The Archaeological Cultures Represented by the Potsherds from
Tall-i Qaleh and Tall-i Shogha, Fars, Southwest Iran

M. Hossein Azizi Kharanaghi

The sites’ settings


Archaeological cultures

Based on typology, the potsherds collected at Tall-i Qaleh and Tall-i Shogha are assignable to Chalcolithic (Bakun), Bronze Age (Kaftari) and Iron Age (Qaleh and Shogha/Timoran) cultures thus far defined in South Iran. What follows are the archaeological backgrounds for these cultural phases.

Bakun Culture (ca. 5200–4000 BC)

In the Fars Region, the Chalcolithic period began around the late sixth to the early fifth millennium BC. The “Bakun society” represents the Chalcolithic phase of the highland culture of Fars, which maintained close relations with societies in lowland southwestern Iran. This period consists of three phases, each represented by different sites; that is, Bakun B (early), Tall-i Gap (middle), and Bakun A (late); each phase is distinguished by characteristic ceramic styles. The economy was mainly based on agro-pastoralism, supplemented by hunting. The settlements were generally small (<1 ha), but a few were as large as 6 to 8 ha, indicating a two-tiered site hierarchy. Excavations at the Bakun sites have not yielded any evidence for the presence of religious centers, but attest to craft production, long distance trade, and the earliest examples of administration and sophisticated pastoral life in the Fars highlands (Alizadeh 2006).

Kaftari Culture (ca. 2200–1600 BC)

Vanden Berghe described Kaftari pottery after surveys and excavations in the Marvdasht Plain in the 1950s (1954: 402–403). Sumner’s surveys of the Kur River Basin in the 1960s (1972: 44–48, pls, XXIII–XXXVI) and the Malyan excavations (Nickerson 1983; 1991; Miller and Sumner 2004; Sumner 1974; 1988; 2003: 52–54), provided more information on the characteristics of the Kaftari ceramics. According to Sumner’s surveys, 77 archaeological sites with Kaftari pottery were recorded in the Marvdasht Plain (1972: 44). Some excavated sites where Kaftari ceramics were found include Tall-i Nokhodi (Goff 1963; 1964), Tall-i Zahak (Stien 1936), Tall-i pie Tall Bushehr (Pézard 1914), Tall-i Spide and Nurabad (Potts and Rustaei 2006; Petrie et al. 2005), and the southern part of Persepolis (Abdi and Attaei 2007). The Kaftari period is divided into three different phases: Early (2200–1900 BC), Middle (1900–1800 BC) and Late (1800–1600 BC) (Sumner 1989).

Sumner classified the ceramics into two varieties: 1. Buff ware with chaff temper, and 2. fine buff ware with a thick red slip. Both varieties comprise both painted and unpainted types. Some Kaftari ceramics are gray, and were kitchen ware. Painted decorations on buff ware are varied, and include fine brown parallel stripes separated by undulating lines. Sometimes these have complex decorations or a combination of both types of decoration. The bird decorative element is probably the most common one on the Kaftari buff painted ware in the Kur River Basin, with the birds always facing left (Sumner 1992: 286–287).

On the other hand, a large collection of Kaftari ceramics was found at Tall-i Malyan, which was published in Nickerson’s (1983) Ph.D. dissertation. He proposed a relative chronology for the different phases noted in the Malyan excavated trenches. In this chronology, different layers and architectural features were assigned to the early, middle, and late Kaftari phases, based on the presence of buff and red slip wares. In the early Kaftari phase, red slip wares are common, but in the late phase, buff wares occur in a higher percentage (Nickerson 1983: 198, Table 19). Based on typology, he divided the Kaftari ceramics into four types: 1. buff ware, 2. red ware, 3. coarse gray ware, and 4. Qaleh ware (Nickerson 1983: 128).

Qaleh Culture (Middle Elamite Period) (ca. 1600–1300 BC)

Vanden Berghe described Qaleh pottery after his surveys and excavations in the Marvdasht Plain in the 1950s (1954: 404). He recorded painted Qaleh pottery at a few sites in the Kur River Basin, and noted its resemblance to the Kaftari ceramics (Sumner 1972). Considerable new information arose from excavations at Tall-i Malyan, but its correct chronology and evolution of ceramics, is not well known. It is still not clear as to what exactly occurred at the end of the Kaftari period (ca. 1600 BC) (Potts and Roustaei 2006:10). Qaleh ceramics are found mixed with Kaftari Standard and Simple Middle Elamite ceramics in the late Kaftari phases of Malyan (Nickerson 1983). The first appearance of Qaleh pottery is from the upper layers of trenches GHI and ABC, found mixed with Kaftari ceramics. Qaleh pottery with a developed design was found in trench EDD under a Middle Elamite building. This trench also yielded a Qaleh pottery kiln (Nickerson 1983: Table 19; Carter 1984: 172; 1991: 295–296; Sumner 1988: 309, 312–313; 2003: Table 12).

Jacobs states that Malyan is the center of Qaleh pottery production, and this pottery was imported to the Kur River Basin. Qaleh ceramics are sparse in the Tall-i Darvazeh and Tall-i Timoran collections (1980: 61–63). Stratigraphical and typological analysis of layers shows that the painted varieties of the Kaftari and Qaleh ceramics occurred together for a while (Sumner 1999). Two types of Qaleh pottery are known: simple and painted buff wares. The simple buff wares are very similar to the simple Kaftari and Middle Elamite ceramics. The occurrence of Qaleh pottery with late Kaftari ceramics shows that they had similar sequences. Kaftari types were more local but Qaleh ceramics were widely distributed (Potts and Roustaei 2006: 10).

Although Qaleh ceramics continue with the tradition of the Kaftari style, the Qaleh painted type is similar to the Kaftari painted ware. The Qaleh painted pottery is harder, denser, and smoother than the Kaftari buff ware. Spherical pots with necks forms are prevalent. The body has a steep angle, and with design bands on the shoulders or at the junction of the neck and the body. They have short, straight, and cylindrical pipes, and horizontal handles, just like the Shogha ceramics. Small bowls with beveled rims, and small cups are present (Haerinck and Overlaet 2003).

Decorative motifs on the Qaleh pots are almost exclusively limited to the shoulder. Other decorations comprise narrow and thin winding bands, vertical lines between bands, circles with cross hatching, and sometimes motifs of birds with tree branches, and V-shaped birds facing right.

Shogha and Timoran Cultures (ca. 1300–900 BC)

Vanden Berghe (1954) described the Shogha pottery after his surveys and excavations in the Marvdasht Plain in the 1950s. Shogha is a mound site, located 12 km from Persepolis, to the south, and was excavated by Mahmoud Rad of the Iranian Archaeological Office in 1941 (Mostafavi 1964: 29). Vanden Berghe recognized Shogha pottery at 17 other sites in the Marvdasht Plain (1952: 216–218; 1954: 404; 1959: 54–56).

Based on Vanden Berge’s reports at these sites, Shogha pottery occurs in the upper Qaleh and Timoran periods. All Shogha, Qaleh, and Timoran ceramics are found in the Tall-i Darvazeh excavations (Nikol 1967) and were analyzed by Jacobs (1980). Shogha pottery has mostly cores, a low temper and gray core, the surfaces are rough, and in some cases, have a light to dark buff or light red slip. Rim forms are mostly simple and the edges are often slightly inverted; the bases are mostly flat. Forms include pots, jars, bowls, trays, tripod vessels, and cylindrical cups. Designs include zigzags, circle of flowers, dot motifs under the rim of bowls, standing birds, the tops of triangular shaped mountains, designs with cross hatches, and sometimes fish. For the design motifs, colors such as black, brown, and red were used (Jacobs 1980).

Timoran ceramics were classified by Vanden Berge as Timoran A, and are distinctive from the Shogha ceramics. In the Timoran ceramics, the body used sand as a temper and was fired to a high temperature. The surface color is dark red, and in some cases covered by a thin buff slip. Vanden Berge (1952) divided the Timoran period into two sub phases: A and B. The diagnostic pottery of Timoran A has buff to orange colors, and designs include black geometric motifs, in particular, parallel lines and inverted triangles. Based on excavations in the cemetery of Timoran A phase, he also classified three pottery groups belonging to this phase (Vanden Berge 1954: 404–405; 1959: 44). The first group has designs of inverted triangles that he believed were abstract representation of trees. The second group has parallel lines on the shoulders that are compatible with the Mesopotamian Khabor ceramics. The third group comprises coarse, handmade, unpainted, dark gray pottery, and used sand as a temper. Another kind of pottery in this group comprises wheel-made wares with a sand temper, sometimes a gray-red thin slip, and that are decorated with black or brown motifs (Overlaet 1997). Based on the Tall-i Darvazeh excavations and surface surveys, Jacobs distinguished nine kinds of Timoran pottery forms (1980: 63–79).

Timoran B pottery was found in one grave at Tall-i Timoran (Vandan Berghe 1954). The diagnostic pottery of the Timoran B phase is gray or black, unpainted, and comparable with Giyan 1b and Sialk cemetery A (Overlaet 1997). Sumner did not report sherds of Timoran B pottery in his survey of the Kur River Basin (1972: 31). Jacobs also did not find this kind of pottery at Tall-i Shogha, Tall-i Timoran, and Tall-i Darvazeh (1980:57–59). Sumner believed that the reason for this absence was that Timoran pottery B was imported from the central plateau cultures (1994: 101). This pottery has also been found in other parts of the Fars region such as Qaleh Tall-i Kabod, south of Shiraz, and some sites to the north of the Kur River Basin (Alizade 1997; Abdi and Attaei 2007: 33). Suggested dates of the Shogha-Timoran period are around 1600-700 BC (Overlaet 1997).