Settlement patterns and lifestyle during the 5th mill. BC in a small region in southern Iran
The lake behind the newly constructed Sivand Dam in Fars province in South Iran will flood a section of the Polvar River. The Polvar runs from the Morghab Plain in the North, the location of the ancient achaemenid capital Pasargadae, towards the South and joins the Kor River close to Persepolis. The new dam is located 25 km downstream from Pasargadae, the banks of the lake will finish at about 8 km below Pasargadae.
Darre-ye Bolaghi is a small secluded valley on the right side of the Polvar River. It is accessible from the South via the narrowing of Tang-e Bolaghi, the exact location of the newly constructed dam, and from the North via another gorge, the archer's gorge (Tang-e Tir Andaz). The valley is at 1800 m asl and thus has a cool climate, therefore it is still today a camp location for the Basseri tribes on their way between the summer pastures in the highlands and the winter camps in the Firuzabad Plain.
Three of the four Bakun period sites are located on gravel fans on the edge of the valley, while the fourth site occupies a central position in the centre of the plain on the bank of the Polvar River.
Work in Darre-ye Bolaghi within the framework of the Sivand Dam rescue project was aimed at an investigation of prehistoric land use in this secluded region. With six sites altogether, four of which could be investigated by us, the region was densely occupied during the Bakun-period (5th mill. BC). Lifestyle and subsistence of the Bakun period population are largely unknown. There are hypotheses, however, that the 5th mill. BC might have been the time when the nomadic lifestyle, still existent in the area today, became established. Our foremost goal was a testing of these hypotheses in order to reach a better understanding of the Bakun period lifestyle and subsistence system. In addition, work in the Darre-ye Bolaghi sites should contribute to a better understanding of the historico-cultural position of the Bakun period in Fars.
Darre-ye Bolaghi has been subject to archaeological interest since the days of the early travelers. Ernst Herzfeld described the natural setting of the valley, while Sir Aurel Stein also visited and noted archaeological sites. The British expedition to Pasargadae mapped the gorge of Tang-e Bolaghi. Investigations of an ancient dam, probably of Achaemenid date, were undertaken by Wolfram Kleiss. After the announcement of the modern dam project, The Iranian Center for Archaelogical Research of the Iranian Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organisation carried out an intensive survey of the endangered area, registering 129 ancient find spots.
In the year 2005 a season of excavations in the two Bakun-period sites 91 and 119 that had been detected during the ICHTO survey was carried out. A double season in 2006 served to proceed with geomagnetic prospection, and the excavations in site 91 could be completed. Using aerial photography and a geomorphological survey more Bakun period sites were discovered, and subsequently investigated through geomagnetic mapping and excavation. Field work is now completed.
The combination of aerial photography, geomorphological and archaeological survey led to the discovery of six Bakun period sites within the confines of the Bolaghi Valley. Another result of this combined work is the detection of further archaeological sites dating to the Neolithic and the Bronze Age periods. Both periods were not represented in the previous surveys due to an overlay with thick erosion layers. Most important was the discovery of the Bakun period site 131 in a strategic position on the river bank. This site was a settlement mound before, most probably the one that Aurel Stein had mentioned on his way from Pasargadae to Persepolis. The mound had been leveled some decades ago. Four archaeological sites (73, 91, 119, 131) were investigated altogether, representing the middle to late Bakun period. All sites were equally occupied during the historical period, resulting in a partial coverage or disturbance of the prehistoric layers. Site 119 yielded a late Bakun-period settlement covered by post-achaemenid buildings. Due to the steep slope, the layers were highly eroded and no Bakun period contexts could be documented. Excavations were thus closed after completing three soundings.
Site 91 was covered by a post-achaemenid (3rd cent. BC - AD 3rd cent.) and by a Safavid (17th cent.) settlement. Below that, layers of the middle Bakun period were preserved, including three pottery kilns. No related architecture could be documented, most probably because of the later disturbances.
Numerous pottery kilns existed at site 73 during the Bakun period. These had been dug into old, Balun period settlement layers that in turn cover a layer with Neolithic pottery of the Jari tradition. Excavations concentrated on the uncovering of five pottery kilns, so that the surrounding building layers were investigated only to a small extent. These layers also yielded one Bakun period burial in crouched position.
The newly found site 131 is the remainder of a Bakun period settlement mound. Coring allowed the identification of 3 m cultural remains, but geomagnetic mapping showed no clear structures there. Altogether eight trenches were openend that yielded settlement materials and pits with organic residues, but no clear architectural features. In addition, one more pottery kiln was exposed. As a big surprise came the discovery of Bakun period burials, one single, one double, and one multiple burial with at least five individuals. The later were accompanied by a full set of pottery vessels.
For the Bakun period, a micro-region with several settlements can be reconstructed. In three of the four sites, the production of pottery is attested by numerous pottery kilns. Out of the nine kilns, one located in site 91 is a single chamber kiln, all others are of a keyhole-shaped layout. The reconstruction of these kilns as being partly underground round pits with plastered walls, one combustion channel leading down to the cire chamber, and a division wall inside the fire chamber can be traced well due to the various preservation stages of the kilns. Especially the construction of the upper part of the kiln can now be understood: the intermediate floor was constructed of bread-shaped mudbricks stacked on top of the division wall, leaving only some space for flues along the outer wall. In the center of the floor is a round column that must have served as a support for the upper vault of the kiln.
Due to the lack of architecture, a final statement on the lifestyle of the Bakun period population of Darre-ye Bolaghi could not yet be reached. The large-scale pottery production may be an argument in favour of a sedentary lifestyle. The occurrence of pottery kilns in different sites is additionally an argument against a functional specialization of the sites. We are hopeful that scientific analysis will allow for new evidence regardig the subsistence.
During the Achaemenid period, when close-by Pasargadae was the capital of the country, a large farmstead with massive walls constructed from broken stone existed at site 73. Excavations in four squares yielded evidence for several building phases with different wall construction types. Find material from this part includes carinated bowls typical for the Achaemenid period, as well as stone vessel fragments and metal artifacts. Trilobe arrowheads were in use at the same time. The Achaemenid farmstead was supplied with water via a canal conducting water from a spring on the slope into the site.
Iranian Cultural Heritage, Traditional Handicraft and Tourism Organization
Center for Archaeological Research
Research Foundation Persepolis - Pasargadae
Geographical Institute Humboldt-University Berlin
Institute for Pre- and Protohistory, Ruhr-University Bochum
B. Helwing/M. Seyedin, Prehistoric settlements in Bulaghi Valley: Iranian/German rescue excavations at sites DB91 and DB119. In: Massoud Azarnoush (Ed.), Abstarcts(sic). Symposium on the archaeological rescue excavations in the Bolaghi valley, (Tehran 2006) 13-17.