Results from a survey of Chalcolithic settlements in the plain of Kazeroun, Iran

Alireza Hejebri Nobari, Mohammad Hossein Rezaei, Hamed Vahdati Nasab & Farhang Khademi Nadooshan

Figure 1
Figure 1. Location map of Kazeroun County, Iran.
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Kazeroun County is located in Fars province in Iran at an altitude of 732m asl (Figure 1). The plain of Kazeroun and Lake Parishan sit between two mountain ranges oriented north-west to south-east (Mozaffarian 1994: 25).

The majority of studies in this area have been conducted by western archaeologists on historical sites (in particular of the Sassanid period) such as the city of Bishapour and at Tange Chogan, Sar Mashad and Tange Ghandil. Prehistoric investigations, on the other hand, have been few. Among research carried out recently, a systematic surface survey of Bishapour was conducted in 2006 (Rajayi 2006), the route from Bishapour to Borazjan was traced in 2007 (Ghasemi 2008), the Palaeolithic sites of the Lake Parishan area were evaluated in 2007 (Vahdati Nasab 2008), and a survey of archaeological sites in the central Kazeroun plain was undertaken by one of the authors in 2007 (Rezaei 2007).

Aims, method and results

The objective of our survey was to locate and identify prehistoric sites in the area under study; more broadly to study settlement patterns, population fluctuations over time, the relationship between sites and the environment and finally to identify important central places.

To survey the Kazeroun plain, satellite maps and a topographic map at a scale of 1:50 000 were first prepared, and the plain divided into four parts: north, south, east and west. The survey itself was conducted from south to north and the sampling method was random. For each site, a Kazeroun Survey number (SK number) was assigned. The data gathered included GPS position, site dimensions, local topography, information regarding place names or historical background, and factors such as vegetation, climate and landscape. Twenty-four prehistoric sites of the Neolithic to the Late Bronze Age were identified. The oldest sites belong to the Middle Neolithic (Tale Mushki and Jari) and the most recent to the mid second millennium BC (Qhaleh). In all, 19 sites can be ascribed to the Chalcolithic period (Table 1).

Download Table 1: Characteristics of the Chalcolithic sites surveyed in the Kazeroun plain

Various types of sites such as multi-period hill settlements and cemeteries were found. Criteria for their classification and relative chronology were based on the study of the surface pottery. For the Chalcolithic this was done with reference to pottery of the Bakun B2 period from the site of Tale Bakun. The Middle Chalcolithic was identified with reference to Bakun A pottery, the Late Chalcolithic was recognised by studying the Lapui pottery found in layer A5 at Tale Bakun, and the Final Chalcolithic was characterised with reference to the Initial Banesh pottery from Tale Malyan.

Distribution patterns

In evaluating our data, a number of variables were considered. These variables included the distance to water resources and agricultural land, altitude, size and density of sites, their landscape setting and their chronological sequence.

1. Distribution of sites with reference to altitude
Most of the sites and hill settlements of the Chalcolithic period surveyed by GPS in the Kazeroun plain were between 800 and 900m asl, as shown on Figure 2.

Figure 2
Figure 2. Distribution of sites relative to altitude.
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Figure 3
Figure 3. Distribution of sites relative to water resources.
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2. Distribution of sites with reference to water
The region occupies a suitable position in terms of access to water, with Lake Parishan and the river Jereh playing a determining role. Our survey showed that there is a close relationship between water networks and archaeological sites (Figure 3).

3. Distribution of sites with reference to vegetation
We considered the distance between settlements and fertile agricultural land but cannot be certain about past subsistence regimes and whether the settlers were farmers or not. This is however likely, as the plain of Kazeroun is fertile and has the potential for agriculture, with Lake Parishan and the river Shapur providing suitable conditions for irrigation agriculture. All the Chalcolithic sites of the Kazeroun plain are located on agricultural land, and the surface of much of these sites has been destroyed by agriculture (Figure 4).

Figure 4
Figure 4. Distribution of sites relative to vegetation.
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Figure 5
Figure 5. Site groupings according to surface area.
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4. Extent of sites
The extent of the sites surveyed can shed light on their importance and the population of the region at different times. Further, it can be regarded as an index for analysing relationships within and without settlements. Our sites were classified in groups based on their extent, as shown in Figure 5.

5. Site chronology
On 17 Chalcolithic sites finds were identified along with finds from later periods, in particular the Bronze Age and Parthian periods. Four sites, Tale Qhaleh Naranji, Tale Zirakan, Tale Panj Mahal and Tale Dehdaran include finds of the Chalcolithic and earlier periods. Overall, the sites can be classified as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6
Figure 6. Site groupings according to periods of occupation.
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Figure 7
Figure 7. Site groupings according to number of sites.
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Settlement pattern

As our main purpose was to identify the settlement pattern in the region, we shall concentrate on this aspect of the survey. We take settlement pattern to be the distribution of human activity in the context of the landscape and the relationship between such activities and the social environment (Schreiber 1996: 636). To better understand this pattern, we turned to cluster analysis and the method we used was the hierarchical compression method. In this method, all the data with a high degree of similarity were first grouped, and then the data with a lower degree of similarity. The basis for classification was comparison of survey data with geographical and natural conditions as well as the distance between sites. The result produced four groups or clusters (A–D) as shown in Figure 7.

Group A
This group is the largest group with 8 sites (SK003, 004, 007,008, 010, 013, 014 and 022), making 42.1 per cent of the sites studied and showing the highest degree of similarity. Mean elevation is about 780m asl and is thus considered low (plain location). This region has rich water resources (Lake Parishan and Shapur River), fertile soil with suitable plant resources and the most appropriate landscape for agriculture. The sites in this group are mostly 100–500m from water resources, the closest to water. These sites are located on land appropriate for irrigation culture. No doubt because of the wealth of natural resources in this region, there are no single-period settlements in this group. Mean site area in this group is the lowest surface area among the groups. Tale Panj Mahal (SK021) is the largest in this group with a surface area of 5000m² and occupation ranges between the Neolithic and the Achaemenid period. The smallest site in this group is Tale Siah (SK014) with a surface area of 2400m².

Group B
Group B consists of 5 sites (SK002, 005, 006, 015 and 024), amounting to 26.3 per cent of the sites. Mean elevation is 840m asl. These sites are located within 1500–2500m from water. In all sites of this group, Chalcolithic finds were found together with finds from later periods. Tale Badi (SK005) is the most distinguished member of this group dating back to Early Chalcolithic. At present these sites are surrounded by agricultural land and their surface is used for cultivation. This group is the second in rank for surface area after group C. Tale Qhaleh Naranji (SK006) with a surface area of 14 000m² is the largest settlement in this group and has material ranging from the Middle Neolithic to the late second millennium BC.

Group C
Group C accounts for 21.8 per cent of the sites with 4 sites (SK011, 020, 021 and 023). The sites in this group are located in the southern and western tips of the city of Kazeroun. Mean elevation is 800m asl with an average distance from water of 3500–10 500m. The sites in this group belong to a number of periods and contain material from both before and after the Chalcolithic. This group ranks first in terms of surface area. The largest site in this group is Tale Dehdaran (SK023) with a surface area of c. 10ha and it has produced finds from the Middle Neolithic to the Sassanid period.

Group D
Group D contains just two sites (SK017 and 018). Mean elevation is 875m asl and the distance from water of 2500–3500m. Currently these sites are surrounded by agricultural land and their surface is used for cultivation. This group is third in rank in terms of surface area, Tale Nasir Abad (SK017) being the largest settlement with an area of 31 500m². The material from this site ranges from the Late Chalcolithic to the Sassanid period, while Tale Zirakan's (SK018) finds date back to the Middle Neolithic.

Central places?

In the region under study, it appears that central place theory is a useful analytical tool. It supposes in each geographical region a population centre and a volume of goods and services larger than in other centres. Such a pattern can be evaluated in regions without natural barriers or limiting factors such as mountains, valleys and desert that restrict the spatial distribution (Alizadeh 2001: 198).

The extent of a site cannot be regarded as an absolute index for a central place, but it is a factor. Looking at our site groupings, we note that 58 per cent (10 sites) have an area of less than 1ha, while three sites are the largest with an area between 75 000 and 100 000m².

Tale Jeidoun (SK01) has a surface area of 7.5ha and lies 13m above the surrounding landscape. It has produced finds of the Early and Late Chalcolithic, the mid first millennium BC and from different historic to Islamic periods (Hojabri Nobari et al. 2009). Tale Rashtoun (SK020) has an area of 7.5ha and rises 21m above the surrounding land. It has produced material of the Early and Late Chalcolithic, three phases of the Bronze Age, the mid second millennium BC (Ghale culture) and the historic period. Tale Dehdaran (SK023), with an approximate area of 10ha and lying 15m above the surrounding land, has produced Middle and Late Neolithic as well as Chalcolithic and Bronze Age finds (Rezaei et al. 2008).

Beside these three large sites, we can cite Tale Badi (SK010) with an area of 1.5ha and 11.5m higher than the surrounding landscape, with finds of the Chalcolithic, Bronze Age and mid and late second millennium BC (Qhaleh period).

In sum, the surface area of these sites and wealth of material of various periods suggest that they are long-lived and occupy a central position.


Considering our four groups, we conclude that the settlements of the Lake Parishan basin are located on average at around 700 to 900m asl. Most settlements are small: nearly half of them occupy an area of less than 1ha. Water played an essential role in the location of the sites: nearly half are within 500m of water. The proximity of Chalcolithic settlements to Lake Parishan in the centre of the Kazeroun plain, the Shapur River and agricultural land has been demonstrated. There appears to be a relationship between the course of the rivers and the extent of farms on the one hand, and the number of archaeological sites on the other: indeed as the distance from Lake Parishan, permanent rivers and cultivable land increases, the number of sites decreases.

A considerable increase in the number of settlements coincides with the start of the Chalcolithic. Among Early Chalcolithic sites, only four sites (Tepe Qhaleh Naranji, Tale Zirakan, Tale Panj Mahal and Tale Dehdaran) show continuity from older periods (i.e. from the Neolithic) while 13 sites have no evidence for continuity. Out of the 19 Chalcolithic settlements, 17 sites produced pottery of the Early Chalcolithic, 9 of the Middle Chalcolithic and 10 of the Late Chalcolithic. Their distribution is shown in chronological order on Figures 8 to 11. The considerable increase in the number of settlements in the Chalcolithic compared to the Neolithic suggests prosperity and an increase in the population of the area.

Figure 8
Figure 8. Early Chalcolithic distribution.
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Figure 9
Figure 9. Middle Chalcolithic distribution.
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Figure 10
Figure 10. Late Chalcolithic distribution.
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Figure 11
Figure 11. Final Chalcolithic distribution.
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* Author for correspondence

All at Archaeology, Tarbiat Modares University, Jalal Al Ahmad Highway, P.O.Box 14115-111, Tehran, Iran