Kaldar cave in Iran estimated to date over 63,000 years

The report Kaldar cave in Iran estimated to date over 63,000 years” was originally published in the Tehran Times on June 23, 2020. The version below has been slightly edited from the original publication.

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Nearly one decade of archaeological surveys at Kaldar cave has concluded that parts of this western Iranian shelter date more than 63,000 years.

Archaeologists at the site of the Kaldar cave (Source: Tehran Times & CHTN).

In an interview with CHTN, Iranian archaeologist Behrouz Bazgir has stated:

After a decade of studying the cultural evidence yielded from the three seasons of archeological excavations at Kaldar Cave, the recent results show that a Paleolithic layer in the middle of this the cave is more than 63,000 years old …

Kaldar is a key archaeological site that provides evidence of the Middle to Upper Paleolithic transition in Iran. The cave is situated in the northern Khorramabad valley of Lorestan province and at an elevation of 1,290 m above sea level. It measures 16 meters long, 17 meters wide, and seven meters high.

Last year, in one of the significant archaeological finds of Iranian history, the cave yielded fresh evidence for its Paleolithic residents; including traditions of making [stone] tools related to Middle Paleolithic and Upper Paleolithic eras.

Excavations at the site in 2014-2015 led to the discovery of cultural remains generally associated with anatomically modern humans (AMHs) and evidence of a probable Neanderthal-made industry in the basal layers. It also offers an opportunity to study the technological differences between the Mousterian and the first Upper Paleolithic technologies as well as the human behavior in the region.

Last year, archaeologists excavated stone tools and a fragment of a fossilized skull, attributed to Homo sapiens. The cave has also yielded weapon fragments crafted by Neanderthals.

A panoramic view of the Kaldar cave (Source: Tehran Times & ITTO).

In taxonomy, Homo sapiens is the only extant human species. The name is Latin for “wise man” and was introduced in 1758 by Carl Linnaeus (who is himself also the type specimen). Neanderthals are an extinct species or subspecies of archaic humans in the genus Homo, who lived within Eurasia from circa 400,000 until 40,000 years ago.

Jiroft and the Aratta Kingdom

The article Jiroft and the Aratta Kingdom” below by Richard Covington was originally posted in the CAIS website. Kindly note that the version below has been slightly edited and also features three photos and accompanying captions not displayed in Covington’s original article in CAIS. Kindly note that the version printed below has been edited in Kavehfarrokh.com. Readers may also be interested in the following resources (click link or image underneath the link):

Ancient Iran: Neolithic to Pre-Achaemenid eras

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It was around two o’clock on a mild mid-February afternoon that colleagues called head archeologist Professor Yousef Madjidzadeh to look at some telltale markings in a dusty trench. It was the last day of the six-week digging season at the Jiroft archeological site in the southeast Iranian desert, and Madjidzadeh was jotting down notes before closing up for the year. The Iranian-born archeologist, who has been excavating at Jiroft for two years, has become increasingly convinced that the remains of this 4500-year-old city hold the key to a Bronze Age kingdom whose existence promises to rewrite at least a chapter or two of the history of the ancient Middle East.

I took the pick in my hand and started to help dig out what turned out to be a remarkably well-preserved stamp-seal impression,” Madjidzadeh recalls, now back at his home in the Mediterranean port city of Nice, France.

Cup retrieved from Jiroft (Source: CAIS).

Painstakingly extracting the five-centimeter- (2″-) long rectangle from the trench wall’s packed clay, the archeologist turned it to the sunlight. Amid faintly inscribed lines and images of human and animal figures, he was amazed to discover what appeared to be an unfamiliar form of writing. To Madjidzadeh, the seal impression came as his first evidence that this ancient city’s society was literate.

To be able to say that Jiroft was a historic civilization, not a prehistoric one, is a great advance,” he says. “Finding writing on that seal impression brought tears to my eyes. Never mind that we can’t read it—that’ll come later.”

Though others have downplayed Madjidzadeh’s declarations that Jiroft was more than a regional culture, archeologists generally agree, he says, that a distinct civilization is characterized by unique monumental architecture and by its own form of writing. “This past winter, we found both,” he beams.

Gray-bearded, easy-going and energetic in his mid-60’s, Madjidzadeh is feeling the glow of vindication. A few years after Iran’s 1979 revolution, he was dismissed as chairman of the department of archeology at Tehran University. After years of self-imposed exile in Nice with his French-born wife, he returned during the intellectual thaw that followed the 1997 election of President Mohammad Khatami.

The discovery of the Jiroft site came by accident. In 2000, flash floods along the Halil River swept the topsoil off thousands of previously unknown tombs. Seyyed Mohammad Beheshti, deputy head of Iran’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization (ICHTO), asked Madjidzadeh to begin excavations because of the archeologist’s long-standing bullishness on Jiroft’s significance.

As the author of a three-volume history of Mesopotamia and a leading Iranian authority on the third millennium BC, Madjidzadeh has long hypothesized that Jiroft is the legendary land of Aratta, a “lost” Bronze Age kingdom of renown. It’s a quest that he began as a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, when in 1976 he published an article proposing that Aratta, which reputedly exported its magnificent crafts to Mesopotamia, was located somewhere in southeastern Iran.

According to texts dating from around 2100 BC, Aratta was a gaily decorated capital with a citadel whose battlements were fashioned of green lapis lazuli and its lofty towers of bright red brick. Aratta’s artistic production was so highly regarded that about 2500 BC the Sumerian king Enmerkar sent a message to the ruler of Aratta requesting that artisans and architects be dispatched to his capital, Uruk, to build a temple to honor Inanna, the goddess of fertility and war. Enmerkar addressed his letter to Inanna: “Oh sister mine, make Aratta, for Uruk’s sake, skillfully work gold and silver for me! (Make them cut for me) translucent lapis lazuli in blocks, (Make them prepare for me) electrum and translucent lapis!” prayed the Sumerian ruler.

Excavations at Jiroft’s Konar Sandal A, one of the site’s two major mounds, are revealing the base of what may have been one of the world’s largest ziggurats. (Source: Mohammad Eslami-Rad /Gamma in CAIS).

When one imagines that Uruk was the heart of the Sumerian civilization and that its king is asking another ruler about 2000 kilometers (1200 mi) distant to send his artisans, one realizes that the quality of their work must have been extraordinary,” says Madjidzadeh. “The craftsmen must have been known all over. Today there is no doubt in my mind that Jiroft was Aratta.” A handful of colleagues agrees, including the French epigrapher François Vallat, who compares Jiroft to the Elamite kingdom of southwestern Iran.

So far, however, there is no proof, and others are less sure.

When you start reconstructing actual geographical regions based on legend and mythology, you’re always in deep water,” says Abbas Alizadeh, an Iranian-born archeologist at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. “Some scholars think Aratta is in Azerbaijan. Others say Baluchistan or the Persian Gulf. It’s a murky business.

Yet even if Jiroft turns out not to be Aratta, it is nevertheless a pivotal clue to a better understanding of the era when writing first flourished and traders carried spices and grain, gold, lapis lazuli and ideas from the Nile to the Indus. Although not on a par with the more influential civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley, “Jiroft is obviously a very important archeological complex,” says Holly Pittman, an art historian at the University of Pennsylvania who is one of a growing number of non-Iranian scholars who are being allowed into the country. “It’s an independent, autochthonous Bronze Age civilization with huge numbers of settlements of all different sizes that we have only just begun to explore.” By comparison to the research documenting other third-millennium civilizations, these are indeed very early days, she explains. “We don’t yet have enough material to compare it to Mesopotamia. But you have to remember that 500 teams of archeologists have been digging in Mesopotamia for 100 years. In Jiroft, we’ve had two seasons with one team of fewer than 30 scientists.

Even so, among the spectacular finds so far are the remains of a city a kilometer and a half (.92 mi) in diameter, an unusual two-story citadel surrounded by a fortress wall 10.5 meters (34′) thick, and a ziggurat resembling Sumerian ones that is among the largest in the ancient world—17 meters (54′) high and 400 meters (1280′) on each side at the base. The team has also uncovered 25 stamp and cylinder seal impressions from two to five centimeters (7/8″–2″) long that depict bulls, ibex, lions, snakes, human figures—and writing.

 

Major archeological sites from the fourth and third millennia BC (Source: CAIS).

Perhaps the most impressive discoveries have been staggering numbers of carved and decorated vases, cups, goblets and boxes made of a soft, fine-grained, durable gray-greenish stone called chlorite. Literally tens of thousands of pieces have been found, but the vast majority have been looted from their original tombs by local farmers, who were the first to stumble across the gargantuan honeycomb of gravesites uncovered by the floodwaters of 2000.

“Thousands of people were digging,” Madjidzadeh explains, and antiquities dealers swooped in behind them to buy up the finds by the dozens. Farmers often sold chlorite vases worth tens of thousands of dollars on the international market for a few sacks of flour. Ultimately, in the fall of 2002, the Iranian authorities stepped in to halt the looting and seize hundreds of contraband artifacts.

The Jiroft artifacts are a “missing link” in understanding the Bronze Age, Madjidzadeh says, because they help explain why so many incised chlorite vessels, all with remarkably similar imagery, have turned up at widely separated ancient sites, from Mari in Syria to Nippur and Ur in Mesopotamia, Soch in Uzbekistan and the Saudi Arabian island of Tarut, north of Bahrain. Until now, the principal center of production of these vessels was a mystery. Although some of them were probably manufactured locally, the sheer volume of artifacts at Jiroft argues that the most prolific chlorite workshops of all were there. (See sidebar, page 8.)

Jiroft artisans fashioned pieces with what seems strange and enigmatic iconography. Some were encrusted with lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, carnelian from the Indus Valley, turquoise, agate and other semiprecious, imported stones.

“The artists had such a naturalistic way of rendering images,” says Yousef Madjidzadeh, foreground. “It was a style that was not seen anywhere else in that era.” (Source: CAIS). “There must certainly have been a school of stonecarvers, because you see such an aesthetic unity of these objects throughout the kingdom. This high-level artistic quality did not suddenly appear from nowhere,” he maintains. “The traditions must have taken 300 to 400 years to develop.”

Carved into one gray chlorite cup, mythic creatures with human heads and torsos and bulls’ legs hold panthers upside-down by their tails. On the surface of a stone weight shaped roughly like a ladies’ handbag, two horned scorpion-men appear to swim toward each other. “Hunters who were believed to be as powerful as bulls or as agile as lions entered into legend, and their images became animalized as bull-men and lion-men,” the archeologist suggests in explanation.

Round chlorite boxes are decorated with representations of curved gates, woven reed walls, ziggurats and other architectural details that hint at what Jiroft’s buried buildings probably looked like.

Along with the chlorite objects are also pink and orange alabaster jars, white marble vases, copper figurines, beakers and a striking copper basin with a eagle seated in its center, as well as realistic carved stone impressions of heraldic eagles, scorpions and scorpion-women.

Many of the scenes on the Jiroft vessels bear a strong resemblance to the gods, beasts and plants portrayed on Sumerian statues, plaques and cylinder seals. “Jiroft leads me to imagine that Iran had a far greater influence on Mesopotamian culture than I previously thought,” observes Jean Perrot, the grand old man of Middle Eastern archeology in France.

To Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky of Harvard University, who excavated a site named Tepe Yahya some 90 kilometers (50 mi) from Jiroft in the 1970’s, what is particularly remarkable about the Jiroft finds is that so many thousands of brand-new, empty chlorite vessels were manufactured for no other apparent purpose than to be buried in tombs to honor the dead. “The fact that not a single one of them contains even a trace of oils, perfumes, foodstuffs or drugs, nor shows any other sign of use, is very curious,” he marvels.

Chlorite cup from Jiroft, c. 3rd millennium BCE (Source: CAIS). Chlorite vessels similar to the stunning examples recently unearthed at Jiroft in southeastern Iran have been found from the Euphrates to the Indus, as far north as the Amu Darya and as far south as Tarut Island, on the Persian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia. Iranian-born archeologist Professor Yousef Madjidzadeh speculates that some of these objects were in fact imported from Jiroft, which he is convinced is the legendary third-millennium-BC city of Aratta. Other archeologists, however, dispute this conclusion, maintaining that the vases, bowls and cups from Mesopotamian and Indus Valley sites were manufactured locally. What is clear is that Jiroft traders brought lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and carnelian from the Indus to decorate the ornate vessels they manufactured.

Despite the crackdown on pillaging and the hiring of a dozen armed guards, theft at Jiroft still continues. This winter, while working on the city mounds, Madjidzadeh received a tip that looters were digging at gravesites six kilometers (3.7 mi) away. Racing to the cemetery with one of the guards, he caught sight of several dozen looters, who escaped on foot when they saw Madjidzadeh coming. One of his laborers later told him that it was rumored the looters had managed to spirit away a priceless golden fish figure. One looted gravesite reportedly yielded an astonishing 200 artifacts, including 30 finely crafted chlorite vessels.

Was it the tomb of the lord of Aratta?” asks Madjidzadeh sadly. “Because all the objects were ripped out of context and have disappeared, we’ll never know—even if they turn up in the antiquities market.”

On his days off, the archeologist travels to surrounding villages to give lectures about the significance of Jiroft and its irreplaceable artifacts.

I show photos of the objects and our excavations and tell the villagers in simple language that all these works belonged to your grandparents, your ancestors,” he explains. “‘They are your heritage. You don’t sell your heritage. If we put these cups and vases in a museum, they will attract tourists. This will bring more money than selling the pieces once or twice. You and your children will benefit from the tourists and education.’ Little by little, people understand more about the cultural value of the finds.

On the international art market, it’s a different story. Museums and private collectors have been quick to recognize the cultural, esthetic and, in particular, monetary worth of artifacts that Madjidzadeh is sure were stolen from Jiroft.

I scour the Internet, auction catalogues and brochures and have been shocked to see museums in Switzerland, Japan, Turkey, Pakistan and elsewhere buying these objects,” he says.

Protecting Jiroft is an overwhelming task, for Madjidzadeh and his team have uncovered more than 250 separate sites across an area about the size of Austria or South Carolina. In the forested mountains 150 kilometers (90 mi) north of Jiroft, other archeologists have discovered copper mines that likely produced the ore for the copper and bronze artifacts unearthed in Jiroft’s gravesites. But so far, no one has pinpointed the chlorite mines.

French geomorphologist Éric Fouache, the team’s expert on reading the strata underlying the archeological sites, has discovered something else, however, which gave the Jiroft region a crucial advantage over Mesopotamia: water. A network of artesian wells supplied abundant water for irrigation and drinking even when the Halil River ran dry. With these sources of water, the inhabitants developed an agriculture based on calorie-rich date palms rather than the cereals of the Tigris and Euphrates delta, says Fouache. Palm groves also provided shade for extensive gardening.

So it’s very possible the Jiroft people developed agriculture more easily than the Mesopotamians,” asserts the scientist.

Next year, Fouache plans on probing deeper to locate earlier remains buried by the region’s frequent tectonic upheavals. “Based on aerial photographs showing traces of past ground shifts, we expect to find older settlements not visible from the surface,” he says.

Top: An Iranian archeologist and local workers dig on the west side of Jiroft’s second mound, Konar Sandal B. Above: A slide of the cross section of a third-millennium-BC tell—a mound created by centuries of habitation—helps geomorphologist Éric Fouache explain that the region’s many artesian wells made Jiroft’s development possible. (Mohammad Eslami-Rad / Gamma in CAIS).

The primary Jiroft site consists of two mounds a couple of kilometers apart, called Konar Sandal A and B and measuring 13 and 21 meters high (41′ and 67′), respectively. It was at Konar Sandal B that the archeologists dug out the seal impressions bearing writing. So far, the archaeologists have excavated around nine vertical meters (28′) of Konar Sandal B, discovering vestiges of a monumental, two-story, windowed citadel whose base covers nearly 13.5 hectares (33 acres). Madjidzadeh speculates that this imposing edifice once housed the city’s chief administrative center and perhaps a temple and a royal palace.

Finding the structure’s façade was difficult enough, but locating an entrance took the team weeks of digging through clay packed hard by millennia of rain-wash. “The mud is like stone,” Madjidzadeh complains. “You can hardly get a pick into it.

This winter they stumbled across what appears to be the city’s main gateway, a squared-off earthen portal that closely resembles architectural details depicted on several chlorite vases. The team has also uncovered a second wall and vestiges of a third, with trenches exposing both private houses and another sizeable public building—perhaps a trading center.

We know it’s another monumental building because the bricks are larger than the bricks used in private homes,” says Madjidzadeh.

According to the archaeologist, the enormous ziggurat at Konar Sandal A was a tremendous feat of engineering that required four to five million bricks. Like its Sumerian counterparts, it was probably a sacred structure, a bridge between earth and sky, and it was probably topped by a room where the city’s protective god could woo his mortal consort, usually the wife or daughter of the ruler.

Madjidzadeh, in white hat at center, examines objects found near Konar Sandal B in a trench overseen by Romain Pigeaud of the Paris National Museum of Natural History. (Mohammad Eslami-Rad / Gamma in CAIS).

Although very little is known of the beliefs and rituals of Jiroft’s inhabitants, Madjidzadeh is convinced that the practice of burying the dead with a relative fortune in artefacts points to a well-organized religion with a priestly class that could command the efforts of craftsmen. Since the ancient Mesopotamian epic of Gilgamesh mentions scorpion-men similar to ones carved on Jiroft’s stone vases, the archeologist also suggests that parts of the Gilgamesh narrative circulated in Jiroft and may even have had their origins there.

Another of the recent season’s top finds was the discovery by Marjan Mashkur, an Iranian researcher based in Paris, of shark bones and shells from the Persian Gulf, 200 kilometers (120 mi) south. To Madjidzadeh, this find confirms that Jiroft merchants plied well-worn trade routes that led to the Persian Gulf and on to Mesopotamia, dealing in chlorite vessels, lapis lazuli and other precious stones, and commodities fabricated in Jiroft.

Even at this relatively early stage, Madjidzadeh believes he has enough evidence to turn some of the fundamental precepts of Middle Eastern archaeology on their head. The fabulous royal treasure excavated in the 1920’s by Leonard Wooley at the Sumerian capital of Ur, including the iconic, shell-encrusted ibex standing to nibble the leaves of a gold tree, may ultimately be traced back to the workshops of Jiroft, he says. So might chlorite vessels from Uruk, Mari and Soch.

We’re not sure what gold pieces might have come from Jiroft,” says Pittman, “but some of the chlorite pieces in Mesopotamia may well prove to have been exported from this region of southeastern Iran.

Three years ago, I would have agreed with the common assertion that Mesopotamia was the cradle of civilization,” Madjidzadeh says. “Now I’m changing my mind to Jiroft, which, in its heyday, was just as important and as extensive as Sumerian civilization.

For some in the field, this comparison sets off alarm bells.

Lamberg-Karlovsky is one of the skeptics. While the Harvard professor acknowledges the importance of the discovery of Jiroft and its chlorite vessels, he warns against hyperbole. “To imply that Jiroft is the most ancient Oriental civilization is way off the mark,” he argues. “In terms of actual material recovered so far, there is nothing earlier than 2500 BC, which is a thousand years later than the southern Mesopotamian world.

“Handbag” looking artifact with decorative motifs excavated from Jiroft (Source: Iran Atlas). The artefact may have been a weight standard for measurements.

Madjidzadeh, however, maintains that pottery found at Jiroft compares to shards from Tepe Yahya dated to 2800 BC. In addition, he reasons, it would have taken nearly half a millennium for Jiroft’s artisans to develop the degree of skill that attracted King Enmerkar’s envy in 2500 BC, an inference that pushes back the establishment of Jiroft to about 3000 BC. Unfortunately, carbon dating of the vases and pots—the most reliable technique for gauging the age of artifacts—is not possible at Jiroft, since there have been absolutely no traces of organic residue in any of the materials unearthed so far. The Harvard archaeologist and others deprecate Madjidzadeh’s contention. “These are very tenuous conclusions,” says Lamberg-Karlovsky. “To try to put Jiroft on the same level as the Sumerian, Egyptian and Indus Valley civilizations, or even as the Bactrian material of central Asia, is to exaggerate and distort the archaeological record. Jiroft is just not in the same ballpark.

Based on his own chemical analyses of chlorite pieces from Tarut, Mesopotamia and elsewhere, Lamberg-Karlovsky states that the stone finds in those places were mined locally. He is thus wary of claims that Jiroft pottery was widely exported.

It’s very significant that Jiroft was the center of production for huge numbers of chlorite vessels, but to say that the vessels found in Mesopotamia, the Arabian Peninsula and the Iranian plateau came from Jiroft is patently false,” he declares.

Madjidzadeh counters that chlorite vessels may indeed have been produced elsewhere—but by itinerant artisans and stonecutters originally from Jiroft or local craftsmen imitating Jiroft styles.

Partial brick with unique script from Jiroft (Source: Iran Atlas).

For Rémy Boucharlat, chief of the French Center for Scientific Research in Tehran, it’s possible that Jiroft exported chlorite vessels to Mesopotamia and beyond. “Yet we still don’t know if the Mesopotamians carved their own imagery on unfinished stone or whether the iconography originated in Jiroft,” he says.

The Oriental Institute’s Alizadeh agrees that Jiroft artisans could well have traveled to Mesopotamia and other areas in the Middle East, but he too deflates some of Madjidzadeh’s more grandiose claims, including the assertion that Jiroft’s civilization predates Sumer’s. After examining the writing on the seal impression uncovered in February, the Chicago archaeologist now doubts its authenticity. Compared to the sophisticated systems of writing that already existed in the region by 2500 BC, the Jiroft artifact presents “an extremely vague series of scratches,” he says.

“There’s great excitement about Jiroft because of the prodigious number of chlorite vessels found there, but the problem is that we don’t know anything about the makers of these objects,” argues Alizadeh. “What is significant is the similarity to designs found in Elamite culture, but to call Jiroft a civilization is not exactly true at this point. Possessing a major manufacturing workshop does not qualify the site as a civilization.”

Artefact excavated at Jiroft featuring a scorpion with a human head (Source: Iran Atlas).

Perhaps more exciting than the beautiful chlorite bowls, vases and cups, which after all reveal little information about the ancient inhabitants of Jiroft, says Boucharlat, are the newly excavated settlements and buildings. “We’re now entering a second phase of discoveries, one that goes beyond fine objects to a knowledge of the culture and its relatively high level of social organization and technical proficiency,” he explains.

Regardless of what impact the site ultimately makes on Middle Eastern archaeology, there is no doubt that Jiroft is serving as a pilot program for Iranian professors and graduate students to work alongside international—mainly American and French—colleagues.

Before the 1979 revolution, there was tremendous collaboration between Iranian and foreign archeologists,” notes Pittman, who first came to excavate in Iran more than 25 years ago. “We’re trying to pick up where we left off.”

As Madjidzadeh explains, “One of my conditions for inviting foreign archaeologists to participate at Jiroft is that they accept Iranian students for training at their universities to learn updated techniques and western methods of teaching.” Now, however, the obstacles to such exchanges are not only on the Iranian side. Despite the University of Pennsylvania’s eagerness to train Iranian researchers, the US government has so far refused to grant them visas.

It’s immensely frustrating,” Pittman admits. “Until the geopolitical fireworks calm down a bit, we’re not going to have any luck training them here in the US. And training the next generation of archaeologists is the most urgent need by far for the country’s heritage.

With more archaeologists, Iran could again become a hotspot for the study of ancient civilizations. Certainly Madjidzadeh, who earns less in Iran than a skilled laborer does in France and who pays his own airfares between Nice and Tehran, is not in his profession for money. Ironically for an archaeologist once hounded out of the country, local officials in the town of Jiroft are planning to name a square after him.

I go to Iran because I love archaeology and I love to help the nation,” he says. “It’s a part of my life I could never change even if I wanted to.

Petroglyphs hold clues to 14,000 years of human life in Iran

The report “Petroglyphs hold clues to 14,000 years of human life in Iran” first appeared in the Tehran Times on April 27, 2020. Kindly note that the version printed below has been edited in Kavehfarrokh.com. Readers may also be interested in the following resources (click link or image underneath the link):

Ancient Iran: Neolithic to Pre-Achaemenid eras

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As noted by the Natanz tourism chief Hossein Yazdanmehr in an interview with CHTN:

“A 14,000-year-old evidence of human social life has been identified by experts who examining rock carvings being found near Natanz, which is situated in the heart of the Iranian plateau … Undoubtedly, petroglyphs can be considered as one of the oldest-known surviving works of art from the beginning of human social life. Archaeologists believe that the custom of creating petroglyphs began at the end of the Paleolithic period, so the style of petroglyphs and symbols the bear, as well as the tools used to create them, along with influencing environmental factors, are valuable criteria for determining the historical background of these objects …”

Archaeologists have found prehistoric rock drawings near Natanz in central Iran which give clues about the rise of human presence that is rooted in 14,000 years of history (Source: Tehran Times).  Existing findings prove that human life goes back to 6,000 years in the region.

Yazdanmehr said the petroglyphs were previously discovered near Arisman, a village in Emamzadeh District of Natanz County, Isfahan province. He further avers:

“With the discovery of the ancient site of Arisman in previous years and the study of excavated works in it, the historical background of the civilized life of the people of this region reached six thousand years ago. Over the past years, various petroglyphs have been discovered in nearby plains of various townships such as Afushteh, Badrud, and Natanz, so research on the structure of these petroglyphs, as well as determining their historical values, began in the past. At the beginning of the current year, archaeologists found that the collection of petroglyphs, which are located open-air sites, dates from the late Paleolithic era onwards … With the completion of these studies, the history of human social life in the northern part of Isfahan province is spanned from six to fourteen thousand years ago …

Yazdanmehr expressed hope that this valuable collection of petroglyphs could be protected against atmospheric factors by allocating the necessary funds (from the government). Enigmatic evidence of human presence on the Iranian plateau as early as Lower Paleolithic times comes from a surface find in the Bakhtaran valley, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

The first well-documented evidence of human habitation is in deposits from several excavated cave and rock-shelter sites, located mainly in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran and dated to Middle Paleolithic or Mousterian times (c. 100,000 BC).

The ancient Neolithic-era dwellings of Maymand village in Kerman, Iran (Source: Tehran Times).for more on this topic click the following articleMaymand, an Exemplar Manmade-Cave dwelling” …

There is every reason to assume, however, that future excavations will reveal Lower Paleolithic habitation in Iran. The Mousterian flint tool industry found there is generally characterized by an absence of the Levalloisian technique of chipping flint and thus differs from the well-defined Middle Paleolithic industries known elsewhere in the Middle East. The economic and social level associated with this industry is that of fairly small, peripatetic hunting and gathering groups spread out over a thinly settled landscape.

By approximately 6000 BC patterns of village farming were widely spread over much of the Iranian plateau and in lowland Khuzestan. Though distinctly different, all show general cultural connections with the beginnings of settled village life in neighboring areas such as Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Central Asia, and Mesopotamia.

The Sassanian Game-board of ‘Hashtpay’

The article below is written by Antonio Panaino and originally posted in the CAIS website hosted by Shapour Suren-Pahlav in London, England. Readers are also encouraged to consult/click the link “The Sassanian Era” (or click image below …)

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Name of a game from the Sassanian era which has not been precisely identified. The haštpay [hštp’y] “eight feet” (more likely than aštapad) is mentioned together with other games in chapter 15 of the Xusraw ud Redag (ud pad Chatrang ud new-ardaxšî r ud haštpay kardan az hamahlan fraztar hom “and in playing chess, backgammon and the haštpay I am superior to my comrades” (Unvala, p. 16; Monchi-Zadeh, 1982, p. 65; Panaino, 1999, p. 51). Its name, as in the case of chess (Pahl. Ch < Skt. caturanµga-), is an Indian borrowing; it derives from Sanskrit astapada- (cf. pali atthapada), originally referring to a game-board of 8 x 8 little squares. Such a board was used for various games (Murray, 1913, pp. 35-40; 1952, pp. 129-36), one of them played, according to the Balabharata (II, 5, pp. 10-13), with red and white pieces and a pair of dice. In many other sources the astapada- was doubtless the chessboard and its name strictly associated with this game (MacDonell, p. 122; Jacobi, p. 228; Thomas, 1898, pp. 272; 1899, pp. 365; Thieme, 1984, p. 208).

A conjectural drawing by Ashkan H. (اشکان.ح) of a possible configuration of the Hashtpay game-board (Source: Public Domain).

From the Xusraw ud Redag it is clear that the Sassanian haštpay was distinguished from other popular games like chess and the variety of backgammon represented by new-ardaxšî r. The haštpay could perhaps be associated, according to Semenov (pp. 16-20, 131; but see Panaino, 1999, pp. 153-56, 189), with a game-board (with three lines of eight squares) recently discovered in Paikend and with another one represented on a later Sassanian silver cup with a different but apparently comparable form.

An Indian manuscript depicting Krishna and Radha playing chaturanga on an 8×8 Ashtāpada (Source: CAIS). For more see “Chess: An Indian or Iranian invention” …

Bibliography

Jacobi, “Über zwei ältere Erwähn-ungen des Schachspiels in der Sanskrit-Litteratur,” ZDMG 50, 1896, pp. 227-33.

A. MacDonell, “The Origin and Early History of Chess,” JRAS, 1898, pp. 117-41.

Monchi-Zadeh, “Xus-rôv i Kavâtân ut Rêtak,” in Monumentum Georg Morgenstierne, vol. II. Acta Iranica 22, Leiden, 1982, pp. 47-91.

J. R. Murray, A History of Chess, Oxford 1913. Idem, A History of Board-Games other than Chess, Oxford 1952.Panaino, La novella degli Scacchi e della Tavola Reale. Un’antica fonte orientale sui due gixochi da tavoliere piuà diffusi nel mondo euroasiatico tra Tardoantico e Medioevo e sulla loro simbologia militare e astrale. Testo pahlavi, traduzione e commento al Wiz-arišn î Chatrang ud nihišn î  new-ardaxšî r “La spiegazione degli scacchi e la disposizione della tavola reale,” Milano, 1999.

L. Semenov, Studien zur sogdischen Kultur an der Seidenstrasse, Wiesbaden, 1996.

Thieme, “Chess and Backgammon (Tric-Trac) in Sanskrit Literature,” in E. Bender, Indological Studies in Honor of W. Norman Brown, New Haven, 1962, pp. 204-16, reprinted in Kleine Schriften, Wiesbaden, 1984, pp. 413-25.

W. Thomas, “The Indian Game of Chess,” ZDMG, 52, 1898, pp. 271-72; 53, 1899, pp. 364-65.

M. Unvala, The Pahlavi Text “King Husrav and his Boy,” published with its Transcription, translation and copious notes, Paris, n.d.

Archaeologists Discover 2500 Year-old Achaemenid Military Base in Northern Israel

The article “Archaeologists May Have Found 2,500-year-old Persian Military Base in Northern Israel” written by Phillipe Bohstrom was originally published on December 23, 2018 in Haaretz. Excepting images that appear in the original Haaretz publication, all other images and accompanying captions are unique to the version printed below (and do not appear in Haaretz). Kindly noted that version printed below has been edited.

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Around 2,500 years ago, the Achaemenid king Cambyses II (r. 530 to 522 BCE) mounted an all-out assault on Egypt, basing the campaign in Palestine. Now archaeologists believe they may have found a camp in northern Israel from which the Achaemenid emperor launched his invasion of the Nile Kingdom.

The Achaemenid Empire had been founded by Cyrus the Great (having united the Medes and the Persians) in the 580s BCE, overcoming the Lydian and Neo-Babylonian empires as it expanded. Cambyses was his son.

A map of the Achaemenid Empire drafted by Kaveh Farrokh on page 87 (2007) of the book Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War-Персы: Армия великих царей-سایه‌های صحرا-:

Among the findings at Tel Keisan, a hill rising 28 meters from the coastal plain near the city of Acre (aka Akko) in northern Israel, were ruins dated to the Persian period by ceramic jars and cooking pots in Greek and Phoenician styles typical of that time.

The Phoenicians on the Palestine coast and their fleet had been subjugated by the Assyrians and then by the Persians; and the ancient Greek historian Herodotus said that Greek mercenaries fought in the Persian emperor Cambyses’ army. The Greek and Phoenician ceramic finds in the Persian layer of Tel Keisan suggest that this area was part of  the base camp of the great Achaemenid campaign. As noted by Prof. Gunnar Lehmann of Ben-Gurion University, who has been codirecting the Tel Keisan excavation:

“Under Cambyses, the Persians wanted to prepare for war with and conquest of Egypt. They did that in Palestine”.

Reconstruction in 1971 of elite Achaemenid army infantryman (Source: Ancient Origins).

It was on the Acre plain that Cambyses assembled his army that would sweep down to Egypt,  in the 520s BCE. The excavations at Tel Keisan are being carried out by Lehmann and David Schloen from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. In the two seasons of excavations, in 2016 and 2018, the archaeologists exposed levels dating to the Hellenistic period (3rd and 2nd century BCE), the Persian period (5th-4th centuries B.C.E.) and the Iron Age IIC (7th century BCE). The archaeologists have also found earlier levels, dating to the Late Iron Age IIA around 3,000 years old, but these have yet to be thoroughly explored.

Tell Keisan means “hill of treachery” in Arabic, though why it got that name is no longer known. Mentioned from the 12th century onward by Arabic chroniclers, it presumably refers to an embarrassing military event now forgotten. Nor is the settlement’s name in antiquity known.

Tell Keisan (Source: Ivgeni Ostrovski – Haaretz). The Persian camp on the Acre plain seems to have been a base camp for King Cambyses’ all-out attack on Egypt in the 520s BCE.

Basket handle cases

Keisan sits on an imposing hill rising 28 meters above the ground in the heart of the Acre plain. The site, which has been occupied for at least 6,000 years, is strategically positioned overlooking the approach to the fertile Plain of Jezreel (Esdraelon), as well as commercial trade routes between the Galilee, the Jordan Valley, and other points to the east.

Previous surveys and excavations have exposed massive systems of fortifications from the Iron Age II, around 1,000 to 587 BCE, on the Acre plain.

Based on the archaeological layers, it seems that the serial conquerors of Palestine found the settlement’s strategic location irresistible: the locals, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Persians under Cambyses II, who seem to have used it as their administrative center and military base of operations in the 5th century BCE, and later as well.

Keisan was one of several Egyptian strongholds along the Acre coastal plain during the time they controlled Palestine, from around 637 to 605 BCE, says Lehmann. Two other known ones were at Achziv and Tel Kabri, and there may have been more.

Jar found at Tel Keisan (Source: Ivgeni Ostrovski – Haaretz).

At Keisan itself, immediately beneath the Persian level, the archaeologists exposed a large building with storage rooms dating to the earlier Egyptian empire of the 26th Dynasty. The building apparently began its career in the 7th century B.C.E. and seems to have served as a governmental or administrative building, which among other things provided food for its personnel.

The building also contained Phoenician, Cypriot and East Greek pottery, but of an earlier type, typical of that pre-Persian time. The storage rooms contained numerous complete storage jars, mostly of Phoenician origin, and also also Cypriot  “basket-handle” amphoras typical of the 7th century BCE. Among the people using the facility may have been Greek mercenaries serving under Egyptian command since the pottery included Greek cooking pots.

Cambyses assembles the Achaemenid Army

Under the Persians, the Mediterranean coastal city of Acre expanded to encompass the settlement at Keisan as well, and the peninsula that forms the northern end of the Bay of Haifa, with its ancient harbor Tell Abu Hawam.

Cambyses II’s campaign to conquer Egypt, assembling forces to “cross the waterless deserts” apparently in 525 BCE was described by Herodotus. Cambyses II thrashed Pharaoh Psamtik III at Memphis, and won “Egypt and the sea” (Herodotus 3.34) Consequently, Cambyses II became the first Persian king to rule ancient Egypt.

Scholars cite two other ancient sources aside from Herodotus that locate Cambyses II’s army and fleet in the Acre plain in the 520s B.C.E. The first is another Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus, when telling of the preparations made in 374 B.C.E. by the Persian monarch Ataxerxes II towards subordinating Egypt:

The Perisan army gathered at the city of Ake, numbering two hundred thousand barbarians led by Pharnabazus, and twenty thousand Greek mercenaries under the command of Iphicrates. Of the fleet, the triremes numbered three hundred and the thirty-oared ships two hundred. And great was the number of those carrying food and other supplies – Diodurus Siculus, Bibliotheke 15.41.3 (Translated by Peter Green, 2010)

The second source is the Greek geographer and philosopher Strabo:

“Then follows Ptolemais, a large city, formerly called Ace. It was the place for rendezvous for the Persians in their expedition against Egypt”  – Strabo Geography 16.2.25-27 (Translation by H. C. Hamilton and W. Falconer, 2010)

These sources, combined with Herodotus, suggest that Artaxerxes was not the first to have used the Akko plain to launch a campaign against Egypt, which lies to the southwest of  Israel, then Palestine. In fact, it seems that from the 520s B.C.E. onwards, that several sites along the Palestine coast –  Tell al-Fuhkhar (Acre itself), Tell Keisan, Tell Kurdana (Tel Aphek), and Tell Abu Hawam (Haifa) were used for anchoring the fleet and as a rendezvous point for the Persian army and fleet. As noted by Barry Strauss, professor of History and Classics at Cornell University:

“Nimbleness was not the trademark of the Achaemenid way of war … Big and slow was how they liked their military, both to overwhelm the enemy and to impress their own subjects. A massive expeditionary force needed a big base of operations.”

Why were the Persians so adamant about conquering Egypt? One reason is because the various empires in the Levant and Middle East considered Egypt to be a major threat. That is just one more reason for their desire to control Palestine – a fertile land with a long coast, and a convenient origin for attacks on Egypt. Or, at least, to contain Egypt’s influence over the Levant.

So not only were the Mediterranean plains fertile, with plenty of space and grasses for horses: it was close to Egypt and was relatively safe ground for Cambyses to slowly prepare for his invasion, Lehmann sums up.

The forces Cambyses massed on the coast would have needed a huge apparatus and an incredible amount of resources. Tel Keisan would have been only one of a series of supply points along the Acre plain, Indeed the archaeologists found remnants of storage jars and cooking pots in large quantities that may have been used Cambyses’ armies. A key bit of evidence was a large pit with organic debris and substantial quantities of pottery, some of which was Phoenician pottery some imports from Greece, mainly from Athens.

After the Achaemenids

Sadly, the architecture of the Persian period at Tel Keisan was severely damaged when the armies of the Hellenistic ruler, Alexander, ravaged the land as they drove out the Persians (under King Darius) in the second half of the 4th century BCE.

After Alexander’s death in 323 BCE, his kingdom was divided up among his generals. This fine company of generals is usually referred to as the diadochi, simply meaning successors, in plain English. War among the diadochi broke out almost immediately. As the great German historian Niebuhr once put it:

“It is simply a matter if one or the other bandit will get the upper hand.”

Over the next century, Ptolemaic Egypt and Seleucid Syria would be interlocked in a sweaty struggle over Palestine. It is highly probable that Alexander and subsequent Hellenistic rulers of what would become the Holy Land simply took over the infrastructure of the Persian Empire in the Acre plain. As noted by Strauss:

“Alexander and his successors were generally more interested in war than administration … It was cheaper and easier to take over the infrastructure of the Persian Empire. They demonstrably did so elsewhere and surely did in the Akko Plain as well.”

The Hellenistic levels represent what appears to be an industrial area with refuse pits and installations that yielded large quantities of pottery. The ceramic finds indicate that the link with the Mediterranean remained strong, and that trade with the Greek islands and the coast of Asia expanded until the 3rd century B.C.E.

Bust of Seleucus Nicator (“Victor”; c. 358 – 281 BCE), the last of the original Diadochi (National Archaeological Museum & Haaretz).

During the earlier Hellenistic period, Keisan remained a surburb to Acre – whose name had been changed to Ptolemais.

Some time during the later Hellenistic period, the settlement was abandoned. It would remain bereft of life during the Roman era, and afterwards, would be fitfully occupied and deserted. During the Byzantine period, the settlement was reinstated and a church with service buildings were built there. The foundations of the church are well preserved and were excavated and published by the French expedition.

But apparently by the early 8th century C.E. the mound was abandoned again, then resettled during the medieval period. From the 12th to the 16th century CE, the hill sustained a small rural site  – which, in the early Ottoman period, would be abandoned, once and for all.