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year 3, Issue 8 (9-2019)
Beginning in 1948, archaeological surveys and excavations in northwest Iran brought to light evidence of cultural developments related to the movements of people who colonized vast parts of the Near East from northeast Anatolia to southern Levant in the late 4th and early 3rd millennium B.C., prompted by environmental changes, population boom or shortage of biological resources in their homeland. The period is best known in the archaeological literature as the Early Trans-Caucasian (ETC) or Kura-Araxes culture, and is distinguished, by a disparate black burnished pottery with incised decorations. Here is published for the time a sample of decorative patterns on the related pottery from Yanik Tepe. The main question of the study was: To what extent did the newcomer potters communicated on this pottery the artistic traditions they had brought with themselves from their homeland? Data gathered through museum and library enquiries were used to carry out a comparative study. Data analysis was of qualitative nature, and the study represented one of culture-historical.
Keywords: Azarbaijan, Yanik Tepe, Early Bronze Age, Pottery, National Museum of Iran.
The question central to this study is: Does the Kura-Araxian pottery tradition at Yanik Tepe reflect traits induced by indigenous experimentations, or it was simply developed via foreign inspirations and cultural interactions?
As stated, the pottery assemblages from Yanik Tepe had remained intact since their initial movement to National Museum of Iran after the close of excavation. Preparatory work was therefore required before deciding on or attempting any sort of study. Accordingly, the whole collection was recorded and washed before the decorated sherds were singled out and sorted into such groups as geometric motifs, animal motifs, plain, and miscellaneous. This was followed by the documentation process that involved photographing, drawing and registering the entire formal and technical attributes of individual pieces. Attempts were made to exclude from the final sample the patterns that were identical to those already published by Burney in various places. Also to meet the diversity criterion, pieces were selected from as varied excavated exposures as Areas or Trenches H, HX, K, L, M, P and different Levels, viz. YT.HX3, YT161HX, YTHX4, YT.HX1, YTK3, YT.HH1, YTH5, YT.HH1A, YT.C5, YT.P2, YT.LIA, YT.HH10, YT.HX1, YT.L3PRMII, YT.P2, YT.39C, and YT.RH13.
A key site in the archaeology of the eastern Urmia Lake Basin, Yanik Tepe is 30 km southwest of Tabriz and 6 km from Khosrowshahr, within the village of Tazeh Kand on the Talkheh Rud. Burney excavated the site in 1960, 1961 and 1962, shortly after its identification in 1958-9. Yanik Tepe consists of a high mound and a low mound, rising 16.5 m and 1.50 m from the surrounding lands, respectively. With an original total area of about 6 hectares, it represents a type-site of the Kura-Araxes culture in Azerbaijan (Burney 1963, 138). Large parts of the site are now destroyed. Typical of the culture that flourished at Yanik Tepe were round and rectilinear houses and a distinct pottery tradition. Most intriguing are those types that resemble the material from the vast cultural horizon of eastern Anatolia and the early Trans-Caucasia of the mid-3rd millennium BC.
Building on the results of his excavations at Yanik Tepe, Burney divided the whole Kura-Araxes (or the ETC) sequence to the three discrete periods of ETC I, ETC II, and ETC III, where the earliest period marks the birth of the culture in its motherland, the second is associated with round structures and decorated pottery, and the latest sees the predominance of rectilinear architecture and virtual disappearance of decorations on pottery (Summers 2004, 619-620). For a more recent and detailed discussions on the chronology and dates as well as the stratigraphy of Yanik Tepe, the reader is referred to Summers 2013; 2014, 157-159.
An idiosyncrasy of the Early Bronze Age at Yanik Tepe is the handmade, black or gray burnished pottery with incised patterns. The technique is reminiscent of woodcarving and was presumably inspired by the densely forested landscape of the homeland of bearers of the culture who came to the rather sparsely wooded regions of northwest and west Iran. The technique was widely applied to pottery along with excised patterns, filled with white and occasionally ocher pastes.
Designs like birds and highly stylized rams or ibexes with curled horns, and bands of geometric motifs were carved on bowls, jars and footed pedestal vessels and small cups, the pottery forms common to the period.
The Middle Bronze period marks a shift in architectural styles as the related houses were built in a rectilinear plan using mud bricks. The thick walls spoke of two-storied buildings. The use of decorations diminishes, and the so-called graphite burnished technique emerges on a few examples of cups. Vessels are relatively finer, and burnishing is more frequent. Pottery forms show no considerable differences between the two periods (Burney 1962). However, the so-called Nakhichevan lugs, common to the latter period, occur now only in a vestigial form.
Kura-Araxes Pottery of Yanik Tepe
This section gives a description of the pottery with a special focus on decorations, along with a series of so far unpublished illustrations, which besides enriching the existing literature on the pottery history, are intended to improve the current picture of the evolution of pottery styles through the long Kura-Araxian horizon at Yanik Tepe. It is notable that, as stated earlier, the pieces and decorations published here have not been introduced in any earlier publications and have been selected from various trenches and levels to ensure a representative sample to the possible extent.
The Kura-Araxian pottery, coming in disparate wares and decorations, represent a new style that newcomer artisans had brought with themselves to northwest Iran. It is characterized by dark gray or shiny black or light brown color; vessels are handmade, contain mineral tempers, and show a burnished surface bearing an assortment of motifs such as spirals, “ram horns” and concentric circles or “eyes” (Burney and Lang 1971). In the Kura-Araxes Period I, rail rims were common, the Nakhichevan lugs were not yet emerged, and some Chalcolithic forms and decorative techniques persisted (Glumac and Anthony 1992). Related material occurs at most sites in Caucasia, the eastern fringes of Anatolia, and Geoy Tepe K1 (Sagona 2000).
The Period II is distinguished by the abundance of elbow handles and advent of semi-circular Nakhichevan lugs; the rail rims are utterly absent (Seyedov 2000). Notable in the assemblages is the ubiquitous concentric circles or “eyes” and incised triangles or chevrons. The pottery with its distinctive incised decorations shows influences from neighboring spheres. Various motifs are discernible. Animals, birds and fish occur in abundance. Birds appear as stylized representations on jars and bowls with decorations always reserved for the base or close to it. Also present are very simple geometric designs, bands raging from plain examples of undulating lines to those of a very intricate combination of nested designs, horizontal grooves or hatches, zigzags and doted patterns, rows of geometric motifs like lozenges with adjoining triangles filled with a various combinations of incised dots in diverse arrangements, swastikas, small lozenges and slanting motifs. Spirals and concentric circles were applied in incised form and evolved into an excised form with the related patterns filled with a white paste or lime. A frequent motif is the sharply angled triangles evoking the mountain motif as is the incised patterns imitating cuneiform signs. They are much finer compared with the ordinary handmade pieces. The Kura-Arax II material from Yanik Tepe find parallels in Geoy K1, Yakhvali, Ravaz (Kohna Shahar), Baruj, Haftavan VII and Godin IV (Burney 1961, 1962; Kleiss and Kroll 1979; Asurov 2000).
Typical to the Kura-Araxes III assemblages are the incised spirals and loop handles attached to the rim. The concentric circles occur in a higher frequency (Burney and Lang 1971, 67; Seyedov 2000, 19). Nakhichevan lugs show a gradual decline. Related pottery is known from Geoy K3, Godin IV, Shengavit IV, Kul Tepe of Nakhichevan, Kvatskhelebi in Georgia and sites in the Koban area of East Anatolia (Burney 1961, 1962; Burney and Lang 1971; Sagona 2000).
year 6, Issue 19 (5-2022)
Sasanian Silver Bowl at the National Museum of Iran, known as the “dancer-musicians scene”, has been one of the museum’s most archaeological works for the past sixty years. According to Ali Sami, this bowl was purchased in 1334 (1955); it is attributed to the north of Iran (Kelardasht of Mazandaran). The palm-shaped head of this bowl shows four dancer-musician-singers with four different well-known musical instruments as well as a figure of a pheasant in the center. In all previous scholarly works, as well as in the many exhibitions in which this bowl has been displayed, this work has been referred to as the motif of the “female dancers-musicians”. However, doubtful interpretations of musical instruments of the motif can be found in the same scholarly works. Obviously Iranian scholars to the internally held exhibitions have followed previously mentioned works. The author will first challenge the “femininity” of these four dancer-musician-singers and will testify the view that three of them are only masculine. Secondly, I will present a new proposal to the readers with a different interpretation of these Iranian music instruments. Also, the author considers this bowl to probably be a heritage from the Persian Gulf (southern, not northern Iran). Furthermore, I will also focus on the identity of these dancer-musicians in such a musical group scene as “Indian gypsies” or at least inspired by such a musical style. The author will also refer to two other lesser-known similar bowls of the Museum. Meanwhile, the author will present a new perspective on the date of this silver object which is based on its motif details and two more Silver Works at the National Museum of Iran. In this comparative study, I will draw a line between the three motifs (of the bowls, especially two of them) based on the two seasons of “winter and spring (or summer)”!
Keywords: Sasanian Silver Bowl, National Museum of Iran, Musician-dancers Scene, Kelardasht, India Gypsy, Persian Gulf.
Much has been said and written about the Persian Gulf. Since more than 500 years ago until now, about cultural landscapes, art, music, clothing, food styles to different harbors and etc. through foreign travelogues and Iranian documents can be attributed to colorful valuable data on the Persian Gulf. Archaeology has also testified a large tangible data about Iranian identity over the Persian Gulf. Pre-historic objects to the valuable inscription of Darius the Great obtained from the Suez Canal to other archeological finds from Bushehr, Siraf, Kharg, Qeshm, Hormoz, etc., are proof of this claim. Zoroastrianism legacy in Saudi Arabia and especially Yemen to recent Sasanian coins from the United Arab Emirates, Sasanian fortresses in Oman (cf. Potts, 2012: online)... can be proof of our historical ownership of the Persian Gulf.
Nevertheless, the article stresses on a review of a Sasanian magnificent artistic relic in the National Museum of Iran. This masterpiece frequently has been referred for at least the lasxty years. This significant object has been displayed in most of exhibitions from the inside to the abroad. This Sasanian heritage has been published in most of the catalogs of the National Museum of Iran and international exhibitions. This very beautiful Sasanian work, “silver bowl” known as the “scene of dancer-musicians” with registry number 1332, weight 575.7, diameter 22.55 cm, and height 7 cm, obtained from Kelardasht (?), Mazandaran.
ConclusionUndoubtedly, the Sasanian silver bowl at the National Museum of Iran can be studied from a new perspective. This view can challenge all previous scholarly works from two different aspects.
First, the musical instruments portrayed on this work can testify to its interrelationship with the shores of the Persian Gulf. For example, Castanet or Sinj is a typical instrument. There is a golden shipwreck’s photo (with eight musicians-singers), has some similarities with the silver bowls of the National Museum of Iran, on the website of Asian Civilizations Museum in Singapore.6 According to the website, the work has been discovered from a Persian Gulf bound ship drowned near Indonesia. However, the author has doubts about authenticity of this report!
Although there are few written archaic texts but these instruments have been valid from generation to generation in Iran as endorsed by sources in Sasanian, Post-Sasanian, oral history as well as archeological documents until they have reached our time.
Most Post-Sasanian sources have preserved valuable information about Arghanun, sorena, lute (barbat) and even chime.7 Although Zoroastrian texts do not help on such a topic but the story of Khusraw ī kawādān ud rēdak (Oryan, 2004: 58) mentioned some of the best musicians: “harp-players, lute-players, wan players,8 tambour players, and reed players.”
Chime (cf. Ibn Sina)9 is one of the oldest musical instruments in southern Iran. The Haft-Joush (seven parts) chime was also one of the most common of these musical instruments; the Indian type of which (made of bronze) had a special reputation in Bushehr (Darvishi, 2004: 540,32). Type of the short handled and tied to the fingers have been (and still are) the most common chimes in southern Iran (for the same instrument, see: Gunter and Jett, 1992: 191).
Another important fact is that the production and control of the melody with these four instruments were very difficult for females (women); three of them (bowl) still considered male instruments. In Taq Bostan too, sorena and a kind of arghanun (or bagpipe, maybe nay-e anban) are played by men where females are depicted as tambourine and harp players (farmer, 1964: 96). Both of these latter instruments have always been depicted and described in this way (female).
So, the gender of the musicians will be the second key point of this object. It is as if the previous works did not pay attention to the connection between the “type of instrument and the type of gender” which, according to the tradition, they were at least skilled players.
The story of “ Khusraw ī kawādān ud rēdak “ (Oryan, 2004: 96) describes “a sweet-singing-dancer and a beauty with big breasts, wasp waist, black and long hair ...”. Here are two questions:
1. Whether the female musician-dancer figures on the Sasanian silver legacy, with big breasts, slim waist and charming disheveled hair (National Museum of Iran, cf. fig. 6) cannot be a seal of endorsing the above-mentioned Pahlavi text? If that is the case, which I believe it is:
2. Isn’t this (description) contrary to the motif of the musicians of the silver bowl at the National Museum?
This issue of course according to the type of make-up and body shape confirms that three of them are males. Therefore, in the dance-music scene of other objects, the shawl on the breast (or part of it such as Bishapur mosaic), from behind (such as the silver decanter at the National Museum) or above the head like a sunshade (fig. 9) can be seen. Here, the shawl is skillfully placed on privy parts (low body) by the craftsman in order to have observed Iranian ethics (of course with partial rotation of the body). If in other objects, the shawl plays a role in covering the breasts of women, here it covers probably their low bodies. This is not very compatible with Roman art!
In the Sasanian silver decanter at the National Museum, despite a kind of decorated forehead, the hair of the musician is hung from both sides towards the shoulders but here typical long-braided hair can remind us of Indian style which impacted the Persian Gulf coasts. However, no trace of the hair of the above mentioned musicians can be seen here, and they wear a head-gear (with two different logos on the forehead in pairs) that is fastened with a bandage under the throat (it is unlikely to be a hair strand). On this bowl, the whole body (with details) is portrayed in front and the head is turned to another side (profile), something that does not occur much with other works. The highly balanced and professional limbs of these dancer-musician-singers indicate their affiliation with a professional group. The beautiful and balanced body as well as the “hairless face” of these three male musicians plus one female, is thought to be one of the reasons for calling these four dancers females.
Furthermore, a theme rarely seen in Sasanian art is a “harmonious music group” (male and female) scene. Even in the royal hunting scene of Taq Bostan, less resemblance (coordinated group) can be found to this bowl. The musicians of Taq Bostan cannot be called a scene of a group performance.
Another similar silver bowl (fig. 10) with the same motif (four dancer-musicians from Kelardasht) at the National Museum of Iran published by S. Ayazi (2005: 92-93) already. These two bowls differentiate each other by some significant details which have never been studied. In the second bowl, the relatively “thick cover” of the musicians along with the figures of the “birds” is very significant. It seems, to me, that the first one reflects summer or spring season but the second one clearly recalls the winter season. Figures of different birds (which can be discovered in the spring season) is a part of the claim (the second one). There is also a third bowl with the same scene, in the National Museum, which I will write about in more detail in the future.
The author believes that the motifs of these three bowls are merely radiant of a “simple secular feast” (cf. Boyce and Farmer, 1990: 55; also: Gunter and Jett, 1992: 200). Obviously, the Sasanian heritages can never have been recorded without religious traces, which subconsciously ruled the artist’s mind. Hence, the meaningful name of the owner of the first bowl (Farrokh-hormozd not windad-hormozd) to the design of the black “ten” leaves of the palm branch, the pearl ring around the pheasant in the middle of the object, the number of pearls of the pearl ring, two ribbons and also the three branches in the beak (Glory, triple social casts or the doctrine of the Zoroastrianism) are part of this claim.
Although the existence of motif of birds and animals in Sasanian art (rock, art, bullae, etc...) is a normal subject, but the figure of a pheasant (center of the bowl) can remind us of the “Khorasan Art School” that goes as far as China (Akbarzadeh, 2020: 267).
The author believes that there is no connection between this scene and the one from Roman legacy of Dionysian or the goddess Anahita (Catalog of Wien, 2003: 233; Gunter and Jett, 1992: 27), as mentioned in all previous works. The following reasons can support me to challenge the previous works: “the typical oriental type of dance of these dancer-musicians, which is evident from their body shape, the pheasant figure most unrelated to the Zoroastrian goddess, the partial nudity dancers, which is not compatible with the officially known Sasanian art (but they are covered on the second bowl), their instruments, the absence of any bold religious symbols etc... supposedly for their body shape (type of dance), type of head-bands, shawl pattern, typical southern chime (with base, like pliers), dancer-musicians in group scene ...” Also, the author points the finger at India, not the Roman heritage for such a coordinated group performance that Sasanian art lacked (cf. Boyce and Farmer, 1990: 60).
The Indians have always been known as female-males dancer-musicians in group form (unlike individual Sasanian dancer-singers). Also, the figure of the peacock (bowls 2-3) can support this claim. Moreover, the presence of Indian musicians-dancers in the Sasanian period is a well-known issue. It is obvious that Bahram V (Gur), after treating the mental condition of the Iranian society, ordered many musicians from India to come to Iran and play in public. These musicians are known as “gypsies” in the history of Iran.10 In fact, the author evaluates this group of naked (and partly-covered) dancer-musicians (with a completely different body shape) on these Sasanian bowls as Indian gypsies. Their half-nakedness cannot be an Iranian tradition in dance. In a work, about such instruments, attributed to Ibn Khordadbeh (Mallah, 1963: 28; Sami, 1970: 49) narrates that: “Iranians usually played the lute with the flute and the tambourine and the sorna with the dohol (drum) and mastaj (chime) and the senj.”
The author also believes that due to the to the accuracy in construction and high technic of these valuable bowls and the processing of artistic symbols, especially such a dancer-musicians in group scene, its attribution to the eighth century AD., Post-Sasanian period (given the socio-political situation of Iran), is questionable. If this bowl(s) was made in the geographical boundary of Sasanian Fars province (including parts from Khuzestan to Fars and the whole of present-day Bushehr province) (which is strongly believed to be the case), the eighth century AD. was the most difficult period of this part of the Persian Gulf. Furthermore, the artistic details of these objects are never less, if not more beautiful than the objects of the sixth century AD. (cf. Lawergren, 2009: online). The skill in the inscribed needle-shaped of the owner’s religious name, the exact size of the body of the musicians, the branches of the grape, colored lace and other details indicate that the creation of this work can be even brighter than the eighth century AD.
Despite this, a fundamental problem will remain and that is the type of cover of the dancers on these three bowls. This coverage can mean a “seasonal difference”, that is likely to be the case. Based on this one, we should focus on the eighth century AD. The author suggests that the second bowl (covered dancers) can be a reminder of Mihragan Festival at the beginning of winter and the first one (naked) can be reminiscent of Nowruz Festival (or a summer fest). This six-month gap (between two seasons) is the least reason why the two group of the two objects can be considered the same. If we cannot opine about the time of Mihragan Festival, but the time of Nowruz Fest was not fixed at the beginning of spring in the Sasanian calendar. This event is related to the early Islamic periods and this one does not contradict the eighth century. In short, that discovery of this bowl (for whatever reason) from northern Iran will never be an excuse to consider its origin as northern, and of course this is not surprising in archeology.
Mohammad Hossein Azizi Kharanaghi,
year 7, Issue 24 (8-2023)
The correct position and the determining role of the second and first millennium BC cultures in the Fars region (Marvdasht plain) which we know as the Shoqa/Timuran cultures and the importance of this culture in the transition from the prehistoric to the historical period (Achaemenid) are still not well known. Despite of extensive archaeological research that has been done in the Marvdasht plain and the presence of significant sites of this period, due to the limited and generally very old excavations in these sites, it is still difficult to understand these developments. During that time, huge developments were taking place in Khuzestan and Fars regions; Changes usually created many conflicts between native cultures and southwestern cultures origin (Elamite).Some archaological findings, such as weapons, are signs of the height of such conflicts in the past. This paper will study and introduce the collection of weapons of Toll-e Shoqa, which were obtained from the excavations of Mahmoud Rad in 1942 and Vandenberg in 1950 in that site, those are now kept in the National Museum of Iran. These collections have been studied recently in the inventory project in the National Museum of Iran archives. So far, few cultural materials from Toll-e Shoqa have been published and more emphasis has been placed on its pottery; the pottery is the basis of the relative chronology of this period in the Fars region. Unfortunately, the results of the archaeological excavations in Shoqa were never fully published and all its cultural materials were not introduced. In the organizing project of the National Museum of Iran which will be described and analyzed in this paper.