in the next post, and try to get a feel for their pottery, cultural details and temporal cross-references to Mesopotamia. Once we’re grounded in the Iranian pastoralists, we’ll move east toward Baluchistan.
Thanks for visiting.
R. E. J. Burke