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2022-09-17 18:12:45   •   ID: 2350

The Early Upper Paleolithic at Shanidar / Iraqi Kurdistan

Figure1 ; Shanidar Cave Wikimedia Commons - Public Domain
Figure 2
The Zagros mountains in Kurdistan are a complex chain of mountains and ridges dividing the region between the fertile plains of Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf lowlands to the west and Iran's dry inland plateau to the east. Today the Zagros begins in what is now northwestern Iran and roughly follows Iran's western border while covering much of southeastern Turkey and northeastern Iraq.

The highest point in the range is Mount Dena, elevation (4409 meters), located in the middle Zagros. Important Passes through the mountains are used for reaching the fertile intermontane plains, which lie at elevations above 1500 meters. The rivers draining the range’s western face are strong and perennial, flowing through enclosed plains or ravines.

Kurdistan is home to some of the most important archaeological sites in the world, ranging from the Stone Age to the most recent past. Shanidar Cave is one of the most impressive localities for Paleolithic Archaeology in the Region, mainly known for its Neanderthal remains and the discussions around their social significance - see here: Flower People and their Graves?

According to Varoujan (2019), the Shanidar Cave in the Zagros (Iraqi Kurdistan) is situated at an elevation of 737 m (a.s.l.), is capped by very rugged cliffs about 400 m in height, whereas the slope along which the entrance is located has a gradient of 44%. These topographic characters served as an excellent defense / observatory site for people living in the cave. The maximum height of the entrance of the cave is about 12 m, with one large chamber almost of a dome shape (Varoujan and Sissakian 2019; Figure 1).

At Shanidar Cave Solecki during the 1950ies uncovered a sequence that included Middle Paleolithic (Layer D), Upper Paleolithic (Layer C) and Epipaleolithic (Layer B) industries, as well as a recent to Neolithic deposit (Layer A) (Solecki 1958).

It was Dorothy Garrod who suggested the term: Baradostian for the Layer C-ensemble, after the Baradost Mountain overlooking the Shanidar Valley.

Figure 3
The tools shown in this post are from Shanidar / Level C and consist of a small sample on up to 9 cm long blades.

Among these tools we notice an endscraper with partial lateral retouch, a nearly geometric Aurignacian blade and a carinated blade (Figure 2,3 and 4) as well as a long blade with an inverse notch (Figure 5). These tools are characteristic for the Early Upper Paleolithic (Baradostian) at the site (Dibble and Olszewski 1989).

Kurdistan is rich in stratified Paleolithic sites, found mostly in caves and rock shelters, while many open air localities may have been destroyed by erosion. Cave and Rock-shelters were usually occupied over a considerable period of time, during the Middle Paleolithic, Early and Late Upper Paleolithic and Epipaleolithic.

Excavations started already during D.E.A. Garrod's times and were repeatedly and intermittent conducted at Shanidar, Warwasi, Wartain, Miaibvera, Bisotun, Ghar-e Khar,Ghār-e Boof, Yafteh, Pa Sangar, Kunji and Gar Arjeneh.

Assemblages that may broadly be assigned to the Early Baradostian technocomplex overlie (non-Levallois)- Mousterian deposits at Shanidar Cave and Warwasi Rock-shelter (Tsanova 2013).

At Shanidar Cave, Solecki noted relatively frequent Mousterian tools in the Early Upper Paleolithic, most probably the consequence of the excavation technique and due to secondary mixing from the Mousterian layers.

Figure 4
However, some authors still suggest, that the local development of the Zagros Aurignacian reflects the reality of a local autochthonous Middle- to Upper-Paleolithic transition.

The Baradostian of the Zagros has Affinities to both the Ahmarian of the Levant and the Aurignacian (sensu stricto). According to recent excavations, the main typological categories of the Baradostian show, together with a clear abundance of bladelet tools, the so called Arjeneh points. These are defined as bladelets with a nearly rectilinear section, with short direct retouch limited to the edges to produce a fusiform contour, very similar to the original Font-Yves points.

At Yafteh cave, bladelets were obtained in different ways: from bladelet cores, from flake edges and from the proximal ends of carinated burins. Classic Dufour bladelets are also present.

Beside the typical Points, the Baradostian toolkit also includes Aurignacian blades, sometimes pointed, numerous burins of different types, endscrapers on blades and splintered pieces. In addition to bladelet tools, tools unique to the Aurignacian sensu stricto – carinated endscrapers and burins - are also present.

Figure 5
The age of the Baradostian is still not well established. The calibrated C-14 dates, using pretreatment protocols and secondary modeling by Bayesian statistics, show chronological signals only after the H-4 event. Therefore the Baradostian is possibly more recent than the Ahmarian and (Proto)- (Aurignacian).

Suggested Readings:

E. Ghasidian. The Early Upper Paleolithic Occupation of Ghār-e Boof Cave. Kerns Verlag Tübingen 2019.

Shidrang, S., 2018. The middle to upper paleolithic in the Zagros. The appearance and evolution of the Baradostian. In: Nishisaki, Y., Akazawa, T. (Eds.), The middle and upper paleolithic of the levant and beyond. Springer, Singapore, pp. 133–156.

Solecki, R.S., 1958. The Baradostian industry and the upper palaeolithic in the near East. Columbia University, [Unpublished PhD thesis].


Henri-Martin Collection