Iranian History/Ancient pre-historic Iran
Little is known about Iran prior to the rise of the Elamite power. This is so because there remains a treasure-trove of pre-historic artifacts and long-buried cities yet to be recovered. Only recently are Stone Age sites in Iran being excavated and observed. Therefore our knowledge of pre-historic Iran is quite scarce and is almost entirely based on modern discoveries and findings of the last few decades.
- 1 Persia before the Elamites
- 2 Paleolithic Period
- 3 Neolithic Age or early village period
- 4 The Rise of Mesopotamia
- 5 The Zayandeh-Rud Civilization
- 6 References
Persia before the Elamites
By pre-historic Iran, we refer to the part of Iranian history from the date of Iran's oldest archaeological site discovered in Northern Iran and believed to be 800,000 years old upto the rise of the Elamites in around 3200BC when Iran becomes historical. The first part of Iran's pre-history would cover the Paleolithic Period or Stone Age. The earliest known evidence of hominin presence in Iran consist of a number of occurrences with surface collection of lithic tools that fall within Oldowan and Acheulian stone tool traditions. These sites are Kashafrud (Khorasan), Ladiz (Sistan and Baluchistan), Ganj Par and Darband Cave (Gilan), Shiwatoo (Mahabad), and few other sites in western Iran such as Amar Merdeg, Pal Barik and Gakia. Among these sites only Darband cave is dated radiometrically which indicate that the site was used by Lower Paleolithic hominins before 200.000 years ago. As recent as November 2006,a team of Iranian and Russian archaeologists excavating in northern provinces of Ardabil, Gilan, Mazenderan and Golestan discovered 50 pre-historic sites, 30 of them in Ardabil alone, which contained old Stone-Age implements dating to sometime between 800,000 and a million years ago. Another set of recent excavations by a joint Iranian-French team of archaeologists revealed Neanderthal sites in Iran, 40000 to 85000 years old. These recent discoveries have been made in Kermanshah province and in Mahabad in Western Azerbaijan as well as Niasar in Luristan province where caves inhabited by pre-historic Neanderthals were found. Remnants of Neolithic or New Stone Age settlements have been found at Ganj Dareh, Sarab, Mushki and tepe Chaxmaq. These have been dated to 7000 to 10,000BC.
Neolithic Age or early village period
The Neolithic Age is often associated with the growth of farming and irrigation as the temperature and rainfall of the time was found to be suitable for agriculture. The Neolithic Age in Iran began in about 8000BC and ended by about 5500BC. The Neolithic Age in Iran was characterized by the growth of small settlements having 50-100 inhabitants who lived either in houses built of unbaked brick or tents or brush-shelters.However excavations are yet to reveal the existence of class differences and temples or other special structures.
The Early Neolithic Period (8000-7300BC) preceded the use of pottery. The tools were mostly made up of flint,wood or fiber. Figurines of sheep,cattle,dogs, pigs and people made from clay have been found. With the introduction of agriculture and expansion of villages, people started uysing clay to make pottery. Bracelets and pendants were often worn by the inhabitants. Tools for harvesting crops, butchering, working hides, and other tasks were made from flint, while grinding stones, mortars, and pestles were made from limestone. Native pure copper from the central Iranian plateau was hammered into beads and pins.
Hajji Firuz, Abdul Hosein, Ali Kosh, Chogha Sefid, and Chogha Bonut are some of the prominent Neolithic Age sites that have been excavated.
The Rise of Mesopotamia
Iran was directly affected by the rise and evolution of city-states in neighbouring Mesopotamia as its South-Western provinces were under the Mesopotamian sphere of influence. Between 5300BC when the neolithic Eridu culture originated till 539BC when Cyrus the Great of Persia put an end to the last of the Mesapotamian kingdoms, the frontier regions of Khuzestan and Kordestan formed a part of the Greater Mesopotamian culture. In about 3200 BC, the Elamites, the first Iranian people of any significance, established a kingdom in south-western Iran and ruled this region, sometimes as vassals, for over two thousand years.
The Samarra Culture first use irrigation in northern Mesopotamia at 5500BC. There was walls rounded the villages. The Chalcolithic Ubaid/Obeid or Eridu culture thrived from 5300 BC to 4000BC and pioneered farming and irrigation and the use of copper. Slowly villages grew into cities and Eridu civilization extended into Northern Mesopotamia. On late this period there was temples and some type chiefdoms. The Eridu period was followed by the Uruk period which extended from 4000 to 3100 BC. This period saw the rise of one of the world's oldest cities from which Mesopotamia's modern name Iraq could have originated. There was big cities in northern Mesopotamia before southern mesopotamia, tex. Tell Brak in Syria. Writing was invented and large temples was built. These city-states were remarkable for their excellent organization and governance. By 3000BC, the government of Uruk had become powerful enough to subdue other city-states and give rise to the Sumerian Empire.
Early dynastic Sumer
The Empire of Sumer began with the Dynasty of Kish in around 3000BC. At this time there were widespread conflicts between many city-states. One city conquered others, but soon was overthrown by another city. By 2700 BC, the focus seems to have shifted from Kish to Uruk. The Uruk and the Ur dynasties ruled from 2700BC to around 2500 BC when overlordship passed on to Lagash. In 2334 BC, the last of the Sumerian kings was overthrown by Sargon I of Akkad.
Semitic Akkad established its supremacy over Mesopotamia and ruled the lands from 2334BC to around 2100BC. One of the early rulers of Akkad, Lugal-Zage-Si is credited with having established Akkadian supremacy over the Elamite kingdom based in south-west Iran. Sargon I, the first ruled after the conquest of Mesopotamia, is regarded as the greatest monarch of his dynasty. It is definitely possible that he might have exercised his authority over Iran proper as clay tablets belonging to his period makes references to copper being brought from Magan which most scholars believe, is modern Makran. Sargon's grandson Naram-Sin is credited with having led an expedition into Magan and having taken its monarch captive.
Gutians and Neo-Sumer
At around 2200BC, the Gutians invaded Mesopotamia from the Zagros Mountains. The first Guti kings had a barbaric manner to govern Sumer. They didn't repair irrigation canals those brought water to fields. Lagash rebelled and became independent. Gudea of Lagash was a strong king, but had only local significance. Gutians still ruled most of Sumer. But Utukhegal, the king of Uruk, drove the Gutians off, and Ur became overlord of Sumer under Ur-Nammu, who commenced the third dynasty of Ur. This dynasty ruled Mesopotamia over hundred years. Shulgi was most famous king of Ur III dynasty. This is known as the "Sumerian Renaissance" or Neo-Sumer. Temples were built and trade flourished. There were problems due the Amorite tribes on west.
But in Sumer there was a rebellion in the city of Lagash, that became independent. Soon after this Elam attacked till Sumer at 2004BC, and captured last king of Ur, Ibbi-Sin.
In Isin Ishbi-Erra-named semitic took power and drove the Elamites out from Sumer. Semitic Amorite tribes came to Sumer, and took power in many city states of Mesopotamia.
There was power struggle between Isin and Larsa at Southern Mesopotamia ca. 2000-1750BC. At 1750 BC the king of Babylon Hammurabi conquered most of present-day Iraq and made empire, that began collapse soon after his death.
The Kassites were a mountain tribe from Luristan who are believed to have migrated to the region from an obscure homeland sometime between 4000 and 3000 BC. It has often been thought that they were Indo-Europeans. But recent researches have established beyond doubt that their language was not Indo-European thereby disproving the theory that they were Indo-Europeans.
In 1595BC, they rose into prominence, taking hold of Northern Mesapotamia. Following their attendance to power, they ruled Babylon for four centuries. Some prominent Kassite rulers were Kurigalzu I (1400-1375 BC appx.), who built a town named after him called Dur-Kurigalzu, Kadashman Enlil I, and Burnaburiash II, who maintained correspondence with Amenhotep III and Akenaton (Amenhotep IV) of Egypt. The Kassites princes married Assyrian, Hittite and Elamite princesses. In the 12th century BC Kassite rule was brought to an end by the invasion of the Elamites who conquered Babylon and took the last Kassite ruler, Anllil-nadin-akhe, prisoner to Susa where he died.
Mittani and the Hittites
Mittani was a feudal kingdom established in Northern Mesopotamia (present-day Syria and Turkey) in the 14th century BC by fierce warriors believed to be of Aryan descent. This is one of the earliest instances when we hear of the Indo-European people who later founded the Persian kingdom. The connection of the Mittani with Indo-Aryan people was first proposed in 18 when inscriptions founded at Boghazkoy in Turkey spoke of a marriage alliance between the Mittani and the Hittites and invokes Vedic Gods like Indra, Varuna, Mitra and the Nasatyas to pour blessings upon the couple.The Aryan-origin theory of the Mittani is further strengthened by the records of the Mittani which mentions monarchs with Indo-Aryan names such as Kirta,Sutarna,Barattarna,Parshatatar,Artatama,Artashumara and Tushratta.
Mittani power began to decline after the 13th century BC and they gradually became vassals of the Assyrians.
Like the Mittani, the Hittites were speakers of an Indo-Aryan language who ruled over Central Anatolia. They rose to power in the 18th century BC and gradually expanded their dominions over the Levant and West Asia conquering Syria and clashing with the Mittani on the borders of Mesopotamia. In 1274BC, they clashed with Egyptian forces at Kadesh in Syria. However, after many days the battle came to a standstill with neither side able to vanquish the other. The rise of Assyria in Mesopotamia forced the Hittites to sign a treaty of peace with the Egyptians in 1258BC. However, their power did not survive for long and ended when Kaskas, Bryges and Luwian tribes burnt the Hittite capital Hattusa in 1180BC. A few centuries from the sack of Hattusa, the Hittites had completely disappeared.
Assyria and Neo-Babylonia
Assyria in Northern Mesopotamia seems to have come into prominence in the first half of the second millenium BC and to have conquered most of Mesopotamia on the defeat of the Hittites. The Assyrian Empire extended its authority over the Levant and parts of Iranian Kurdistan by the end of the millennium. However, frequent rebellions in Egypt taxed its resources and left Assyria badly weakened. When new peoples, the Persians and the Medes, migrated into modern Iran, they were able to attack and destroy the Assyrian civilization.The Assyrians ruled over Mesopotamia until 602BC, when Asur-uballit, the last ruler of Assyrians defeated by the Babylonians. The New Babylonians ruled much of Mesopotamia under kings like Nabopolassar and Nebuchadnezzar until 539BC when Cyrus conquered Babylon and put an end to Mesopotamian independence.
The Zayandeh-Rud Civilization
In the 5th millennium BC, just as city states were emerging in neighboring Mesopotamia the Zayendeh Rud civilization was flourishing along the banks of the river of the same name in Central Iran. Isfahan, Bakthiari and the Yazd provinces of the modern-day Iran lay at the heart of the Zayendeh-Rud civilization. Isfahan is, in many ways, regarded as one of the oldest cities in the world. Archaeological research has also revealed the remains of an ancient buried city, which according to local lore, were believed to have been destroyed by war and famine.
The site of Sialk or Sialk Tappeh in the central Iranian province of Isfahan is a typical example of Zayendeh-Rud settlement. Sialk also has the world's oldest Ziggurat, built by the successors of the Zayendeh-Rud people, the Elamites in about 2900BC.
The Cheshma culture of south-eastern Tehran and the Hesar culture are some other elements of the Zayendeh-Rud civilization.
In December 2006, pottery and other decorated elements were found near the city of Bam in central Iran with unique motifs that bore a striking resemblance to those found in the artifacts found in Sialk Tappeh. This site which covers an area of over 300 hectares is believed to be the largest pre-historic archaeological site in Iran.