Landscapes and raw material regimes

The Iranian Highlands are being examined in a diachronic manner and in its diversity and are being analysed according to their effects on economic and social practices. Which highland-specific resource regimes could develop in the pre-historic until pre-modern highland societies and what effects did they have on the social institutions and networks? The richness in resources of the Iranian Highlands is coupled with extreme conditions of landscape and climate that partly restrict the accessibility of raw materials, such as minerals. However, resource visibility is outstanding because of a sparse vegetation cover. These conditions resulted in resource regimes whose characteristics developed from an interaction with surrounding regions, and from the challenging conditions around “resource hotspots” such as mineral deposits (Momenzadeh 2004; Vatandoust et al.2011; Aali, Stöllner 2015). In these circumstances, routes played a role equal to forms of subsistence, allowing access to resources that were also desired on supra-regional levels. This constellation appears to have been favourable for technological innovations, as evidenced by technologies focused on the use of water and wind. This basic constant of the Iranian “highlandscapes” shall be examined in a diachronic manner and these “scapes” in their diversity, contextualizing them in their economic and social setting.

The beginnings of a specific regime of raw material acquisition can be traced back to the Upper Palaeolithic foraging groups whose lithic inventories display an astonishing diversity (Biglari, Shidrang 2013; Ghasidian 2014). One may question whether this is associated with the diversity of appropriation strategies of the highland inhabitants, or whether it is a natural consequence of new technologies brought into the region.

The special role of highland societies in the early use of metallic raw materials is evident. Since the end of the 5th millennium BCE, significant metallurgic centers with their own metallurgic knowledge and procedures developed in the region itself (Pigott 1999; Helwing 2013). Exchange relations with Mesopotamia, later with the Indus valley and the Oxus civilization (BMAC), may have played important roles in this early metallurgy in Iran. However, it is still not clear how technical knowledge was obtained and passed on, and how raw material regimes, often based on semi-mobile groups, could develop in a stable manner.

One of the main questions concerns the sharp drop in settlement numbers in the Iranian Highlands since the middle of the third millennium and the early second millennium BCE. Some chronological and typological studies (e.g. Piller 2005) show that habitation gaps are not as abrupt and widespread as initially supposed. In addition, the traditional explanation of an increase of pastoral nomadism remains an unproved hypothesis. Therefore, it is important to understand raw material regimes as a contribution to explain this sharp drop.

In the early 1st mill. BCE, raw material supply networks seem to be organized more stably and permanently, but the detail of how traditional mechanisms and new “state control” formed remains unclear. Important insights including routes and stock–keeping are expected to emerge from research into the rich corpus of the Achaemenid “Persepolis Fortification archive” (Azzoni et al. 2017; Henkelman 2017). In the same period, we see sustainable large-scale exploitation and distribution of raw materials, such as sodium chloride (salt). Are they a symptom of new forms of resource procurement that endured until the early/middle Islamic period?

The exploitation of ubiquitous resources such as ground water left extended monuments everywhere on the high plateau. Water, but also wind, were managed by technically sophisticated installations. Among them are Sasanian-period qanats that resulted in dense settlement of hitherto undeveloped regions (Goblot 1979; Weisgerber 2004). Understanding the introduction of such technologies with respect to their influence on landscape-based agricultural regimes is one of the pending questions. 

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