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Department of Archaeology


Mamasani Archaeological Project

A number of the most powerful and influential states and empires of the ancient Near East originated in southwest Iran. These include the Persian Empire ruled by the Achaemenid Dynasty (c.539-330 BC) and the various incarnations of Elamite states that engaged in warfare, political intrigue and trade with Babylonia and Assyria during the Bronze and Iron Ages (2200-641 BC). Southwest Iran was also the heartland of the so-called ‘Proto-Elamite horizon’, which was distinguished by the first appearance in Iran of urbanism and pictographic writing, the latter of which spread from the southwest into the furthest reaches of the Iranian plateau in the late 4th millennium BC (c. 3300-2900 BC). The rise of this succession of socio-political formations was a product of the increasing complexity in the village and town-based societies in the 6th, 5th and 4th millennium BC.

A defining characteristic of these prehistoric and historical entities was their dominance of both the lowland province of Khuzistan and the highland province of Fars, once referred to as Susa and Anshan after their capital cities. The successful control of these environmentally distinct highland and lowland areas depended on the routes of communication through the Zagros Mountains, and historical texts dating from the 3rd mill BC onwards indicate the critical importance of one geographical region that lay directly on the major route linking Khuzistan and Fars: the Mamasani region

In 2003, a research collaboration between the Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research (ICAR) and the University of Sydney began joint research in the Mamasani district of Fars Province, Iran. This collaboration now involves researchers from the ICAR, New York University (USA), the University of Cambridge (UK), and the University of New England (Australia). Since 2003, the project has undertaken soundings and excavations at the sites of Tol-e Nurabad, Tol-e Spid, and Qaleh Kali, as well as a reconnaissance archaeological survey of the northern Mamasani district and pioneering Holocene palaeoclimate research in lakes and wetlands of northwest Fars.

Our prehistoric research in Fars aims to understand local late prehistoric developments within the context of broader regional patterns of socio-economic and technological change, and to examine the implications of these local transformations for models of the rise and spread of complex societies in early SW Asia. The results of this research have been widely disseminated (see Project Bibliography).

The current project directors are Dr Alireza Askari (University of Shiraz), Dr Cameron Petrie (Cambridge), Prof. D.T. Potts (NYU), Dr Alireza Sardari (ICAR), and Prof. Lloyd Weeks (UNE).

See also: Exploring Routes and Plains in Southwest Iran


Excavations at Qaleh Kali


In 2007, the Mamasani Archaeological Project began preliminary excavations at the site of Qaleh Kali, which had been visited by Ernst Herzfeld, Sir M. Aurel Stein, the Tokyo University-Iran Archaeological Expedition, and David Stronach.  

Initial work involved surface survey and geophysical analysis, and this was followed by the excavation of soundings in 2007, and full-scale excavations in 2008 and 2009. The 2008 season saw the extensive exposure of the remains of an Achaemenid period portico and associated column bases that show clear signs of having been disturbed by an earthquake (Potts et al. 2007, 2009; Berbarian et al. 2014).  










Excavations at Tol-e Nurabad

The site of Tol-e Nurabad is the largest (9 ha) and highest (23 m) preserved mound in Mamasani. Preliminary soundings at the site in 2003 showed that it has an extensive sequence of prehistoric and historic period occupation spanning the period between 6000 and 50 BC meaning that it has the longest sequence of stratified occupation known in all of Fars (Weeks et al. 2006a). In south western Iran, the period between 6000 and 3000 BC is characterised by profound socio-economic, technological and political transformations that accompanied the move from village based societies to the first highland cities. The protracted sequence at Tol-e Nurabad provides a unique opportunity to investigate social, economic and political transformations across the whole of this critical time span.

The two preliminary soundings that were initially excavated (Trenches A and B) showed that Tol-e Nurabad was occupied during a number key periods of the prehistory of Fars which require systematic investigation: most notably the Neolithic, Chalcolithic Bakun, and Bronze Age Lapui and Banesh phases, which are crucial for our understanding of social, economic and political development between 6000 and 3000 BC.

Expanded excavations carried out in 2009 and 2010 (Trenches C and D) revealed important sequences of occupation dating to the 5th and 4th millennium BC (Trench C) and the 6thmillennium BC (Trench D). Work is currently underway to bring these excavations to final publication. 


Excavations at Tol-e Spid

The mound site of Tol-e Spid stands near the centre of the fertile Dasht-e Rostam-e Yek, which is the largest plain in the Mamasani District of western Fars. What is visible of the mound today covers an area of approximately 2 ha, much of which rises only 3-4 m above the surrounding ground surface. The highest point of the site however, rises abruptly to a height of 16 m above the plain, making Tol-e Spid the tallest preserved site on the Dasht-e Rostam-e Yek. The upper parts of the mound are steep, indicating that the mound itself may have once been larger than it is today.

Initial excavations were carried out at Tol-e Spid over two seasons in 2003, involving the excavation of a preliminary sounding 2 x 1 m to a depth of 14 m down the face of the steep exposed section at the northern side of the site. This sounding and revealed a protracted sequence of occupation spanning between c. 4000 and 50 B.C. Further excavations were carried out in 2007, so that the entire sequence is now 17 m deep and stretches into the late 5th millennium BC.

Natural soil has not been reached, but the lowest 7 m of the excavated sequence and the 2 m of deposit penetrated by an auger were characterised by Banesh, Transitional Lapui-Banesh, and Lapui period ceramic wares that have traditionally been dated to the fourth millennium BC. Black-on-buff Bakun wares and Neolithic soft- ware ceramics have been recovered as residual material in various contexts, although deposits from these periods have not yet been exposed with material in situ.

It is notable that the earliest phases that have been exposed have clear evidence for two earthquakes (Petrie et al. 2009, 2013; Berbarian et al. 2014).

Project Bibliography


Potts, D.T. 2014. Nomadism in Iran: From Antiquity to the Modern Era, New York, Oxford University Press.

Askari Chaverdi, A., Potts, D.T., Petrie, C.A. Dusting, A. and McRae, I.K. 2013. Achaemenid and Post Achaemenid Studies, Mamsani Region, Northwest and western Fars, Iran, Shiraz University of Arts Press, Shiraz (In Persian).

Askari Chaverdi, A., Seyedin, M. and, Petrie, C.A. 2013. Interaction between the Societies of Highland Fars and the Persian Gulf during the Late Third and Early Second Millennium B.C.: According to Archaeological Research, Shiraz University Press, Shiraz (In Persian).

Askari Chaverdi, A., Petrie, C.A. and Taylor, 2012. Early villages on the Persian Gulf, Shiraz University Press, Shiraz (In Persian).

Potts, D.T., Roustaei K., Petrie, C.A. and Weeks, L.R. (eds). 2009. The Mamasani Archaeological Project Stage One: A report on the first two seasons of the ICAR – University of Sydney Joint Expedition to the Mamasani District, Fars Province, Iran, Archaeopress, BAR International Series 2044, Oxford.

Potts, D.T. and Roustaei K., (eds). 2006. The Mamasani Archaeological Project Stage One: A report on the first two seasons of the ICAR – University of Sydney Joint Expedition to the Mamasani District, Fars Province, Iran, Iranian Center for Archaeological Research, Tehran


PhD dissertations

McRae, I.K. 2014. Achaemenid and post  Achaemenid ceramics from Qaleh Kali, Iran, University of Sydney.

Dusting, A. 2014. The Architecture of Achaemenid Qaleh Kali, University of Sydney.

McCall, B. 2009. The Mamasani Archaeological Survey: Epipalaeolithic to Elamite settlement patterns in the Mamasani district of the Zagros Mountains, Fars Province, Iran, University of Sydney.



Berberian, M., Petrie, C.A., Potts, D.T., Asgari Chaverdi, A., Dusting, A., Ghāssemi, P. Noruzi, R., Sardari Zarchi, A. and Weeks, L. 2014. Archaeoseismicity of the mounds and monuments along the Kāzerun fault (western Zagros, SW Iranian Plateau) since the Chalcolithic period, Iranica Antiqua 49: 1-81 [doi 10.2143/IA.49.0.3009238].

Potts, D.T. 2013. In the shadow of Kurangun: Cultural developments in the highlands between Khuzestan and Anšan, in De Graef, K. and Tavernier, J., (eds.), Susa and Elam: Archaeological, Philological, Historical and Geographical Perspectives, Leiden/Boston, Brill Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse 58: 129-137.

Potts, D.T. 2011. A note on the limits of Anšan, in Alvarez-Mon, J. and Garrison, M.B., (eds.), Elam and Persia, Winona Lake, Eisenbrauns: 35-43.

Potts, D.T. 2011. Equus asinus in highland Iran: evidence old and new, in Conard, N., Drechsler, P. and Morales, A., (eds.), Between Sand and Sea: The Archaeology and Human Ecology of southwestern Asia, Tübingen, Kerns Verlag: 167-176.

Potts, D.T. 2011. Nomadismus in Iran von der Frühzeit bis in die Moderne - Eine Untersuchung sowohl aus archäologischer als auch historischer Sicht, Eurasia Antiqua 16: 1-18.

Potts, D.T. 2009. The Persepolis Fortification Texts (PFTs) and the Royal Road: another look at the Fahliyan area, in Briant, P. and Henkelman, W., (eds.), L’archive des Fortifications de Persépolis. État des questions et perspectives de recherches, Paris, Persika 12: 275-300.

Potts, D.T. 2009. Bevel-rim bowls and bakeries: evidence and explanations from Iran and the Indo-Iranian Borderlands, Journal of Cuneiform Studies 61/1: 1-23.

Askari Chaverdi, A., Petrie, C.A. and Taylor, H. 2008. Early village settlements on the Persian Gulf littoral: revisiting Tol-e Pir and the Galehdār Valley, Iran 46: 21-42 [].

Askari Chaverdi, A., Petrie, C.A.. and Seyedin, M. 2007. Excavations at Tol-e Spid: radio-carbon dates for some Achaemenid and Post-Achaemenid finds, Fars (550-50 BC) (Persian with English abstract), Bastanshenasi 5: 57-95.

Petrie, C.A., Sardari Zarchi, A. and Javanmard Zadeh, A. 2007. Developing societies and economies in 4th millennium BC Fars: Further Excavations at Tol-e Spid, Iran 45: 301-309 [].

Potts, D.T., Asgari Chaverdi, A., Petrie, C.A., Dusting, A., Farhadi, F., McRae, I.K., Shikhi, S., Wong, E.H., Lashkari, A. and Javanmard Zadeh, A. 2007. The Mamasani Archaeological Project, Stage Two: Excavations at Qaleh Kali (Tappeh Servan/Jinjun [MS 46]), Iran 45: 287-300 [].

Petrie, C.A., Seyedin, M. and Asgari Chaverdi, A. 2006. ‘Kaftari and Kaftari-related ceramics in Southwest Iran and the Persian Gulf’ (Persian with English abstract), in Iranian Center for Archaeological Research Archaeological Reports 4: 177-186.

Weeks, L.R., Alizadeh, K., Niakan, L., Alamdari, K., Zeidi, M., Khosrowzadeh, A. and McCall, B. 2006. ‘The Neolithic settlement of highland SW Iran: new evidence from the Mamasani District’, Iran 44: 1-31.

Petrie, C.A., Asgari Chaverdi, A., and Seyedin, M. 2005. From Anshan to Dilmun and Magan: the spatial and temporal distribution of Kaftari and Kaftari-related ceramic vessels, Iran 43: 49-86 [].

Potts, D.T., Roustaei, K., Alamdari, K., Alizadeh, K., Asgari Chaverdi, A., Khosrowzadeh, A., McCall, B., Niakan, L., Petrie, C.A., Seyedin, M., Weeks, L.R., and Zaidi, M. 2005. Eight thousand years of history in Fars Province, Iran. Near Eastern Archaeology 68/2: 84-92 [].

Potts, D.T. 2004. The numinous and the immanent: some thoughts on Kurangun and the Rudkhaneh-e Fahliyan, in von Folsach, K., Thrane, H. and Thuesen, I., (eds.), From Handaxe to Khan: Essays Presented to Peder Mortensen on the Occasion of his 70th Birthday, Aarhus, Aarhus University Press: 143-156.

Potts, D.T. and Roustaei, K. 2004. The ICAR-Sidney University Joint Archaeological Expedition in Mamasani, Fars province: a preliminary report on the fieldwork, Archaeological Reports 2: 9-26 (in Farsi).



M. Jones, M. Djamali, L. Stevens, V. Heyvaert, H. Askari, D. Norolahie and L.R. Weeks. 2013. "Mid Holocene environmental and climatic change in Iran", in Petrie, C.A. (ed.), Ancient Iran and its Neighbours: Local Developments and Long-Range Interactions in the Fourth Millennium BC, British Institute of Persian Studies Archaeological Monographs Series III, Oxbow Books, Oxford: 25-34.

Petrie C.A. 2013. The Chalcolithic of south Iran, in Potts, D.T. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Iranian Archaeology, OUP, Oxford: 121-159.

Petrie, C.A., Sardari, A., Ballantyne, R., Berberian, M., Lancelotti, C., Mashkour, M., McCall, B., Potts, D.T. and Weeks, L. 2013. Mamasani in the fourth millennium BC, in Petrie, C.A. ed.Ancient Iran and its Neighbours: Local Developments and Long-Range Interactions in the Fourth Millennium BC, British Institute of Persian Studies Archaeological Monographs Series III, Oxbow Books, Oxford: 171-194.

Weeks. L.R. 2013. "The development and expansion of a Neolithic way of life", in Potts, D.T.  (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Iran, New York, Oxford University Press: 49-75.

Weeks. L.R. 2013. "The Neolithisation of Fars, Iran", in Matthews, R. and Fazeli Nashli, H. (eds.), The Neolithisation of Iran: the Formation of New Societies, Oxford, BANEA and Oxbow Books: 86-96.

Asgari Chaverdi, A., Khosrowzadeh, A., McCall, B., Petrie, C.A., Seyedin, M., Weeks, L.R., and Zeidi, M. 2010. Archaeological Evidence for Achaemenid Settlement within the Mamasani Valleys, Western Fars, Iran, The World of Achaemenid Persia, edited by J. Curtis, and St. J. Simpson, I.B. Tauris, London: 287-297.

Petrie, C.A. 2011. ‘Culture’, innovation and interaction across southern Iran from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age (6500-3000 BC), in Roberts, B. and Vander Linden, M. (Eds.), Investigating Archaeological Cultures: Material Culture, Variability and Transmission, Springer: 151-182.

Petrie, C.A. 2010. Kaftari Ware, in Yarshater, E. (ed.), Encyclopaedia Iranica, Mazda Publishers, Los Angeles [].

Weeks, L., Petrie, C.A. and Potts, D.T. 2010. ‘Ubaid-related-related? The “black-on-buff” ceramic traditions of highland southwest Iran, in Carter, R.A & Philip, G. Beyond the ‘Ubaid, Transformation and Integration in the Late Prehistoric Societies of the Middle East. Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization Series. Chicago: Oriental Institute Uni. of Chicago: 247-278.

Mashkour, M. 2009 (2006). Faunal Remains from Tol-e Nurabad and Tol-e Spid, in Potts and Roustaei (eds): 135-146.

Petrie, C.A., Asgari Chaverdi, A., and Seyedin, M. 2009 (2006). ‘Excavations at Tol-e Spid’, in Potts and Roustaei (eds): 89-134.

Petrie, C.A., Weeks, L.R., Potts, D.T., and Roustaei, K. 2009 (2006). ‘Perspectives on the Cultural Sequence of Mamasani’, in Potts and Roustaei (eds): 157-184.

Potts, D.T., Roustaei, K., Weeks, L.R. and Petrie, C.A. 2009 (2006). ‘The Mamasani District and the Archaeology of Southwestern Iran’, in Potts and Roustaei (eds): 1-16.

Roustaei, K., Alamdari, K., and Petrie, C.A.. 2009 (2006). ‘Landscape and Environment in Mamasani’, in Potts and Roustaei (eds): 17-30.

Weeks, L.R., Alizadeh, K., Niakan, L., Alamdari, K. (Trench A), Khosrowzadeh, A. and Zeidi, M. (Trench B). 2009 (2006). ‘Excavations at Tol-e Nurabad’, in Potts, D.T. and Roustaei K. (eds): 31-88.

Zeidi, M., McCall, B., and Khosrowzadeh, A. 2009 (2006). ‘Survey of Dasht-e Rostam-e Yek and Dasht-e Rostam-e Do’, in Potts and Roustaei (eds): 147-168.

Project Tags

Geographical areas: 
East Asia
Mesopotamia and the Near East
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