Socio-Economic Transformations on the Tehran Plain











Motivated by the destruction of archaeological sites within the Tehran plain, Durham University, the University of Tehran, the University of Bradford and the ICHHTO developed a spatial and temporal study of settlement within a block of 1500 km2 from the beginning of the Holocene to the end of the Chalcolithic.  Augmented with staff from the University of Leicester and the Azad University, the team are focusing upon the transformation of simple, egalitarian Neolithic communities into more hierarchical ones. 

This work began in 1997, when a trench was excavated at Cheshmeh-Ali in order to provide an absolute chronology for the plain’s Late Neolithic to Early Chalcolithic sequence (c. 6200-4000 BC) (Fazeli et al. 2004), and a single season of settlement survey conducted in 1998 (Coningham et al. 2004).  Subsequent analysis of lithic and ceramic material from these two sources has allowed us to begin to model the growth of craft specialisation, product standardisation and networks of exchange (Fazeli 2001).  For example, ceramic chemical composition suggests that during the Late Neolithic (c.6200-5500 BC) and Transitional Chalcolithic (c.5500-4700 BC), communities accessed separate sources but by the Early Chalcolithic (c.4700-4000 BC) shared sources were being utilised (Fazeli et al. 2001).  Significantly, this pattern is different from the sourcing of lithic material, where a pervasive regional division has been identified (Fazeli et al 2002). 

In order to test these preliminary findings, we needed to enhance the chronometric sequence as well as obtain statistically valid survey data regarding the frequency, distribution and date of sites.  As a result, a pilot supported by The British Academy, ICHHTO and British Institute of Persian Studies was conducted in 2003 to test our methodologies and identify sites for further investigation.  Both pilot objectives were achieved with the recording of 27 sites, including four new Chalcolithic sites and one of these, Tepe Pardis, was selected for excavation. In 2006 and 2007 two further field seasons were undertaken, extending the settlement survey, continuing the excavations at Tepe Pardis and conducting geoarchaeological investigations into the area.

Chesmeh Ali

Close to the capital of Tehran, archaeologists first began to study the plains prehistory at the tell site of Cheshmeh Ali, a seven metre high tell located on the outskirts of the historic city of Rey. First excavated in 1912 by De Morgan, it was further excavated in 1924 by Dayet, a French archaeologist, and Erich F. Schmidt an American. Schmidt identified the presence of two historic and two prehistoric levels at the site, but was killed in a plane crash before his work was published. 

The current project began in 1997 when a new trench was placed at Chesmeh Ali in order to provide an absolute chronology for the plain’s Late Neolithic to Early Chalcolithic sequence (c.6200-4000 BC). Following initial analysis we identified three main cultural levels at the site: Late Neolithic, Transitional Chalcolithic and Early Chalcolithic. This provided the absolute framework by concentrating on the sequence of nine dates from trench H7. We have defined ranges of c.5300-4600 BC for the Transitional Chalcolithic, and have designed a range of 4600-4000 BC for the Early Chalcolithic. The date range for the Late Neolithic is estimated to be between the seventh millennium to 5300 BC on account of ceramic evidence and stratigraphic evidence.

Durham University - University of Tehran - ICHTTO - BIPS
(c) Mark Manuel