Iran Before the Elamites
From Stone Age To Jiroft Civilization
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 the knowledge of historians and archeologists of pre-historic Iran is quite scarce and is almost entirely based on modern discoveries and findings of the last few decades.
By pre-historic Iran, archeologists mean to the part of Iranian history from the date of Iran’s oldest archeological site discovered in northern Iran and believed to be 800,000 years old up to the rise of the Elamites in around 3200BC when Iran becomes historical. The first part of Iran’s pre-history would cover the Stone Age.
As recent as November 2006,a team of Iranian and Russian archeologists excavating in northern provinces of Ardebil, Gilan, Mazandaran and Golestan discovered 50 pre-historic sites, 30 of them in Ardebil 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 archeologists revealed Neanderthal sites in Iran, 40,000 to 85,000 years old. These recent discoveries have been made in Kermanshah province and in Mahabad in Western Azarbaijan as well as Niasar in Lorestan province where caves inhabited by pre-historic Neanderthals were found.
New Stone Age
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. It 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 using 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.
The Rise of Mesopotamia
Iran was directly affected by the rise and evolution of city-states in neighboring Mesopotamia as its southwestern 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 Mesopotamian kingdoms, the frontier regions of Khuzestan and Kurdestan 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 southwestern 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 were 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. 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 were big cities in northern Mesopotamia before southern mesopotamia.
Writing was invented and large temples were built. These city-states were remarkable for their excellent organization and governance. By 3000 BC, the government of Uruk had become powerful enough to subdue other city-states and give rise to the Sumerian Empire.
Early Sumer Dynasty
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 another, but soon was overthrown by yet 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 over lordship 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 southwest Iran. Sargon I, first ruled after the conquest of Mesopotamia, is regarded as the greatest monarch of his dynasty. It is possible that he might have exercised his authority over Iran proper as clay tablets belonging to his period make reference 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.
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 one hears of the Indo-European people who later founded the Persian kingdom.
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 dominion 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 dead-end with neither side able to vanquish the other.
Assyria and Neo-Babylonia
Assyria in northern Mesopotamia seems to have come into prominence in the first half of the second millennium BC and to have conquered most of Mesopotamia following the defeat of the Hittites. The Assyrian Empire extended its authority over the Levant and parts of Iranian Kurdestan 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 was 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.
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 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. Archeological 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.
Recent excavations in the city of Jiroft in the province of Kerman in eastern Iran have revealed settlements believed to be around 5000 years old. Findings include the oldest inscription in the world with characters in Elamite script which predate those found in Susa by at least 300 years.
These discoveries have led many to believe that the Jiroft Civilization may predate the Sumerian civilization.