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Near East Kingdoms

Early Cultures


Hissar Culture (Pottery Neolithic / Chalcolithic) (Iran)
c.5000 - 3900 BC

The term 'Fertile Crescent' refers to a geographical area in the Near East which arcs between the Jordan Valley of the Levant and the Euphrates and Tigris estuary. It also reaches up into southern and central Anatolia (modern Turkey), which is part of the northern Syrian zone in which true farming first seems to have occurred. It was in this Fertile Crescent that the distant effects of the most recent ice age faded perhaps the quickest, which allowed Neolithic Farmer processes to be undertaken in small but significant steps.

Moves towards full-farming went through ever-improving steps being taken towards the creation of civilisation, most notably during the Natufian period. The subsequent Khiamian accelerated the process as an early phase of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A (abbreviated to PPNA). In turn the PPNA evolved into the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B culture (or PPNB).

The Hissar culture emerged around 5000 BC, based on rough estimations about the earliest archaeological layer. This was about a millennium after the start of the full-blown Pottery Neolithic in the Fertile Crescent, but the Hissar's type site was located quite some way to the east of this. The site is Tepe Hissar (or Tappa Ḥeṣār), a settlement mound which is located in Iran's south-eastern corner of the Caspian Sea, at the junction between Near East and Far East.

The people of this culture had continued Mesolithic practices right down to the arrival of farming. To the north lie valleys which are rich in flint, lead, wood, fruit, deer, stag, boar, fish, and fowl, with desert to the south. Various excavations have been carried out, notably in 1877 and 1931-1932, the latter by the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

The site's history has been divided into several phases as a result of the analysis of burial ceramics, with period 1A-1C being relevant for the Neolithic and early Chalcolithic culture. The crossover into Period 2A is somewhat confusing, so 1C and 2A are often combined in terms of their story. The crossover between them occurs at a point between about 3980-3865 BC. The site remained occupied (with a potential break) until an epidemic struck around 1900 BC, although a Sassanid palace was added nearby at a later date.

Architectural remains for Hissar Period I consist of fragmentary čina walls with traces of mud-brick. Rooms are rectilinear - typical for farmer cultures - but no complete building plans have been recovered. Period 2B walls have regularly-spaced exterior buttresses, displaying a shift in building quality and style following the uncertain Period 1C/2A transition.

Full farming had certainly been established by Period 2, but Period 1 had already witnessed full-time craft specialists mass-producing standardised painted pottery. Period 1 pottery was handmade, but Period 2 witnessed the arrival of the pottery wheel. Finished items were generally painted buff or red, or was plain utility ware decorated with geometric, plant, and animal motifs such as gazelles, ibexes, and birds.

Western connections are visible in ceramics and button-seals, but these fade by the start of Period 3 to echo eastern traditions from Margiana and Bactria. Possibly some semblance of the Kel'teminar could have been involved, and certainly the later BMAC. Broad skull types of the Period 1 people were superseded by longer skulls, potentially those of early Indo-Iranians.

Neolithic farmers in the Levant

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from First Farmers: The Origins of Agricultural Societies, Peter Bellwood (Second Ed, Wiley-Blackwell, 2022), from Excavations at Tepe Hissar, Damghan, Erich F Schmidt (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), and from External Links: Tracing the Origin and Spread of Agriculture in Europe, Ron Pinhasi, Joaquim Fort, & Albert J Ammerman (PLOS Biology, published online 29 Nov 2005), and Archaeobotany: Plant Domestication, Chris Stevens & Leilani Lucas (Reference Module in Social Sciences, 2023, available via Science Direct), and Tepe Hissar (Encyclopaedia Iranica), and Hissar I, Erich F Schmidt (The Museum Journal XXIII, No 4, December, 1933, pp 340-365, accessed via Pennsylvania Museum).)

c.5000 BC

Period 1A of the farming Hissar culture of the later Pottery Neolithic emerges around this point, located well to the east of the Fertile Crescent and perhaps needing some time for Neolithic Farmer practices to find their way to this south-eastern corner of the Caspian Sea.

Remains of a town from the Hissar culture
The Hissar culture and its type site (shown here) arose during the middle Pottery Neolithic, with farming influences having reached it somewhat later than the Fertile Crescent and Zagros Mountains

c.4500 BC

The discovery of copper metallurgy has developed into an industry which can be used as part of everyday life. This now heralds the start of a regional Chalcolithic or 'Copper Age'. The Wadi Rabah culture in the Levant and, especially, around Jericho, soon transitions into the Ghassulian as part of this change.

c.4000 BC

The Hissar culture enters its Period 1B at about this point in time, just as the Chalcolithic (Copper Age) is reaching the region from the west. Sumerian cities are developing out of early Neolithic settlements while, in the Levant, both Arad and Sidon are now founded as permanent settlements.

Map of the Fertile Crescent of the Neolithic
This map shows the general area of the Fertile Crescent from where - especially along its northern edges - the origins of agricultural farming emerged between about 10,000-6000 BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

c.3900 BC

Eastern Iran's Near Eastern Hissar culture barely enters the Chalcolithic period before it comes to an end in its Period 1C/2A phase, at a point between 3980-3865 BC. Habitation continues, but with eastern influences replacing western ones, from Margiana and Bactria, potentially from the Kel'teminar and certainly also the later BMAC.

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