By Jay Holmes
One of the critical international issues on the minds of Westerners today is the question of Iranian atomic capabilities. Is Iran developing an atomic bomb? If so, should we do something to stop it? Who is “we,” and precisely what would “something” be? How much would “something” cost, and to whom?
Iranian Nuclear Sites, image @Semhur/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0
All of these questions are worth considering. To consider them rationally, we need to know who the Iranians are, and what underlying agendas they have. What do they want, and how much are they willing to pay for it?
It’s easy to be confused by what we see and by what the Iranians say. When Iranian society behaves like a mob of unsupervised first grade boys, it’s easy to get an inaccurate impression of who comprises the Iranian government, and what Iranians might actually be like or think about that.
Long before the poorly educated, megalomaniac “ayatollah” Khomeini returned to Iran to drag it back into an eighth century style of government, there was a developing nation called Iran. Long before there was a nation called Iran, there was an empire called Persia. The history that took Iran from the Stone Age to a modern nation is worth considering when wondering what today’s Iranians think about the events occurring in their country.
c. 800,000 B.C.
Neanderthals were living in Kashafrud in Khorasan, now northeastern Iran, as evidenced by stone tools made from quartz that were dated by archaeologist C. Thibault. The National Museum of Iran agrees with the dating.
100,000 B.C. – 60,000 B.C.
Archaeologists have located Neolithic tools in at least three distinct major sites in modern Iran. The dating of the tools remains somewhat controversial. Archaeologists’ estimates range from between 100,000 to 60,000 years in age.
Archaeologists have also found Neanderthal skeletal remains from this time period in Shanidar cave in what is today an area of modern Iraq.
Some archaeologists claim a wine vase from 15,000 B.C. was unearthed in Iran, but I have been unable to verify that from multiple well-respected scientific sources. That doesn’t mean it isn’t true. It means there is only so much time I’m willing to try to spend trying to verify one artifact.
For simplicity’s sake, let us define ancient Iran as being the land between the Caspian Sea, the Indus river, the Euphrates River, and the current Iranian coast. Human artifacts including jewelry, refined pottery, and metal tools, have been found within this area and dated back to 9,000 B.C.
Nearly eleven thousand years before Boston silversmiths crafted Paul Revere’s tea set, skilled artisans in ancient Persia lived in a complex enough civilization to create sophisticated and intricate jewelry.
Villagers in Choga Bonut, western Iran, farmed and made high quality clay pottery.
Wine vases from the Zagros mountains of Iran date from 7,000 B.C., proving that, although black market English, Canadian, and American whiskey now enters Iran via small boats every night, booze has been there for a long time.
Archaeologists have found Neolithic evidence at a place that would later become the busy trade center of Susa, and that Iranians today call Shush.
Villagers in Choga Mish, near Choga Bonut, inhabited a regional trade center and practiced agriculture. They left behind rich evidence that was being explored at the time of the twentieth century Iranian Islamic Revolution.
The “revolutionaries” felt threatened by science and saw the practice of archaeology as a heresy so they destroyed the dig site and stole the artifacts. Fortunately, work from the dig site was published prior to the 1979 Khomeni-induced hysteria.
Someone in Susa was making painted pottery.
Early bronze age sites attributed to the Jiroft agricultural civilization date from roughly 4,000 B.C. to 3,000 B.C.
The Jirofts irrigate their crops and produced well-developed jewelry and metal tools. They were also involved in East-West trade.
Jiroft rock weight from Azerbaijan Museum in Tabriz, Iran. Picture by Fabien Dany – www.fabiendany.com
3,100 B.C. – 2,900 B.C.
People in the region were using clay tablets with Sumerian Cuneiform writing. The earliest dates of these tablets are still debated in Iran, but they co-date the Mesopotamian city building in Iraq and on the fringes of Iran.
For comparison, the Brits were building Stonehenge, and in North America, Cochise people were just beginning to cultivate corn, but not squash and beans. The Egyptians were building large cities and monuments.
The Elamites, a non-Semitic people, established a kingdom in Western Persia with Susa as its capital. They introduced complex government with power shared by three family members and regional authority relegated to under-lords. Trade was controlled by a central system, and regions were tasked with producing the products that were best suited to their natural resources and local talents.
This inter-regional economy was quite productive and supported a higher standard of living for people within the kingdom.
The Elamites preferred trade with surrounding countries. However, they also maintained well-organized military forces and were able to resist invasion by powerful neighbors in Mesopotamia
Some anthropologists claim this culture had a written language, but recognized experts in early languages agree that the evidence is fake. Those ancient people may not have written, but they had a well-established civilization.
The game of chess was invented in Persia.
Hammurabi of Babylonia conquered most of the Elamite kingdom. The Elamites survived in the mountains beyond Hammurabi’s reach.
c. 1730 B.C.
The Elamites dealt a devastating defeat to the armies of Hammurabi’s son, Samsuiluna, and regained their kingdom. Western Iran entered a period of two hundred years of comparative isolation from the outside world.
1,500 B.C. to 1,250 B.C.
The Anzanite faction of the Elamites established a strong dynasty, and the Elamite Empire grew toward Mesopotamia and what had become a strong Assyrian Empire.
Assyrian King Tululti-Ninurta died and Assyria fell into internal strife over succession to the throne. The Elamites seized the opportunity and campaigned against the Assyrian armies. They captured Babylon and took the famous Hammurabi Stela containing the inscribed code of Hammurabi to Susa.
c. 1150 B.C.
Nebuchadnezzar I united northern and central Babylon, an area we call modern Iraq. He attacked and defeated the Elamite empire. Again, the Elamites retreated to mountainous areas and survived.
In the next article, we will look at Iranian history up to the seventh century Islamic Invasion.