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Parseh J Archaeol Stud 2021, 5(17): 95-109 Back to browse issues page
Problems of Chronology and Usage of Sealed Potteries: Case of Qal’eh Asrār-e Ghahestān Fragment
Leila Makvandi1, Mohsen Dana2, Seyed Reza Rafae3
1- Assistant Professor, Department of Archeology, Faculty of Architecture and Art, Kashan University, Kashan, Iran. , makvandi.l@kashanu.ac.ir
2- PhD in Archeology, Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts, Tehran, Iran.
3- Master Student, Department of Archeology, Faculty of Arts, Birjand University, Birjand, Iran
Abstract:   (946 Views)
Cylinder seals usually were used on clay objects, especially tablets, as a symbol of individual’s identity and administrative centers of the ancient East. While, rare potteries sealed by cylinder seal are a new case for archaeologists. Based on the small number of sealed pottery fragments found, archaeologists are dealing with several main questions: Why cylinder seals used on pot-tery? What is the usage of sealed pottery? And whether it is possible to provide an exact chro-nology for these potteries? A sealed pottery fragment from the site of Qal’eh Asrār in South Khorāsān is an example which is also our subject matter in this present study. The area of Qal’eh Asrār is located 1800 meters southeast of Barandood village and 800 meters northwest of Zarbarandood village of Ghohestān section of Darmiān city. This area is currently located on top of a natural hill at a height of about 200 meters above ground level. Analysis of potteries found on the surface of site shows that the occupation of it belongs to Late Iron Age and Achaemenid period, although there are also small numbers of pottery belonging to the late Is-lamic centuries. In this paper we try to study a fragment of a sealed pottery found from surface of site. Firstly, we deal with the issue of sealed pottery with regard to the context and the prob-lems and challenges of its study, then we try to analyze sample pottery of the Qal’eh Asrār in terms of typology, style and its legend. This study shows that the sealed pottery of Qal’eh Asrār is locally produced and its legend is a local style with the common motifs of first half of the first millennium BC. As this site is probably a garrison, this container could be used for bearing commodities to the construction.
Keywords: Qal’eh Asrār, Sealed Pottery, Iron Age, Achaemenid period, Local Style.

In ancient near East, the stamp and cylinder seals have been used on diverse clay objects such as bullae and tablets to sealed administrative documents, but use of seals on pottery is rare. Since 3rd millennium B.C Fragments of sealed pottery have been found in sites from north Iraq and Syria (Collon, 1987: 13; Oates, 2001), Levant (Amiet, 1975: 425-426), west and south western of Iran (Caldwell, 1976), Shahr-e Sukhta in south east of Iran (Baghestani, 1997: 34- 43; Hakemi & Sajjadi, 1989: 145) and central Asia (Sariandi, 1986; Heibert, 1994a). Several fragments back to the Iron Age I and II were found from Bahrain in Persian Gulf (Olijdam, 2008) and Central Plateau of Iran in Tepe Sialk (Malekshahmirzadi 1381: 25) and Gholi Dar-vish in Qom (Sarlak 1386: 193- 194). Most of these sealed potteries are small fragments that have been found mainly as single fragment on the surface of sites. A small number, such as the Gonur Depe fragment in Turkmenistan (Sariandi, 1986: fig.123) or the Tell Brak in Syria (Oates, 1985: 257), have been found from archaeological excavation. 
In archaeological survey of Qal’eh Asrār in South Khorasan, Iran, one fragment of sealed pot-tery with a cylinder seal impression was found in archaeological survey. There are several questions raised here. Is it possible to provide an accurate chronology for the sealed pottery of Qal’eh Asrār? Why the pottery sealed, specifically with cylinder seal? Are these sealed pottery have an administrative function and were used as a kind of administrative-economic object or tool? Or here seals just used as decoration? In this paper, which is a descriptive-comparative and analytical approach, firstly we examine the challenges related to chronology and recogniz-ing the function of sealed potteries in archaeological studies, then we focus on study Qal’eh Asrār fragment and its seal impression.

Chronology and Usage of Sealed Pottery
Archaeologists have two different approaches for chronology of sealed potteries. If these frag-ments are found from excavation, they propose site stratigraphy to date it. But, most of the sealed pottery has been found on surface of sites, so dating will be complicated. In fact, archae-ologists use two methods to date sealed potteries, such as Qal’eh Asrār case; they propose the chronology based on typology of pottery or the style and image of seal impression. 
Function of sealed pottery is under debate too; there is no consensus on why sealed potteries are made and how it has been used. In general, the proposed suggestions can be divided into three groups, although, there are many doubts about each of these three views. 
1- The image of seal on pottery was for decoration.
2- The seals are the sign or signature of the potters who identifies the ownership and identity of his handicrafts.
3- Sealed pottery has an administrative function and has been used for storing or moving com-modities.
The style and image of the cylinder seal impression of Qal’eh Asrār sealed pottery
The image of Qal’eh Asrār seal does not show a unified theme and its upper part is broken. In part of the image a human is standing, bending one hand from the elbow and holding a cane, his other hand is not clear, it had stretched body with broad shoulders and arms, the proportion be-tween the upper body and the legs is not observed and the upper body is taller than the legs. It seems he have a dagger in his waist. On both sides of the human image are two birds. On the left side is design of the quadruped (donkey?) and in front of it is a horse, both are upside down. Of course, the horse’s head is broken. Between the two images are a small bird at the top and probably a sitting human at the bottom. The style of Qal’eh Asrār seal is a local style which focusing on the outer lines, not paying attention to the details. 

Studies on sealed potteries in diverse sites, despite different time and cultural periods, shows the following common features can be observed:
1- All fragments of sealed pottery are locally produced.
2- The seals that are used on these potteries also have a local and indigenous style, and this in-dicates the locality of their production.
3- Sealed pottery fragments indicate they should mainly belong to medium and large jars.
 4- In most of fragments seal was mainly used at the area between the neck and body of the ware. 
Given the common features mentioned, it can be argued that these potteries had an administra-tive aspect. However, they used locally which both the pottery type and the seal originate from the local culture of the same region, and there are no examples that show their displacements or dispersion in a wider cultural context.
A comparative study of Qal’eh Asrār sealed pottery shows that this pottery is locally produced and cylinder seal used on it also has local style of the 1st millennium B.C. Due to pottery type and the presence of architectural remains, this area is suggested to be a garrison to protect the road in the late Iron Age - early Achaemenid period, and the style and image of the seal on the pottery also confirms the proposed chronology. 
Article number: 5
Keywords: Qal’eh Asrār, Sealed Pottery, Iron Age, Achaemenid period, Local Style.
Full-Text [PDF 1619 kb]   (113 Downloads)    
Type of Study: Research | Subject: Special Archeology
Received: 2020/12/4 | Accepted: 2021/04/23 | Published: 2021/12/21
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Makvandi L, Dana M, Rafae S R. Problems of Chronology and Usage of Sealed Potteries: Case of Qal’eh Asrār-e Ghahestān Fragment. Parseh J Archaeol Stud. 2021; 5 (17) :95-109
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