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Centre for Earth and Environmental Science Research

Complexity on the Margin: Environmental Change and Socio-Economic Transformation in the Tehran Plain

Executive Summary
ResearchersProfessor Gavin K. Gillmore,
Professor Robin Coningham (Durham University),
Dr Ruth Young (Leicester University),
Dr Hasan Fazeli (ICHTHO, Tehran),
Dr Mehran Maghsoudi (Tehran University),
Dr Randy Donahue and
Dr Cathy Batt (Bradford University).
Funding Body/Source British Institute of Persian Studies, The British Academy
Duration 2003 - ongoing
Project Summary Motivated by the destruction of sites in the Tehran plain, the Universities of Tehran, Durham, Leicester, Kingston and Bradford, and the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicraft Organisation (ICHTHO) developed a study of settlement from the beginning of the Holocene to the end of the Chalcolithic.

With funding from The British Academy, the British Institute of Persian Studies and the ICHTHO, we have focused on the transformation of egalitarian Neolithic communities into hierarchical ones (c. 6200-3000 BC) with settlement survey, and excavations at Cheshmeh Ali and Tepe Pardis facilitating the development of a model for the growth of specialisation, standardisation and networks of exchange.

The Tehran Plain has been portrayed, in contrast to the Mesopotamian lowlands with its development of early urbanisation and social complexity, as a particularly marginal zone subject to shifting natural conditions (e.g. rapid changes in stream courses). A team of archaeologists, geomorphologists and environmental archaeologists have been actively engaged in studying the relationship between landscape change and human habitation in this region, utilising multidisciplinary methods (C14, TL dating, ICP-MS, granulometric analysis, palynology) together with traditional survey and excavation.

It is becoming clear through this work that the plain's communities were significantly influenced by heavy sedimentation rates and shifting water resources within the alluvial fans of the plain. However, this very instability may have led to the inhabitants of one prehistoric settlement, Tepe Pardis, to adapt to their environment by utilising the clay deposits and developing an almost industrial rate of ceramic production by c. 5000 BC. Evidence has been found at this site of artificial channels suggesting management of water resources and the landscape in which the inhabitants lived.


Fazeli, H., Coningham, R.A.E., Young, R.L., Gillmore, G.K., Maghsoudi M. & Raza, H. 2007. Socio-Economic transformations in the Tehran Plain: Final season of settlement survey and excavations at Tepe Pardis. Iran 45: 267-286.

Gillmore, G.K., Coningham, R.A.E., et al. 2007. Holocene sediments of the Tehran Plain: sedimentation and archaeological site visibility. In Wilson, L., Dickinson, P., Jeandron, J. (Eds.) Reconstructing Human-Landscape Interactions. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, Ch. 3, pp.37-64.

Coningham, R.A.E., Fazeli, H., Young, R.L., Gillmore, G.K., Karimian, H., Maghsoudi, M., Donahue, R.E. & Batt, C.M. 2006. Socio-Economic transformations: Settlement survey in the Tehran Plain and Excavations at Tepe Pardis. Iran 44: 33-62.

Fazeli H., Coningham R.A.E. & Batt C.M. 2004. Cheshmeh-Ali Revisited: Towards an Absolute Dating of the Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic of Iran's Tehran Plain. Iran 42: 13-23.

Coningham R.A.E., Fazeli H., Young R.L. & Donahue R.E. 2004. Location, Location, Location: A Pilot Study of the Tehran Plain. Iran 42: 1-12.

Fazeli H., Coningham R.A.E. & Pollard A.M. 2001. Chemical Characteristics of Late Neolithic and Chalcolithic Pottery from the Tehran Plain. Iran 39: 55-71.

Conference presentations.

Coningham, R.A.E., Fazeli, H., Gillmore, G. 2007. Complexity on the margin: Environmental Change and Socio-Economic Transformation in the Tehran Plain. Evolving Societies: A British Academy Showcase of UK overseas research into community, identity and environment. The Barbican Centre, London. 15th November 2007.

Gillmore, G.K., Coningham, R.A.E., Young, R., Fazeli, H., Maghsoudi, M. 2007. The antiquity of artificial water management in Iran: a Late Neolithic channel from the Tehran Plain, Iran. 9th Workshop of the British Institute of Persian Studies, Durham University, UK, 14-15th December 2007.

Gillmore, G.K., Coningham, R.A.E., Young, R., Fazeli, H., Donahue, R. 2007. Irrigation on the Tehran Plain, Iran: Tepe Pardis - the site of a possible Neolithic irrigation feature? Developing International Geoarchaeology 2007, University of Cambridge, UK, 19th-21st April 2007.

Gillmore, G.K. 2006. Geoarchaeology and the Tehran Plain: evidence of ancient irrigation - Tepe Pardis. 8th Workshop of the British Institute of Persian Studies, School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London, UK, 1st-2nd December 2006.

Gillmore, G.K. 2006. What is Geoarchaeology? A case study from the Tehran Plain, Iran. An example of the significance of alluvial fan deposition and archaeological site visibility. The British Institute of Persian Studies Workshop, Institute of Archaeology, University of Tehran, Iran, 14th April 2006.

Gillmore, G.K., et al. 2005. Holocene sediments of the Tehran Plain: sedimentation and archaeological site visibility. Developing International Geoarchaeology 2005, St John, New Brunswick, Canada, 21st-23rd October 2005.

Gillmore, G.K., Coningham, R.A.E., Donahue, R., Fazeli, H., Young, R. 2005. Irrigation on the Tehran Plain: Tepe Pardis - a possible Neolithic irrigation feature? European Association of Archaeologists, 11th Annual Meeting, Cork, 5-11th September 2005.

Gillmore, G.K., Fazeli, H., Coningham, R.A.E, Donahue, R., Young, R. 2005. Geoarchaeology: the potential role of geomorphology in the archaeology of Southern Asia. European Association of South Asian Archaeology, The British Museum, London, 4-8th July 2005.

Conningham R. & Gillmore, G.K. 2004. Socio-Economic transformations on the plain of Tehran, Iran. British Institute of Persian Studies Workshop, Wadham College, University of Oxford, UK, 11-12th September 2004.

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