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Pre-historic Iran

Iranian History - Pre-historic Iran

The Fertile Crescent

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Modern Iran is situated at the Eastern end of what historians refer to as the Fertile Crescent, a region generally believed to be the birthplace of civilisation.

The area was a rich, fertile land that arced north and east from what is now Egypt and Israel, covered the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains, continued through the Taurus, Anti-Taurus and Zagros ranges and ended at the northern tip of the Persian Gulf.

Throughout the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Periods (300,000-50,000BC) the human inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent were cave dwelling hunter-gatherers who descended to the plains of Syria, Iraq and Israel in order to hunt and forage.

It was not until the early Neolithic Period (10,000-3000BC) that man began to take faltering steps towards domesticating animals and cultivating the land. This experimentation was soon followed by a migration from the mountains to the plains and riverbanks.

Excavations in Western Iran have revealed evidence that a settled way of life was widespread by around 6000BC with cultural connections to the early village life of surrounding areas such as Afghanistan and Mesopotamia.

Indeed, in the beginnings of social organisation of Ancient Iran and Mesopotamia can be traced the rise of human civilisation itself.

The Ancient Hills

The first human habitations of the Fertile Crescent were wooden dwellings built on hills for ease of defence against animals and hostile tribes.

Archaeologists excavating the hills of the Fertile Crescent have found remains of these habitations piled in layers on top of each other. This indicates that as older habitations fell victim to war, flood, famine and disease, new dwellings would be built on the ruins, creating hills of ever increasing size.

Hundreds of such hills have been discovered throughout Israel, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Tree trunks and branches excavated from sites dating from 10,000-5000BC show that the first human dwellings were made from wood. Later in the period pise (compressed earth) and unfired bricks became more common.

Little by little, piled stones of irregular size cemented with mortar or lime were used to make metre-high walls with earth or bricks used to finish the construction. Artefacts found within these dwellings include pottery, stone dishes and cylindrical stamps as well as other utensils made from stone, baked clay and metals.

From around 5000BC to the time of Christ, unfired bricks began to be replaced by bricks fired in kilns, especially in the cities. Unplanned huts with extensions added as and when required began to give way to planned constructions incorporating a central courtyard with doors and windows facing inwards.

It is interesting to note that until the Islamic the single corridor leading into the courtyard from the street would be straight. From the time of the Islamic conquest these walkways would feature an S-shaped bend in order that the women of the household would not be seen from the outside.


Pottery provides unique insights into the history and culture of early civilisations. Its durability means that archaeologists have a rich supply of evidence to draw on. Different styles of painting are clear indicators of different historical periods.

The origins of pottery can be traced back to baskets woven from rushes and reeds. It was found that by covering these baskets with clay, receptacles for liquids as well as solids could be produced. The first fired clay was produced at around 7000BC.

Pottery from the prehistoric period falls into two types, distinguished by the type of kiln used. Open kilns produced pottery that was cream, buff or red in colour due to an abundance of oxygen.

Closed kilns were much more economical since they used less wood and enabled a larger quantity of pottery to be fired. Pottery produced in closed kilns was grey in colour. This grey pottery was for everyday use.

Pottery fired in open kilns was less economical to produce and thus was used solely for burial in graves. This kind of ceremonial pottery was painted with human images and natural motifs in contrast with the simple patterns found on grey pottery.

Will Yong and Kazem Vafadari

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