a small prehistoric site located on the Deh Luran plain in southwestern Iran at an elevation of about 170 m (32°30′ N, 47°20′ E). The plain, covering approximately 169 sq km (100 sq. mi.) is enclosed by the Zagros Mountains on the north, a low line of hills and the vast Mesopotamian plain on the south, and by two small streams on the east and west.

In 1903 the French archaeologists, Joseph E. Gautier and Georges Lampre, representing the Mission Archéologique de Perse, excavated a small trench at the site that they called Tepe Mohammed Jaffar (the name of a local tribal leader). When they found only remains of “reed and branch huts,” along with some flints and crude ceramics, they abandoned work. Nearly sixty years later, Robert Braidwood and Richard Watson of the Oriental Institute Prehistoric Project collected some flints there and, on their advice, In 1961 Frank Hole and Kent Flannery (Rice University–Oriental Institute) undertook a 3-by-5-meter excavation. The upper layers of the site were found to contain Early Neolithic pottery, but the lower layers were aceramic. According to local villagers, the site had two names, Bus Mordeh (Pers., “dead goat”) and Ali Kosh (Pers., “the place where Ali was killed”). Unaware at the time that the French had named the site Mohammed Jaffar, the excavators called it Ali Kosh.

On the basis of the initial results, and especially on finding charred seeds in ashy material collected for radiocarbon dating, Hole and Flannery returned to the site In 1963 for more extensive excavations. Guided by Braidwood's previous research into the origins of domestication, the renewed excavation was focused on recovering plant remains and animal bones. Hans Helbaek, a Danish paleobotanist who had worked with Braidwood, an authority on ancient plant remains, joined the team in the field to study the samples as they were excavated. To extract seeds from the soil, the excavators used flotation (the first time the technique was employed in Southwest Asia). The technique separates charred organic remains from soil by immersing them in water with the aid of machines. At Ali Kosh, a tedious hand method was used, with water trucked to the site.

There are three archaeological phases at Ali Kosh, each given local site names: Bus Mordeh for the oldest, Ali Kosh for the second aceramic phase, and Mohammed Jaffar for the ceramic Neolithic. Fifteen radiocarbon dates were originally obtained for the site, but they gave highly variable and ambiguous results. On the basis of dates from other sites, as well as additional accelerator mass spectroscopy AMS dates on charred bone from the Bus Mordeh and Ali Kosh phases, it is now estimated that the site was founded in about 7000 BCE.

The first settlers at Ali Kosh lived near a permanent marsh from which they harvested fish, turtles, clams, and waterfowl. Hunters stalked wild gazelle, onager, cattle, and pigs that grazed the surrounding plain, and herders kept small flocks of domestic goats. [See Cattle and Oxen; Pigs; Sheep and Goats.] They supplemented these foods by harvesting seasonally abundant wild plant foods and cultivating wheat and barley. [See Cereals.] The successive layers at Ali Kosh document the increasing dependence on domesticated herds and agriculture until 6000 BCE, when the marsh dried and the villagers moved to one of the other sites on the plain, such as Chogha Sefid.

[See also Persia, article on Prehistoric Persia.]

Bibliography

  • Gautier, Joseph, and Georges Lampre. “Fouilles de Moussian.” Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse 8 (1905): 59–149. The first mention of Ali Kosh, here called Tepe Mohammad-Djaffar (see pp. 81–83).
  • Hole, Frank, et al., eds. Prehistory and Human Ecology of the Deh Luran Plain: An Early Village Sequence from Khuzistan, Iran. University of Michigan, Memoirs of the Museum of Anthropology, no. 1. Ann Arbor, 1969. Final report of the excavations, with specialist studies of botanical and faunal remains.
  • Hole, Frank, ed. The Archaeology of Western Iran. Washington, D.C., 1987. See chapters 2 and 3 for discussions of Ali Kosh and other contemporary sites.

Frank Hole