The investigation of exchange networks during the early Neolithic period in the central Zagros was so far mainly concerned with the spread of obsidian. As a pilot study, this research will for the first time focus on the characterization and provenance studies of local siliceous lithic raw materials from the pre-pottery Neolithic site of East Chia Sabz.
The Neolithic period is known as a time during which human communities, along with changing subsistence strategies, developed their interactions and engagements with each other and their surrounding landscape. In other words, they engaged in networks to exchange knowledge, ideas, innovations, raw materials and finished commodities. This interconnectedness is usually suggested by the geographic distribution of similar raw materials or finished goods characterized both macroscopically and microscopically. In this regard, the spread of 'exotic' materials, in raw or final form, along with ideas and technologies, played a key role in the explanation of such interactions via exchange networks. Across west Asia, especially in the Zagros region, such explanation has been largely based on the provenance studies of obsidian pieces since the 1960s onwards. Judging from available data, however, obsidian provided only a very small amount of the lithic raw materials, mostly ca. 2-6 percentage, during Neolithic across the central Zagros. It is believed that availability of local high quality chert/ flint caused such scarcity. With regard to color and quality a variety of chert was used by the Neolithic communities of the region. Moreover, it has been hypothesized that a high quality chert was circulated among them. However, no microscopic characterization has yet been undertaken in this regard. It is unclear that to what extent various siliceous rocks might have been circulated via local and regional exchange networks. Additionally, the role of specific topography of the central Zagros, mostly composed of intermountain valleys and plains, has not yet been considered with regard to the exploitation and circulation of these local lithic raw materials.
This research will focus on the analysis of silicite lithic raw materials from the pre-pottery Neolithic site of East Chia Sabz (ca.8800-7000 BC). The site yielded a variety of cryptocrystalline sedimentary rocks, including chert/flint, exhibiting a range of different colors and qualities within a sequence of 5.2m in depth. An interesting diachronic change in the procurement of the raw materials is detectable in the way that the lowermost phase represented only coarse to medium-grained chert ranging from dark green to gray and reddish brown in color while upper phases showed an increasing use of a fine grained brown or dark chert/flint through time. This provides us an opportunity to perform a pilot provenance study to characterize the lithic raw materials chemically and to locate their most possible sources in the region. Due to heterogeneous nature of chert, a Multi-layered Chert Sourcing Approach (MLA) will be applied to both archaeological and geological samples. This comprehensive method combines visual (macroscopic), microscopic, and mineralogical /geochemical aspects. Then the results will be placed within a regional context to gain a generalization about the distribution of the raw materials and their outcrops as well as their procurement and curation via exchange networks during early Neolithic. Due to analytical and interpretative nature of this research, it is planned to benefit from collaborating with Dr. Michael Brandl and Prof. Barbara Horejs, OREA Institute. We will assess the siliceous rocks presented at the site, their most likely sources and their diachronic exploitation. As noted above, previous provenance studies have so far largely been restricted to the small presence of obsidian pieces in the central Zagros where Neolithic communities had intensively engaged with their local raw materials to produce their stone tools. This highlights the significance of this pilot study employing a comprehensive method with the aim of not only stablishing of a database of the distribution of local sources of various silicious rocks, with special regard to the site of East Chia Sabz, but also bringing to light a new picture of early Neolithic exchange networks in the central Zagros. Furthermore, this research will contribute to a broader on-going Austrian project on early Neolithic raw material management and will pave the ground for a larger joint project in the future.