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Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Baradostian Culture (Upper Palaeolithic) (Near East)
c.36,000 - 18,000 BC

The Baradostian was an Upper Palaeolithic (Late Old Stone Age) flint tool culture in the Near East which succeeded the Neanderthal-led Mousterian culture. It encompassed an area which was focussed mainly on northern Mesopotamia and eastern Anatolia - modern Iraq, Syria, and Turkey - and centred on the Zagros Mountains between Iraq and Iran).

This culture was contemporary with the long-lived Emireh in the Levant, and also the Aurignacian culture in Europe. It is thought by some (M Otte at least) to be an eastern expression of the Aurignacian or, perhaps more correctly, the Aurignacian was a western expression of the Baradostian, expanding alongside modern human settlement in Europe.

Due to the paucity of archaeological remains from this period the emergence of the Baradostian is not well understood, and neither are its origins. Anatomically modern humans lived alongside Neanderthal populations for up to thirty thousand years, although population numbers may have waxed and waned during that time.

Anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals also integrated to an extent, with a notable percentage of Neanderthal DNA being found in modern human populations of this time period and region, and also immediately after it. It is probably the case that Homo sapiens brought its own Palaeolithic tool-making traditions from Africa, but these skills must have been influenced by what those humans found the Neanderthals doing, so the Baradostian may be as much influenced by Neanderthals as was human DNA.

With a type site in a cave at Shanidar (in Iraqi Kurdistan), radiocarbon dates suggest that this is one of the earliest Upper Palaeolithic complexes. It was certainly extant by 30,000 BC and may have begun as early as 36,000 BC. Its relationship to neighbouring industries, however, remains unclear, even in regard to the potential sister Emireh culture. Other major sites include Warwasi rock-shelter and Yafteh Cave in the western Zagros, and Eshkaft-e Gavi Cave in the southern Zagros.

The Baradostian seems to have ended with the maximum cold of the last phase of the Würm glaciation, the most recent cold phase of the most recent ice age. Following possible cultural and typological discontinuity it was succeeded by the Zarzian culture in northern Mesopotamia and eastern Turkey, while the regionally-dominant Levantine Aurignacian had already begun to make its own transition.

Ahmarian tools

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Palaeolithic Hominin Remains from Eshkaft-e Gavi (Southern Zagros Mountains, Iran), J E Scott, from Makers of the Early Aurignacian of Europe, Steven E Churchill & Fred H Smith (Yearbook of Physical Anthropology Vol 43:61-115 (2000)), from The Palaeolithic Prehistory of the Zagros-Taurus, Harold L Dibble, from Eighty Years of Iranian Archaeology Vols 1 & 2, Yousef Hassanzadeh & Sima Miri (Eds), and from External Links: Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Encyclopaedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory, Second Edition, N Benco, A S Brooks, E Delson, C Kramer, & J J Shea (PDF Extract (700 pages), 2000), and Makers of the Early Aurignacian of Europe, Steven E Churchill & Fred H Smith (2000).)

c.37,000 BC

The latter part of the Interpleniglacial (or Middle Würm glaciation) is marked by the Hengelo/Denekamp temperate period between 37,000-27,000 BC. It is during this relatively warm and wet interval that the Mousterian culture and Neanderthals disappear.

Initial Upper Palaeolithic (IUP) cultures also proliferate - such as the Emireh-related Ahmarian culture - and then quickly disappear. The Baradostian and Aurignacian cultures both emerge. Modern humans have already entered Europe from the Near East and are gradually becoming established there, possibly using the Emireh culture as an access corridor.

Shanidar cave in Iraqi Kurdistan
Solecki's pioneering archaeological studies of the Shanidar cave skeletons and their burials suggested the complex social skills which Neanderthals are now acknowledged to have possessed (External Link: Creative Commons Licence)

c.36,000 BC

Directly overlaying the Mousterian occupation levels at Shanidar cave in Iraqi Kurdistan, the early Baradostian industry of the Zagros region shows that modern humans supplant Neanderthals here.

The Baradostian is characterised by a high percentage of burins (chisel-like stone tools), some with a distinctive nosed profile which is reminiscent of Aurignacian burins (the findings here serve as the basis for the novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel, regarding an anatomically-modern human being raised by Neanderthals).

c.30,000 BC

The rock-shelter at Warwasi in the western Zagros Mountains sits at an altitude of 1,300 metres above sea level - an idea location from which to spot game on the Tang-i-knisht Valley below. There seems to be little tree cover to obscure the view during this interglacial, which manifests itself in this region in the form of a harsh, dry climate.

The late Baradostian archaeological levels which are found here show an increased manufacture of microlithic tools. This is in comparison to the less frequent use of microliths at early Baradostian sites such as Shanidar cave.

The increase, which can be dated between 30,000-20,000 BC, could be related to an increasing population at the late period site (about eighteen thousand artefacts in comparison with twenty-three from Shanidar). It could also be part of the eventual shift from the Baradostian to the succeeding Zarzian culture.

Zagros Mountains
The Zagros Mountain range provided various ancient peoples with a home, usually tribal groups which needed to shelter from more advanced regional states

c.26,000 BC

Eshkaft-e Gavi cave experiences a long period of occupation across the Mousterian and Baradostian, although not necessarily unbroken use. The cave is located in the southern Zagros Mountains of Iran and is one of the few archaeological sites in the region to preserve both Middle Palaeolithic and Upper Palaeolithic occupations.

Excavation of the site in the 1970s discovers an assemblage of lithic and faunal remains. These include bone fragments from a minimum of four hominins, including two juveniles. Although many of these remains could be Epi-Palaeolithic (ie. Mesolithic) in age, the mandibular molar from one of the juveniles is found at the base of the cave's Upper Palaeolithic sequence.

The remains are very fragmentary, but modern humans are indicated. Four of the fragments which date to around 26,000 BC display clear evidence of intentional butchery in the form of stone-tool cut marks. These fragments, along with a fragment of parietal bone, are also burned.

Eshkaft-e Gavi cave
Carleton Coon's 1951 examination of the Eshkaft-e Gavi cave in the southern Zagros Mountains was one of a large number of expeditions into the region until political events in Iran curtailed any further work for some decades

FeatureAlthough this evidence is consistent with cannibalism, the small sample makes it difficult to say whether or not the individuals which are represented by these hominin remains were butchered and cooked for consumption. Nevertheless, the cut-marked Eshkaft-e Gavi specimens add to a growing sample of hominin remains which display evidence of intentional defleshing (see feature link for another example of this custom).

c.18,000 BC

The little-understood and poorly recorded Upper Palaeolithic Near East flint tool culture of the Baradostian has been accelerating its use of microliths for at least ten thousand years.

Now that acceleration tips over into a replacement in the Zagros Mountains: the Mesolithic Zarzian culture. The Levant-based Kebaran and Qaraoun are contemporaries, while the later Trialetian industry zone of the South Caucasus counts the Baradostian as a forebear.

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