The Iranian Highlands:

Resiliences and Integration in Pre-modern Societies

A cooperation among the DFG, RICHT/ICAR and MCTH
Funded in the framework of the DFG-SPP 2176

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Research objectives of the SPP

Central concepts

Social resiliency and “Highlandscapes”:

he Iranian highlands have numerous landscapes and ecologic niches leaving a special mark on human societies and being formed by man in very special manner. These life-worlds, characterized by extreme aridity, montane living spaces, river valleys, basins and passage regions, do not offer a stable frame. Correspondingly, the span of political organisation forms range from decentralized structures, in modular manner bound to each other, to centralized, supra-regional organisational forms. Mobile forms of life with their typical permeability are structured in different manner. In the wickerwork of institutions formed by that, economic and other daily practices are included providing (among others) the often trouble-free and nevertheless flexible reproduction of structures. Those daily practices are used, in extension of the cultural-anthropologic discourse (for example in the sense of Tim Ingolds), to interpret acquisition processes of single natural resources, but offer an appropriate frame for questions of mobility factors, too. Projects shall approach the questions concerning the context of structures and daily practice in life-worlds of these “Highlandscapes” in order to better understand the bases of the resistance, which is characteristic of highland societies.

The problem of scales:

The precise distinction of scales is considered as basically important to be able to assess the range of the insights developed on the base of archaeologic, historic and linguistic sources and to bring them together in reasonable manner. Therefore, the exchange of raw materials is linked to the range of production and consumption practices and dependent on factors like the connection to roads that are effective in further surroundings, for example according to the transfer of local knowledge. Without the definition of spatial and social scales, mobility and exchange cannot be assessed. In the field of far-reaching political or economic institutions, scales have that eminent historic significance because mostly, the existence of institutions is related to forms of action on the micro-level, either to rituals establishing political organisations by formalization, or to work routines that become a tradition, securing a regular inflow of subsistence and other goods.

Main topics and research fields

The SPP 2176 is subdivided into three main topics to which the research fields stated in the following are related in diagonal and connecting manner. Projects shall be anchored in at least one of these main topics and contribute to the central research fields.

ST 1. Landscapes and raw material regimes:

The significance of the diversely structured raw material region for the life conditions of the populations of the Iranian highlands is evident. However, for the first time, this basic constant of the “Highlandscapes” in the Iranian highlands shall be examined in diachronic manner and in its diversity and shall be analyzed according to its effects on economic and social practices. Which highland-specific resource regimes could develop in the pre-historic until pre-modern highland societies and which effects did they have on the social institutions and networks?

ST 2. Daily life and institution:

A main interest is the question to what extent the increasing differentiation (“specialization”) of institutions and their consolidation correspond to a (pre-)historic reality. Which highland-specific configurations could evolve in the social development? Did they develop from a temporary existence to firm components of the highland societies, and if they did, under which conditions? Was there a development of highland-specific practices and institutions resulting in further material and cultural manifestations in the cultural and geographic surroundings? What were their effects on the daily practices and vice versa?

ST 3. Mobility and networks:

How intensive was social mobility in the highland societies, which forms did it take and how permeable, adaptable and resilient were those life forms? How is the interregional „connectivity“, resulting from mobility, to be assessed? Altogether we shall ask to which extent certain landscapes of the Iranian highlands held exactly those ecologic niches and networks for pastoral institutions (for example cattle markets and feasts at the summer willows) which enabled other, more distant communities to immigrate with success and to establish in those regions. Especially with regard to Parthians, Seljuks and Mongols – often defined as a whole and in one-sided manner as “foreign cultures” – the necessary basic research is missing.

The three subject areas can be subdivided into different research fields. We recommend that the projects specifically contribute to them:

Research field (FF) 1: Raw material networks and strategies of acquiring resources

Regional productions, their embedding in rural social and economic structures and the (inter-)regional consumption of the raw materials shall be examined with regard to the demanding character (affordances) of the resource and the related social innovations.

FF2: Population dynamics and settlement systems

Settlement dynamics and diachronic changes in settlement areas are in the focus of examinations where (pre-)historic population sizes for individual settlement areas shall play a role, too.

FF3: Strategies of subsistence

By analyzing farming and grazing systems, typical subsistence strategies of the highland shall be evolved in archaeological manner (archaeo-botanic, zoo-archaeologic, isotopic) and by analyzing irrigation systems.

FF4: Strategies of coping with distances – ways and shaping of ways

Main roads, routes and stations (for example caravansaries) open access to the space conceptions (such as mental maps) of the highland populations but also to institutional and extra-institutional states resulting from the use of routes. They can play a primary role concerning the emergence of supra-regional networks or support them as stabilizing factors (“connectivity”).

FF5: Mobility patterns

The internal circulation of persons and things in the Iranian highlands reveals, like the question of integration of immigrating groups, the complex population structure of the highlands. Means of analyzing those phenomena include language diffusion and spatial distribution of exotica and grave forms, among others. That is why forms of nomadism, political and individual mobility shall also be examined by help of textual, archaeological and archaeo-biological sources.

FF6: Political systems/political economy

Daily practices and religious and political institutions of the highlands resulted in cultural cores and identities with strongly variable range. These structures reflect in (supra-)regional systems of power and the political economies of more or less decentral organized highland societies, or the political and/or religious architecture, too.

FF7: Intra- and transcultural networks of knowledge transfer and cultural experience

Daily practice, language, material culture and technical achievements shall be examined to evolve traditional cores as a middle until long-term reproduced set of institutions and routines. Here, the geographic and cultural range of these traditions shall be analyzed in the sense of religious, economic or social units.

FF8: Dynamics of cultural cores

Cultural techniques like language and its dialects, practices like trade and building forms and ritual systems shall be examined with regard to fragmentations, hybridizations and standardizations of cultural traditions (material and ideal) and result in a reassessment of dominant meta-narratives of “peoples and tribes”.