Tell-e Atashi

Tell-e Atashi is the main Neolithic of the Bam-Narmashir region. It is located in Darestan, ca. 30 km east of the Arg-e Bam. This site was inscribed on the List of the Historical Monuments of Iran (no. 3343) in 2001 per the effort of Dr. N.A. Soleimani.

Neolithic sites in Darestan, Kerman, Iran, with location of Tell-e Atashi (©BAM).
Main mounded part of Tell-e Atashi (right) and views of its central and western areas (left) (©BAM).

This site is a ca. 5.7 ha mound, surrounded by a ca. 6.3 ha “scatter site,” i.e., a flat expanse of archaeological materials. After Dr. C. Adle and his colleagues visited this site in the aftermath of the earthquake that struck Bam in 2003, Dr. O. Garazhian opened a test-trench in the southwestern and uppermost deposits of its mounded part in 2008. This test-trench exposed mudbrick architectural levels radiocarbon dated to between the late sixth and mid-fifth millennia cal. BCE. In 2017 and 2018, BAM opened new test-trenches (TT1-7) in other locations of the site and extended the 2008 test-trench to a ca. 33 long stratigraphic trench (Excavation 1). This trench provided a complete view of the stratigraphy in this area, which is 9 meter-thick between the virgin soil and the surface of the 2008 test-trench. New radiocarbon dates from Excavation 1 confirmed those from the 2008 field-season, as they cluster around the late sixth millennium cal. BCE.

Views of Excavation 1 and the 2008 test-trench at Tell-e Atashi, Darestan, Iran (©BAM).

In 2017, BAM opened a ca. 165 m2 excavation (Excavation 2) that aimed at studying over larger expanses than in Excavation 1 and in the 2017 test-trenches how the communities of Tell-e Atashi built and organized their habitat. Well-preserved living spaces were found in Excavation 2, including rooms with walls with buttresses as well living floors associated with hearths with chimneys.

Excavation 2 at Tell-e Atashi, Darestan, Iran (©BAM).
Views of Excavation 2 at Tell-e Atashi, Darestan, Iran (©BAM).

The radiocarbon dates from Tell-e Atashi make this site generally contemporary with Tepe Yahya Neolithic Period VII (ca. 5600–4600 cal. BCE) and slightly later than Tepe Gaz Tavila (ca. 5800–5400 cal. BCE), west of the Jebal Barez, the former in the Soghun Plain and the latter in the Daulatabad Plain. The mudbricks from Tell-e Atashi are “thumb-impressed” and similar to those from Tepe Yahya Neolithic-Chalcolithic Periods VII-VB as well as Tal-i Iblis Period I, Tepe Sialk Period II, and Mehrgarh Period I. The rest of the material culture from Tell-e Atashi (including lithics; bone objects; stone beads, vessels, perforated discs; and grinding stones) has general parallels at Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites in Iran and Pakistan. An important difference, however, with most known sixth and fifth millennia BCE sites in Iran is that Tell-e Atashi is an aceramic site. Also, this site is characterized by an abundant assemblage of unbaked clay objects including figurines, cones, pawns, balls, and miniature dishes. Although some of these objects have parallels at other sites in Iran, including in Kerman and Fars, as well as at Mehrgarh in Pakistan, the amounts recorded at Tell-e Atashi appear relatively unusual. It is probably worth mentioning that the human figurines from this site are the closest parallels for the Neolithic figurines that characterize Mehrgarh.

Basket fragment, wood fragments, bone awl, stone disc and stone bowl from Tell-e Atashi, Darestan, Iran (©BAM).
Unbaked clay objects from Tell-e Atashi, Darestan, Iran (©BAM).
Unbaked clay animal (left) and human (right) figurines from Tell-e Atashi, Darestan, Iran (©BAM).

With regard to the subsistence economy, ongoing archaebotanical analysis conducted by Dr. Z. Shirazi and Dr. M. Tengberg has recorded domesticated wheat and barley as well as wild grasses (gramineae, wild rye, bromes, oats), wild pulses (astragalus, fabaceae), and oil seeds (flax). Study of the faunal assemblage is currently being conducted by Dr. S. Samei and S. Ashari.

Certainly, set as it is between the Fertile Crescent and South Asia, the study of Tell-e Atashi and the Neolithic regional settlement in Darestan is of considerable importance for shedding light onto the processes of neolithization across the Iranian Plateau and further east. At present state of knowledge, it is probably worth noting that while Tell-e Atashi shares a number of parallels with Neolithic and Chalcolithic sites located west of the Jebal Barez, it also connects to Mehrgarh in Pakistan. Similar “thumb-impressed” mudbricks and unbaked clay human figurines were recorded at both sites. Mehrgarh yielded aceramic Neolithic deposits, like at Tell-e Atashi. Additionally, the radiocarbon dates from Tell-e Atashi are comparable to a series of radiocarbon dates from Mehrgarh aceramic Neolithic period, although this period is generally though to be earlier than the late sixth and mid-fifth millennia BCE.

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