Earliest Known Inhabitants of the Old Aryan Lands
What we know of the earliest peoples who inhabited the lands of Greater Old Iran - the old Aryan lands that extended from the Tigris and Central Anatolia is the west to Kashgaria and the Indus River in the east - comes to us from the findings of archaeologists. The unsettled political climate in the region has meant that archaeological explorations have been sporadic. Yet the meagre information that has become available to us has led historians and anthropologists to re-examine theories about the earliest known presence of humans and human-like peoples living and working as a community.
In Greater Old Iran, the earliest known sites that contain evidence of occupation by the ancestors of modern humans are to be found in present-day Tajikistan. The occupation of one site is dated at 900,000 to 800,000 years ago - nearly a million years before the present.
The Stone Age & Human Evolution
Archaeologists and historians place the Stone Age as that period of human development when most of the tools used by hominins* and human beings were made from stone. The evidence available to us currently shows that while the this phase of early human development took place almost
simultaneously in different parts of the globe, the dates for different stages of the Stone Age based on the development of stone tools was different for different parts of the world. As a consequence, dates for the Stone Age have changed with every discovery and the development of dating methods. There is evidence stone implements being used as early as 2.5 million years ago in Africa, 1.8 million years ago in Asia, and a million years ago in Europe. Therefore, current theory places the earliest development of human beings in Africa. However, migratory theories (which should more appropriately be labelled as constructs based on an
extremely small and unrepresentative sample), are always subject to the latest discovery and we have no way of knowing what evidence has been lost to us forever.
[* Hominin/hominine is the group of modern humans together with extinct human species and all immediate ancestors (including Neanderthals). Modern human beings are the only hominin species still in existence.]
The Stone Age is divided into the following periods and sub-periods:
• Paleolithic (Old Stone Age - 2.5 million to 15,000 years ago - a time period that spans 95% of human history) - the age in which stone tools were made by chipping or flaking.
◦ Lower Paleolithic (2.5 million – 200,000 years ago). The main hominins who existed during this period were:
◦ Homo habilis from 2.2 to 1.6 million years ago (earliest tool-maker and possible speaker),
◦ Homo erectus from 2.0 to 0.4 million years ago (the species thought to have moved out of Africa - tool maker, speaker, weapon-user, fire-user and eater of cooked food) &
◦ Homo sapiens archaic from 400 to 200 thousand years ago;
◦ Middle Paleolithic (200,000 – 35,000 years ago). Then existing hominins: Homo sapiens neandertalensis 200 to 30 thousand years ago & Homo sapiens sapiens 200 thousand years ago to present. Neanderthal remains have been found from one end of Greater Aryana to the other - from the upper Tigris region in the west to Central Asia in the east as well as in a region neighbouring Greater Aryana to the north-east: Okladnikov in the Altai region commonly thought of as the ancestral home of the Turkic peoples.
◦ Upper Paleolithic (35,000 – 15,000 to 10,000 years ago). Then existing hominins: Homo sapiens sapiens (200 thousand years ago to present).
• Mesolithic Age (Middle Stone Age, also called the EpiPaleolithic Age - 15,000 to say 10,000 years ago): the age in which microliths, small, geometric-shaped stone artefacts were attached to wood, antler, or bone to form implements such as arrows, spears, or scythes.
• Neolithic Age (New Stone Age - 10,000 to 6,000-4,000 years ago): the age in which ground and polished stone axes became prevalent.
The Stone Age in a particular region ended with evidence of the earliest known metal implements, and generally ends between 6,000 and 4,000 BCE.
During the Stone Age of human development, the earth also experienced an Ice Age some 1.6 million to 10,000 years ago which varied in intensity during this period. We do not known precisely what microclimates existed in specific localities especially in Central Asia. Weather changes could have impacted the availability of food as well as general living conditions - consequently resulting in movements of hominin or human groups.
|Evolution of the Human species (Homo genus) with relative brain size.|
Image credit: docstoc.com
Did Stone Age Advancements Start Earlier in Ancient Iran than They did in Europe?
|Stone tool called a 'point' found at|
Teshik Tash Cave, Uzbekistan
|Stone tool called a 'scraper' found at|
Teshik Tash Cave, Uzbekistan
According to The Cambridge History of Iran, ed. W. B. Fisher (1968) Vol. 1, pg. 407, quoting C. S. Coon in Seven Caves (1957) pg. 266, "The Neolithic dates in this (Caspian) region are much earlier than those of Europe, and according to Coon (Coon is considered by some as the founder of Paleolithic archaeology in Iran), the Caspian area could well have been the place from which the European Neolithic was derived. With much more certainty one might claim Iran and the contiguous areas of south-west Asian generally as the area of origin, since Neolithic men were widespread in the whole region [our note: including Central Asia]...."
[Note: The seven caves described by C. S. Coon in his book extend from Tangier in Morocco to Kara-Kamar in Afghanistan. In Kara-Kamar, Coon found Upper Paleolithic-Aurignacian artifacts radio-carbon dated to "over 34,000" years ago. Nowadays we also read mention of the seven caves of Mazandaran.]
Earlier on the same page, The Cambridge History of Iran states, "It has been claimed (by Coon at page 266 of his book), that the place of the origin of the Neolithic is probably 'a few miles at most from Belt (see Kamarband below) and Hotu (see Huto below) (caves)'." [The Kamarband and Huto caves are in Iran's Caspian coastal hills.] However, since the writing of the Cambridge History of Iran other discoveries such as those at Mehrgarh have come to light and the incipient development of Neolithic tool-making and crafts in general may have taken place throughout the region we call Greater Old Iran, the land of the ancient Aryans. (Advancements in stone tool making in the region of Greater Old Iran had of course started much earlier than the Neolithic.)
The Cambridge History of Iran (pg. 395) quotes H. Field in Ancient and Modern Man in South Western Asia, pp. 163-5 as stating, "It has been claimed that 'Stone Age Man' lived in and migrated (moved) across south-west Asia (and, we may add Central Asia and the western Indus hills) for perhaps 100,000 years, during which time rapid cultural advances occurred."
According to the The Cambridge History of Iran (pg. 399) once again quoting Coon (from pg. 127 of his book) that (Mousterian*) Paleolithic implements of the same general kind as at Behistun (see below) were found on the opposite end of the Iranian plateau near Khurnik, a village on the Zabul-Mashhad road in the so-called "Sarakhs corridor". The Khurnik stone implement industry, while basically resembling that of Behistun, demonstrates mastery of even more sophisticated techniques - thereby indicating and even earlier advancement in stone implement making in what we can think of as central Aryana - the Khorasan-Sistan area.
[*Mousterian is a name given by archaeologists to a style of stone tools associated with the Neanderthals and dating to the Middle Paleolithic, the middle part of the Old Stone Age.]
The Cambridge History of Iran continues to state that, "At Khurnik, as at some other contemporaneous sites in Iran, Neanderthal man or possibly some other Middle Paleolithic form of man, continued to survive for a considerable period...."
Lifestyle & Burial/Funerary Practices
The discovery of Stone Age skeletal remains under several cave floors leads to interesting observations and raises significant questions, the answers to which are not necessarily intuitive. The dates ascribed to these skeletal remains range from the relatively recent Neolithic period (4,000 to 10,000 years ago) to the Paleolithic period (that ranges from 15,000 years ago to the dawn of humanity).
Finding skeletal remains under a cave floor that has also yielded signs of habitation does not automatically mean that burial under the floor of a house was the norm in those days. Such conclusions are at best premature and misleading.
At the outset, it is yet to be determined if some of the cave occupied by humans or humanoids were permanent or seasonal dwellings. The Shanidar Cave has been used as a seasonal (winter) dwelling until recent times. In summer, the inhabitants would range the countryside finding fresh pastures for their animals, going ever higher on the slopes as the summer progressed - sleeping in the open or in non-permanent summer dwellings as is still the practice in Maymand, Kerman.
Next, some the skeletal remains show signs of a 'secondary' burial. Some of these signs are that the bones have shifted or they are not touching one another. One explanation given is that the weight of the
accumulating soil on top would have shifted the bones. At times, only partial remains have been found. What we do not know is if with some secondary burials, the bodies were first exposed to the elements and for the flesh to be consumed by birds and animals before the dried bones were buried (the so-called secondary burial). We also do not know if there was any consistency in burial practices and it would be unreasonable to expect such a consistency before the advent of a cultural, religious or political code that was subscribed to by various groups. Until such a time, burial practices can be expected to have been local and based on local conditions and needs. One group could have emulated the practices of another group when they became aware of such practices.
However, there is evidence of some burials included tokens of affection from those they had left behind. There is also evidence of some kind of belief in an afterlife. For instance, in the Shanidar Cave, there is an indication that 60-80,000 years ago, flowers were placed beside a buried individual. Further, in (as in the Mazandaran's Kamarband and Huto caves red ochre was found with 10,000 years old skeletal remains (we read that red ochre deters scavengers).
No evidence of Stone Age coffins have been found. Instead traces of matting and fabric have been found with or around the skeletons. One 3rd to 2nd millennium BCE skeleton from Tepe Hissar was uncovered with an alabaster cup held by both hands.
At Shanidar Cave, a Proto-Neolithic cemetery dating circa 10,600 years BP (in 1958) ± 300 years with the skeletal remains of 35 individuals was found in the right rear of the cave. This is the earliest evidence of an organized cemetery known to date.
In a Tepe Hissar burial from some 5-6,000 years ago, personal items were found with the skeletal remains placed near the head or upper body. The personal items included pottery vessels, copper pins, daggers (for men only), seals or seal-shaped ornaments, and large numbers of beaded necklaces, bracelets, armlets, diadems, belts and anklets, made of gypsum and other materials. There would be little reason to bury personal goods with a body unless there was a belief in an afterlife. A belief in an afterlife automatically requires a belief in some form of existence - such as a spiritual existence - one that continues beyond death. The region of ancient Iran may have been home to some of the earliest forms of these beliefs.
The practice was developed further during the subsequent Metal Age. Tombs dating to the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 1st millennium BCE have been discovered carved into a stone hilltop near Marlik in Iran's Gilan Province. The skeletal remains in the tombs were found surrounded by a variety of items including jewellery, weapons, household and toiletry articles. The jewellery consisted of elaborate items made from gold, silver, and semiprecious stones. Also found in large numbers were weapons made from bronze. Household items included pottery, long-spouted vessels, cooking utensils, figurines and decorated vessels made from precious metals. [cf. Marlik: The Complete Excavation Report by Ezat O. Negahban and Izzat Allāh Nigahban (1996) Volume 1]
Tajikistan Paleolithic Sites & Cave Dwellings
Three sites in Tajikistan - Kul'dara, Karatau & Lakhuti - have yielded the oldest Stone Age artifacts or tools found in lands that were once part of Greater Old Iran. The making of these artifacts are dated from 900,000 to 500,000 years ago. The sites reflect early adaptations by hominins to mid-latitude environments, and the stone-tool discovered at the sites are composed of pebble and flake implements. Kul'dara & Lakhuti are fairly close to one another in the Obihingou-Yakhsu basin while Karatau lies some 80 km to the west in the hills around the mighty Vakhsh River.
The findings at these sites have made anthropologists rethink theories about where early humanoids and humans developed their tool-making and social skills.
At this time, Kul'dara is the oldest site known to have been occupied by humanoids of Central Asia. It is located close to the Yaksu River (38.140 N, 69.840 E) between Khoviling and Kulob.
At the site, a relatively small find of forty artifacts were discovered in the 11th and 12th soil layers (120 m below the surface soil) dated to about 900,000-800,000 years BP. These artifacts included stone tools of the quartzite pebble variety: small flakes, flake tools, two blades and part of a "bifacial element". These type of artifacts are at times referred to as "pebble tools" and at other times as "shingle technology", i.e. part of an early shingle culture. We find it noteworthy that archaeologists refer to the different subsoil layers containing artifacts as "cultural layers" for it is in culture that we find the roots of civilization.
Human Adaptation in the Asian Paleolithic by Ryan J. Rabett. and History of Hominin Occupation of Central Asia in Review by Michelle M. Glantz]
Karatau & Lakhuti
The second oldest finds of Stone Age artifacts (dating from 500 to 600,000 BP) in Tajikistan - or for that matter in Central Asia or Greater Old Iran - were found in the Karatau & Lakhuti/Lahhuty sites. As with Kul'dara, the stone tools found at these two sites are also classified as 'pebble tools'.
Karatau is located about 55 km SSE of Dushanbe (38.1160 N, 69.1170 E). It is an open-air site and site about 1,700 m above sea level. The oldest artifacts (pebble tools) from Karatau were found in a layer dated to 500,000-600,000 BP (in the Lower Paleolithic period). The site also has also yielded Middle Paleolithic artifacts. In all, Karatau 1 has yielded more than 600 artifacts made mostly from metamorphic pebbles. Prepared cores and bifaced tools were not found amongst the Karatau tools though they were found at Lakhuti.
The Lakhuti site is about 80 km east of Karatau and 17 km north of Kul'dara (38.2160 N, 70.060 E). 500 artifacts were
recovered from a Lakhuti cultural layer dated to 500,000-600,000 BP. The Stone tools found at Lakhuti are more developed than those found in Karatau. The site also has also yielded Middle Paleolithic artifacts. The pebble tools recovered from Lakhuti are similar to the ones from Karatau. Also recovered were a few prepared cores and blades.
[Note; There is another site with the same name at the Karatau Mountains of southern Kazakhstan.]
Shugnou & Khonako
Shugnou is situated in the upper reaches of the Yakhsu River - some 55-70 m above the river surface and at an elevation of about 2,000 m above sea level. The artifacts discovered at Shugnou layer 1 are from a layer dated as 10,700 BP ± 500 years.
Stone tools similar to those from Khudji (see below), Obi Rakhmat in Uzbekistan and Shugnou (levels 3-4) are reported to have been found at the Khonako open-air site in a massive outcrop some 10 km northeast of Shugnou.
The Middle Paleolithic site of Khudji is located 40 km west-north-west of Dushanbe, Tajikistan (38°37' N, 68°13' E). It sits on the western bank of Khudji stream at an elevation of about 800 m above sea level. The site was discovered in 1978 during road construction and appears from the reports to be an open-air site.
Six excavation areas revealed various cultural/occupation layers within a set of paleosols (former preserved soils layers that may have become 'lithified', i.e., become stone-like) under a thick layer of present-day top soil. While artifacts and traces of hearths were found in several paleosol layers, the majority of the archeological items and remains were found in the lowest paleosol layer identified as 'horizon 8'. Presumably the paleosol layers were also levels representing different periods when the site was occupied. The site excavation team consisted of Tajik and Russian archaeologists Vadim Ranov (an ethnographic archaeologist from Tajikistan), A. G. Amosova and Stanislav Laukhin. In a 1999 report titled Middle Paleolithic Human Deciduous Incisor from Khudji, Tajikistan by Erik Trinkaus, an anthropologist, Ranov and Laukhin, the researchers grouped the paleosol layers or cultural/occupation levels into two sets: the 'lower cultural level' consisting of the single lowest layer and the 'upper complex' consisting of the layers above the lowest layer.
The lowest level sat on overflow sediments from the stream and debris washed down from the slopes of the surrounding hills. This lower layer yielded a rich find of hearths with charcoal remnants, 5,613 lithic (stone) artifacts and 3,667 pieces of animal remains spread over an area of about 40 sq.m.
Both excavation level sets at the site gave conventional radiocarbon dates of around 40,000 years BP - the end of Middle Paleolithic period.
The researchers conducting the excavations found the so-called 'lithic assemblage' of artifacts (collection of stone objects from the Stone Age) of the top layers to be similar to those from the lowest layer. These included stone tools such as blades, side scrapers and points. Some of the stone (lithic) tools showed signs of having being 'retouched'. The researchers noted "in the upper cultural complex(es)/layers, retouched tools are less common than in the lower level."
The animal remains found in the lowest level were mainly those from deer, wild horses, wild cattle, bears, tortoises and porcupines. In the upper layers, the diversity of animal species was reduced and consisted primarily of wild mountain goat and deer remains. Well preserved hearths were also absent from the upper layers.
In an 1997 excavation, a human tooth was discovered in the lowest cultural/occupation level (horizon 8 in excavation unit 2). The tooth was recovered together with "abundant quantities of small pieces of bone" and waste material produced during lithic reduction and the production of chipped stone tools. The researchers note that "the cultural level sloped slightly toward the Khudji brook, such that long-term low energy slope-wash processes may have removed some elements." Even though the date for the level is determined to be the 40,000 BP, i.e., the late Middle Paleolithic period, the tooth is not identified as belonging to a Neanderthal but rather with an early ('archaic') human.
The researchers note that the tooth is too small to be an adult tooth. "It is therefore best considered as a human lateral deciduous incisor". In normal English a lateral tooth is the one next to the two front teeth. A deciduous incisor is a baby tooth. Therefore the tooth was one of a child's teeth towards the front of the mouth. Lateral teething of a human child normally occurs within the first 9 to 16 months of its life. The tooth is shed when the child is six to twelve years of age. In their report, the researchers state at p. 581, "An age at death near the middle of this range, probably between 3 and 5 years postnatal, appears most likely." They also state, that the maximum "age of death" to be less than seven since this is the median age for a lateral tooth to be shed.
Uzbekistan Cave Dwellings
The southern Uzbekistan sites described below would have been part of Greater Old Iran.
Teshik Tash Cave
|The Teshik Tash child.|
A reconstruction of what the
child might have looked like
based on the conclusions
of M.M. Gerasimov.
The Teshik Tash Cave of Uzbekistan's Surkhondaryo Province is found about 200 km north of the Afghan cave sites of Kara Kamar and Aq Kupruk.
Teshik Tash is said to mean 'stone (with an) opening. It cave is famed for the 1938 discovery of the Middle Paleolithic 70,000 year old (cf. Smithsonian Museum) fossilized skeletal remains of a 8 to 11 year old Neanderthal child (sometimes called the 'Teshik Tash Boy' though some recent reports claim the remains were that of a girl). The discovery is credited to Soviet archaeologist Alexei Okladnikov.
The Teshik Tash Cave stands in the area between the rivers Sherabad Darya (known as Turgan Darya north of Derbent) and Surkhan Darya upstream and north from where the two rivers meet the great Amu Darya. The cave is more specifically located 18 km north of Baysun city and 125-130 km south of Samarkand. It is situated about 1,500 m above sea level in the Baysun-tau/Baisun-tau/Bajsun-tau (cf. 'tag' i.e. mountains) on the craggy walls of the Zautolosh Darya (River) Sai (meaning gorge). the gorge is also called Sautoloschsaja.
The 40-50 m high canyon-like Zautolosh gorge walls are only 15 to 20 m apart. The gorge walls have overhangs that shade the cave mouth near the base of the gorge, limiting its exposure to the Sun to only an hour or so each day.
The Zautolosh Darya flows into the left bank of the Turgan Darya (River). The Turgan Darya and its tributaries such as the Zautolosh Darya drain the north-eastern slopes of the Baysun-tau, a chain of relatively low mountains that form the south-western extension of the Hissar/Gissar Range from about Kodja-Pariarkh Mountain, home to the Mus-Tovat glacier that crawls down the mountain's northern slope.
The mouth of the cave which opens to the north-east is about 7 m in height and leads to a cave that is 20 m wide and 21 m deep. The cave floor gradually rises to a rock barrier at the back of the cave behind which lies a small inner chamber. A small opening in the cave's ceiling is thought by some to give the cave its name: Teshik Task or cave with an opening/hole.
There appears to be another Teshik Task in Uzbekistan's eastern Fergana Valley. Regarding this Teshik Tash, an Uzbek tourist site states, "Not far from Andijan in the pass of Sari-Shoto there is a holy place worshipped by all Uzbek people: Teshik-Tash. A large 'Holed Stone' (Teshik-Tash in Turkic) is surrounded by small white stones. Over millennia, nature has ground the stone, creating a marvel of nature. According to the stories of the old men, the stone has a healing effect. Mothers bring their children and take them through the hole of the stone. They say that the next day children are cured of their illnesses."
|Reconstruction of the 'burial' with ibex horns at Teshik Tash|
|Reconstruction of the 'burial' with ibex horns at Teshik Tash|
The excavations revealed five separate 'cultural' or 'occupation' levels and five hearths or fire-places. The layers were separated by sterile layers of clay, sand, and coarse silt deposited during intervals when the cave was flooded with water. Generally, these deposits were between 1.2 to 1.5 m deep. The cultural or occupation levels were at the most 40 cm thick. Cultural layer I - which appeared below a surface layer that varied in depth from 5 to 20 cm - was the thickest of the various occupation layers and yielded the richest findings of artifacts and objects.
The five occupation layers contained remnants of food, campfires and stone artifacts of the Mousterian type such as those used in hunting, butchering and food preperation. The intervening sterile deposits indicate that they were laid down by stationary water that strongly suggests a flooding of the cave. This could have resulted from a temporary damming of the stream by rockfalls during wet periods or because of some other cause. Such a flooding would have compelled the occupants to abandon the cave. The cave was reoccupied when the floods receeded. There is no consensus whether the four or five successive floodings and reoccupation took place over a relatively short period of time or whether they were stretched out over millenia.
|The Teshik Tash gorge showing the steep canyon-like walls and boulder strewn|
stream bed. The cave entrance can be seen behind the base of the tree
to its left. Image credit: Proceedings, American Philosophical Society
(Vol. 97, no. 4, 1953, p. 386)
416 artifacts or objects including Middle Paleolithic (Mousterian) tools, numerous bones of wild goats and other animals, and five pairs of ibex mountain goats horns were also recovered in the excavation of the cave. Of the 907 animal bones found, 760 belonged to a local mountain goat (representing 78 individual goats) otherwise called the Siberian Mountain Goat (Capra sibirica Meyer) or Ibex. 70 bones belonged to rodents such as mice. Only one bone belonged to a deer, two to a wild horse and two to a leopard. While mountain goat bones predominate at Teshik Tash, at other sites, other animal remains predominate. We may assume that mountain goats were the most abundant creatures at Teshik Tash in Middle Paleolithic times. 61 bird bones belonging to a wide assortment of birds were found - with no particular bird's bone in preponderance. The largest number of birds of one type, nine, were those belonging to the Asiatic rock-partridge.
The objects recovered from the cave and their placement have led researchers to conclude that the cave's inhabitants hunted mountain goats and other animals. Further, since most of the animal's whose bones were found in the cave as still found wild in the region today, researchers surmize that the environmental conditions at Teshik Tash 70,000 years ago was essentially similar to the climate of today.
The material from which the 329 Stone Age tools recovered at the site was made was principally local limestone. The relatively large number (2,520) of trimming flakes and chips found indicate that the tools were made at the site.
Two rock tools are categorized as "massive (stone) implements". One was found in Layer I and another in Layer 3. Both as stated as being 'hand-axe type tools' (cf. Proceedings, American Philosophical Society (Vol. 97, no. 4, 1953, p. 392). We take that to mean without attached handle. The same article goes on to state "actually neither of these objects is a true hand-axe; rather their main function seems to have been for chopping or cutting...." Further, "the only pointed bone artifact found at the site, came to light just above the buried child. The object, which served as a crude awl, is made on a portion of the ulna of a mountain goat on which a long tapering point has been fashioned at one end."
About 10 meters from the entrance, towards the north-west section of the cave near its western wall, the fossilized skeletal remains of a child were discovered 25 cm below a hearth and immediately below cultural layer I - as if in a grave pit dug during cultural/occupation level I into the silt deposit that formed the cave floor at that time. The skull had broken into 150 fragments. Ibex horns were found with the remains, and the placement of the horns indicated to some that they were placed over the body as if to form a covering or as part of a burial system. Regardless of the interpretation or significance of the ibex horn placement, the body does appear to have been a burial. The body appears to have been disturbed as if by a beast of prey, say, a hyena. This scenario may explain the discovery of predator teeth marks on some of the bones as also the reason why some bones are missing since they could have been carried away by the predator. Perhaps the ibex bones were intended to prevent such an eventuality. In such an event, the cave may not have been a continuous home for its occupants.
Even though researchers such as M.M. Gerasimov, G.F. Debetz and M.A. Gremiatsky classified the fossilized remains of the child as a "classical" Neanderthal of La Chapelle-aux-Saints type, researchers such as F. Weidenreich, V.V. Bunak, V.P. Yakimov, V.P.Alekseev, G.F. Debetz and other anthropologists point to a number of evolutionary progressive features of the skull. The latter believed that the individual differed from "classical" Neanderthals and represented an evolutionary line leading to anatomically modern humans. However, in a 2007 analysis, the DNA structure extracted from the bones remnants shows the Teshik-Tash child to be a Neanderthal rather than a Homo sapiens.
M.M. Gerasimov has attempted to reconstruct the complete appearance of the Teshik-Tash child as seen in the figure depicted above. The skull, in his words, "is much larger and heavier than that of a modern child of the same age. The browridge is much more robust than in a modern adult. The forehead is retreating. The head is large and heavy, especially in the facial part, the stature is low, and the trunk is long. While being 9-10, he looks older. The disproportion between the head and the rest of the body combines with very powerful shoulders and a peculiarly stooped trunk. The arms are very strong. The legs are short and muscular. This trait combination is typical of Neanderthals."
Amir Temir/Temur Cave
|Amir Temir Cave faces on the canyon wall. Two cave mouths can be seen at the base of the canyon wall|
Image credit: Asia Adventures
Amir Temir/Temur is the name given to Tamerlane, a Turko-Mongol ruler in the Middle Ages. The cave is situated in a gorge or sai bearing the same name. The cave is less than 5 km upstream (north) of Teshik Tash Cave.
This cave appears to be more popular with tourists given its interesting features and stalactite-like formations.
During the late 1930s, a small scale dig was undertaken at Amir-Temir by Soviet archaeologist Alexei Okladnikov, the discoverer of this site as well as the Teshik-Tash site. The results of Okladnikov's expeditions in the Baysun region showed the area to be rich in caves and rock-shelters that would have been suitable for Paleolithic era occupation.
At page 66 of his 1949 report, Alexei Okladnikov postulates that the making of one bone artifact
classified as an awl appears to have been based on knowledge acquired from wood-working. A small piece of charcoal of juniper preserved in the very damp Mousterian deposits is stated to exhibit traces of wide intentional cuts, so clearly defined and regular that they must have been made by a stone tool held in the hand of an individual. Okladnikov goes on to suggest that it was the experience gained by Neaderthalers in working wood and bone during Mousterian times that "paved the way for excellent technique of working bone, so typical of the Upper Paleolithic." What we find to be so refreshing in reading this is that there is no automatic assumption that Stone Age knowledge and skills were imported by European migrants and that resident of Central Asia
developed their own knowledge and skills base had would have slowly permeated surrounding cultures.
Analysts also feel that the charcoal deposits indicate that type of juniper that grew in Middle Paleolithic times is the same as that which can be found growing today.
|Amir Temir Canyon in the Baysun Mountains, Uzbekistan. Image credit: Asia Adventures|
|Amir Temir Cave interior with stalactite-like formations. Image credit: Asia Adventures|
Anghilak Cave is located about 110 north of Teshik Tash Cave and about 45 km south-west of Samarkand in the Kashkadariya region of south-eastern Uzbekistan. The cave sits in the foothills of the Zerafshan mountain range's southern slopes. Excavations in 2002 by the Uzbek-American Stone Age Project team led by led by R. Suleimanov and M. Glantz, revealed 485 pieces of chipped stone and over 2,200 animal remains dated to 32,000 BP i.e. the end of the Middle and beginning of the Upper Paleolithic period. The stone tools were found to have been made from flint, quartz, siliceous limestone, and quartzite. Of the animal remains, nearly half are tortoise remains and the remainder appears to be sheep and goat.
In a 2005 paper titled New Hominin Remains from Uzbekistan, Michelle Glantz, Bence Viola, Patrick Wrinn, Tatiana Chikisheva, Anatoly Derevianko, Andrei Krivoshapkin, Uktur Islamov, Rustam Suleimanov, Terrence Ritzman state "The remains from Anghilak Cave include a non-diagnostic, diminutive right (adult) fifth metatarsal." Two charcoal samples derived from the fourth geological layer containing the metatarsal provide dates of roughly 43,900 BP ± 2,000 years and 38,100 BP ± 2,100 uncalibrated radiocarbon years. It has not been possible to definitely identify whether the remains belonged to a Neanderthal or human.
The Obi-Rakhmat (or Obirakhmat/Abirakhmat Cave is located just west of Uzbekistan's border with Kyrgyzstan and about located 85 km north-east of Tashkent city in Tashkent Province's Bostanlik District. It sits at an elevation of 1,250 m above sea level on the south face (and therefore the cave is south-facing) of a Paleozoic limestone reef formation overlooking the Paltau River and picturesque Paltau Valley. The site is further described as being situated at the southwestern end of the Koksui mountain range, in the western Tian Shan, near the junction of the Chatkal and Pskem Rivers.
Researchers have determined that as with the Teshik Tash Cave, the climatic conditions at that time were similar to what they are today. Broad-leafed trees growing at that time included maple, birch, walnut, hornbeam, and pistachio. Coniferous trees, including pine, spruce, and fir grew on the higher slopes. The mountains' northern and southern slopes contained open woodlands as well as meadows.
In size, the cave is 20 m wide, 9 m deep and at it highest 11.8 m in height.
The site was first explored in the 1960s and excavations in the 1970s yielded more than 40,000 stone artifacts. Based on an examination of further objects excavated in 1998-1999, the majority of Obi-Rakhmat artifacts (now totally over 60,000) have been determined as having a mixture of Middle and Upper Paleolithic features with radiocarbon dates from approximately 48,000 to 40,000 BP. The transition from Middle to Upper Paleolithic features appears to have taken place before 50,000 BP - a much transition earlier date than that determined in other sites. It is our understanding that an earlier transition date would indicate an earlier advancement in tool-making and lifestyle development.
In addition to the artifacts, about 5,300 animal remains have been found and the number of identified specimens total 1,758.
In the excavation pit, 22 layers were identified. Layer 4 has a radiocarbon dating of 19,700 BP ± 4,000 years while layer 14.1 has a radiocarbon dating of 48,800 BP ± 2,400 years. Another dating technique gives much older dates - for instance, 57,000 to 73,000 years BP from strata levels 12 to 14. The bottom strata of the grotto (layer 22) at a depth of 10 m is dated to ~87,000 BP with another technique giving a date of about 100,000 BP.
Hominin remains discovered in strata/layer 16 include 6 isolated permanent maxillary teeth and over 120 crania fragments. The remains exhibit some Neandertal traits and have been determined to have belonged to a 9 to 12 year old child. For now, the best chronological estimate for the hominin remains is 60 to 90,000 years BP.
Kyrgyzstan Cave Dwellings
The Sel'Ungur Cave is sometimes listed as being located in Uzbekistan as there are Uzbek pockets in this region. The cave is described as being located on the Sokh River which flows into the fergana Valley from Kyrgyzstan north into Uzbekistan. The site is also said to be close to Khaidarkhan/Khaydarken village.
Six hominin teeth and some postcranial elements were found with characteristics between that of Homo erectus (the species that pre-dated the Neanderthals) and Neanderthals. Radiometric dating of the remains gives a date of 126,000 BP ± 5,000 years (Middle Paleolithic period).
Afghanistan Cave Dwellings
Hazar Som, Samangan
While the information available on the discoveries at Hazar Som are sparse, the site may have yielded some the oldest known Stone Age artifacts yet discovered in Afghanistan. These date to the Lower Paleolithic period, i.e. before 100,000 BCE. The stone tools have been classified as "Clactonian".
Hazar Som is situated in Afghanistan's Samangan Province (bordering Balkh Province on the east). Badakhshan lies further east. These provinces formed the heartland of Old Aryana. The site is about 62 km south of Aybak/Samangan and 7 km SW of Anbar. One report places Hazar Som in the opposite direction: about 16 km north of Aybak/Samangan city.
The city of Aybak which meant "cave dweller" in Uzbek, has be renamed Samangan, capital of Samangan Province. The old name meaning "cave dweller" has special significance for us since that would appear to be the reputation not just of Aybak/Samangan city but of the surrounding area as well. If so, we can expect further discoveries to be made once the political climate has stabilized - provided, that is, they have not be destroyed in the current hostilities. Insurgent groups frequently take refuge in the caves and Western forces pre-emptively bomb the caves in the off-chance insurgents are within. There is a possibility a precious heritage has been destroyed forever.
Dasht-e Nawor, Ghanzni
While not a cave, the site that has yielded Lower (over 100,000 years ago) and Middle Paleolithic artifacts is Dasht-e Nawor in Ghazni, a southern Afghan province. Stone Age tools were found on the terrace surfaces east of a shallow, brackish lake. The mainly quartzite tools include large flakes, cores, cleavers, choppers, adzes, 'proto-hand-axes' and pebble tools.
Darra-i Kul/Dar-ye Kur, Badakhshan
The Darra-i Kul or Dar-ye Kur cave is located in Afghanistan's Badakhshan Province west of Baba Darvish/Chinar-e Gunjushkan (also spelt Cenaregunjeskan) village. Findings from the cave dated to the Mousterian Middle Paleolithic, ca. 50,000-30,000 BCE include a human temporal bone, about 800 stone tools and animal bones.
Aq Kupruk, Balkh
|Stone carving of a face c. 18,000 BCE|
from Aq Kupruk
Over 20,000 stone tools are reported to have been recovered from a site just north of Aq Kupruk/Kopruk township and some 77 km south of Mazar-e Sharif, Balkh Province. Aq Kupruk sits on the banks of the Balkh River where it leaves the foothills of the Paropamisus.
The Aq Kupruk site is also called Dukhtar-e Padshah. Excavations at the site have yielded artifacts from various levels. Some writers have remarked on the relative sophistication of the stone tools calling Aq Kupruk's artisans "the Michelangelos of the Upper Paleolithic." One of the artifacts recovered is the carved the face of a person on a small limestone pebble - one of the earliest representations of a human face made by a human hand as portable cave art. The artifact has been dated to 18,000 BCE.
The age of the various levels and their associated artifacts recovered from the four site range from the Upper Paleolithic (18,000-10,000 BCE) to the Iron Age. The finds include incised spatulas, points, and awls made of bone, and a flint toolkit: blades, cores, utilized and retouched side- and end- scrapers, burins, keeled scrapers, points, a micro-industry, combination tools, a very early stone sculpture (the pebble face), domesticated sheep and goat remains, fragments of beaten copper from the ceramic Neolithic period, several projectile points, glass, terracotta and simple jewellery.
There are four sites in the vicinity of Aq Kupruk:
Aq Kupruk I or Ghar-e Asb is a cave/rock shelter of the Kushan-Sasanian period, containing some fragmentary Buddhist frescos and some simple architecture.
Aq Kupruk II or Ghar-e Mar is cave/another rock shelter that has yielded the largest number of artifacts from among the three sites and dating to several periods except the Kushan-Sasanian period. About 10% of the site has been excavated.
Aq Kupruk III is an open air site on the river terrace. Its artifacts date to the Mesolithic/EpiPaleolithic period (10-15,000 years ago).
Aq Kupruk IV is closer to the modern village. Its artifacts include those dated to the Upper Paleolithic (15,000 years +).
Kara/Qara Kamar Cave, Samangan
Kara/Qara Kamar Cave is situated in the Hindu Kush foothills about 1000 m above sea level and about 150 m above the valley plain below. It is located about 20 km north-north-west Aybak/Samangan and above village of Sar Kiar or Sarqia-ye Uzbek (Uzbek Sar Kiar). One report places the cave a few kilometres further north near Hazrat Soltan. The cave or rock shelter faces south and commands a view of three valleys for a considerable distance. It has been used as a shelter by herdsmen (sometimes called nomads) for generations. Its roof is covered in soot and its floor in dung.
Kara/Qara Kamar is one of the seven caves listed by C. Coon in his book Seven Caves (New York, 1957) and is the first Paleolithic site excavated in Afghanistan. The carbon-14 dating of the Kara Kamar stone tools is over 34,000 years BP (Aurignacian-Paleolithic period) and the type of tools found are similar to those found in contemporaneous cultures in Greater Aryana such as Shanidar. The artifacts found include 82 flint implements, animal bones and mollusk remains.
Kara Kamar also has a Mesolithic layer dated at 10,580 BP or 8,630 BCE ± 720 years. The Shanidar Mesolithic layer is dated at Mesolithic 12,000 BP or 10,450 BCE ± 400 years.
Elburz Mountain Cave Dwellings
Darband Caves & Ganj Par
The artifacts found at the Darband caves & Ganj Par are dated to the Lower Paleolithic Period (2.5 million – 200,000 years ago). The two sites are found on the northern Elburz (Alborz) Mountain slopes in Iran's Gilan Province.
The Darband caves are located on the steep north bank of the Siah-Rud River canyon. The Siah-Rud is a tributary of the Sefid-Rud River that flows into the Caspian Sea. The site yielded some of the earliest known evidence of Lower Paleolithic cave occupation in the Iran region. The cave mouth faces south and is at an altitude of 750 m. It is accessible by a narrow path that criss-crosses tha canyon wall. The location would have provided security, access to food and water supplies in the valley below as well as a commanding view of the valley.
Iranian archaeologist V. Jahani first examined the site in 2005 at which time, he collected some animal remains and potsherds from the floors of the Darband cave and a neighbouring cave.
In 2006, the site was then re-visited by a team that included F. Biglari, Jahani and Shidrang. That expedition gathered a large number of additional animal remains and a small number of stone artifacts along the cave's western wall. These included awls, scrapers, end-scrappers and core-choppers made from chert (a brittle microcrystalline sedimentary quartz), silicified volcanic tuff and other volcanic rocks. While the site yielded artifacts, humanoid remains are yet to be found in the vicinity.
Ganj Par is located in the Rostamabad Valley about 16 km to the north-west of Darband. There, it sits on a terrace commanding a view of the Kaluraz River valley, a western tributary of the Sefid-Rud River. While Ganj Par is not a cave site, it is located close to Darband Cave and its artifacts date to about the same period. The findings at both these sites can support one another. More than 100 stone artifacts have been found at Ganj Par during a 2002-3 excavation. These include hand-axes, cleavers, a pick, choppers, and other smaller flake tools made of limestone, igneous rocks (tuff, andesite and basalt), and sandstone.
The Kamarband, Huto (or Hotu/Hutu) and Komishan caves are located in the very end of the northern Elburz foothills and hillocks near Behshahr about 50 km west of Sari. The latter two cities are situated on the south-eastern Caspian coast in a region famed as the home of legendary Shah Feridoon. The Kamarband and Huto caves are located about 5 km west of Behshahr near the village of Tarujen/Taroojen or Shahidabad. They are less than 20 km from the present Caspian coast and stand about 100 m apart on a small hillock. The Komishan Cave is about 6 km west of Huto Cave. There is a village called Kuhistan in the vicinity and we presume the two names are versions of each other. There is yet another cave reported to have served as a Stone Age shelter in Ali Tepe (or Tappeh) just east of Behshahr.
In ancient times, the Caspian sea extended several kilometres inland from its present coastline. Around 10,000 BCE, the caves and the land immediately around it would have become accessible and useable as a shelter and hunting grounds respectively as the Caspian Sea was retreating to about 10 km toward the present shoreline. Bones of a variety of local animals have been found in the caves indicating these animals may have been part of the occupants' diet. These include seals, sheep, goats, gazelles, voles (a small rodents similar to a mouse), and birds.
While the artifacts in the caves are dated to the EpiPaleolithic/Mesolithic period 10,000 years before the present, 400,000 year old stone tools (cf. assessment of Professor Marcel Otte of the University of Liege in Belgium) are claimed to have been discovered in the nearby valley of Shuresh near Rostam Kola. Rustam Kola is about further 5 to 10 km to the west of the Huto-Kamarband caves (at nearby Gohar Tepe, a fairly large Chalcolithic period i.e. 3rd to 4th Millennium BCE city has been discovered).
As we had quoted above, The Cambridge History of Iran states at pg 407 that, "It has been claimed (by C. S. Coon in Seven Caves (1957) at pg. 266 - Coon excavated the sites in 1949 and 1951), that the place of the origin of the Neolithic is probably 'a few miles at most from Belt (Kamarband) and Hotu'."
The partial skeletal remains of six people were discovered in the caves. From the size of the bones, it has been surmized that the individuals to whom the bones belonged were modern, tall, and had well-formed muscles. Their life-span is estimated at about forty years. Red ochre was found indicating it was sprinkled on the bodies of the deceased. Given the meagre extent of archaeological explorations in the area, as of this time, the skeletal remains represent the earliest deliberate primary and secondary burials known in the region. The burials are dated to between 7000 and 6500 BCE.
The Kamarband Caves are also called the 'Belt Caves' since Kamarband means belt. Artifacts recovered from the cave include flint blades, bone tools, hand stones and querns, microliths, and heavier blades and flakes. Seal or walrus and deer bones are among the items discovered in the cave.
Two pre-ceramic Neolithic samples were dated to 7,790 BP or 5,840 BCE ± 330 years, while three ceramic Neolithic samples were dated to 7,280 BP or 5,330 BCE ± 260 years.
Three human skeletons dated to approximately 9,000 BCE were reputed in recovered from Kamarband cave.
Huto/Hotu Cave is approximately 30 m x 20 m in size. Twenty-two artifacts recovered from the site include pottery shards and stone tools indicating habitation by eight pottery and pre-pottery cultures, with the 2 earliest cultures, dating to between 9,910 and 7,240 BCE.
Amorphous flakes, pebble tools, seal and dog bones were among the items found in the cave.
C. S. Coon is reported to have found three skeletons at a depth of 40 feet (12 m). The skeletons belonged to one adult male and two children (The Cambridge History of Iran them as females. Another report state the discovery of three skeletons and parts of two skulls) and one of them was dated to 6,135 ± 1,500 BCE.
According to the Cambridge History of Iran quoted earlier, the lowest i.e. earliest levels of the Hotu excavation show an advancement (presumably in the sophistication of tool-making and the appearance of other more developed artifacts) from Upper Paleolithic to Mesolithic culture while excavations in Europe show that contemporaneous levels do not indicate a similar advancement.
Zagros Mountain Cave Dwellings
The Zagros mountains are a 1,500 km long chain of mountains that run from Lake Urmia to the Straits of Hormuz at the entrance of the Persian Gulf (see maps below). The highest peaks are Zard Kuh (4,548m) and Mt. Dena (4,359m). The Chaine Magistrale is the most prominent ridge of the Zagros mountains and it divides the central Zagros region into two zones: the western and eastern Zagros. The eastern zone has a series of high, short, relatively dry valleys whose rivers receive less water than the western zone valleys. The western zone consists of a series of long, narrow valleys of which two are capable of supporting large populations such as the Shahrazor (also spelt Sharizor) valley of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the Iranian Mahi Dasht / Kermanshah valley in Iran.
In 317 BCE, the Macedonian commander Antigonus Monophthalmus is quoted as saying that he encountered Kossaeans (Kassites) in the Zagros Mountains calling them cavemen. The Kassites inhabited the Hamadan-Kermanshah-Lorestan/Luristan area of present day Iran.
In Nomads and the Outside World, p.103, Anatoly Michailovich Khazanov states "Curtius Rufus (1st century CE) describes how the Mardeans (one of the nomadic Persian people according to Herodotus) dug caves in the mountains and hid in them with their wives and children (V.6.17)...." Khazanov adds as a footnote, "It is curious that the habit of using caves as winter shelters for livestock continues has been preserved up to the present day by semi-nomadic Kurds and Lurs...."
We have devoted an entire page to the Shanidar Cave found in a north-western spur of the Zagros Mountains. Several other Zagros Mountain caves are described below.
Gar-e Shekarchian & Gar-e Kar near Behistun
The Gar-e Shekarchian (Hunters' Cave) or Behistun (also spelt Bisotoun, Bistoon, Bisitun, Bisutun) Cave is located in the northwest Iranian province of Kermanshah. It is found on the western slopes of the Zagros at an altitude of about 1,400 m.
Artifacts found in the Gar-e Shekarchian or Behistun cave - a relatively small cave - are dated to the Middle Paleolithic period (200,000 to 35,000 years ago). The stone tool artifacts discovered in it have been associated with Zagros Group Mousterian industry type.
The cave was excavated in 1949 by Carlton Coon of The University Museum, University of Pennsylvania [Coon is considered by some as the founder of Paleolithic archaeology in Iran]. Coon uncovered moderately rich deposits of Middle Paleolithic artifacts including bones of gazelles, red deer, and equids (the wild Asian ass called onagers?), as well as two hominin bone fragments from a level dated to 35,000-40,000 years ago and thought to have Neanderthal (called "Neanderthaloid" by Coon) characteristics. The site, located above the famous Behistun spring, may have been a camping spot for hunters.
About 100 m from the Gar-e Shekarchian is a cave called Gar-e Kar where authors T. C. Young and P. E. L. Smith report [in Research in the Prehistory of Central Western Iran, (1966) pp. 386-91] that implements related to the beginning of agriculture and food production were found and identified as such.
The Do-Ashkaft Cave (shkaft is the Kurdish word for cave - and the name means two-caves) is also located in the province of Kermanshah. It is found north of the city of Kermanshah, near the Taq-e Bostan historical site at an altitude of about 1600 m. The mouth of the cave faces south and overlooks Kuhistan National Park.
The Mousterian type stone artifacts discovered in the cave by Iranian researchers, F. Biglari and S. Heydari in 1999 indicate that the cave was occupied in the Middle Paleolithic period. The raw material for the stone tools match rock outcrops around the cave.