Online Review: Book

Chogha Mish. Vol. 2, The Development of a Prehistoric Regional Center in Lowland Susiana, Southwestern Iran: Final Report on the Last Six Seasons of Excavations, 1972–1978

John R. Alden


By Abbas Alizadeh (OIP 130). Pp. xliv + 395, b&w figs. 99, pls. 31, tables 14. The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Chicago 2008. $90. ISBN 978-1-885923-52-3 (cloth).

Chogha Mish is one of the largest pre- and protohistoric mounds in the Susiana Plain of Khuzistan province, Iran, and extensive excavations at the site were carried out over 11 seasons between 1961 and 1978 under the direction of Pinhas Delougaz and Helene Kantor of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. Chogha Mish, volume 1, reported the results of the first five seasons of work (P. Delougaz and H. Kantor, Chogha Mish. Vol. 1, 2 pts., The First Five Seasons of Excavations, 1961–1971. OIP 101 [Chicago 1996]). The present volume completes the final publication of the Oriental Institute's excavations at this site.

The report is intended solely for archaeological professionals. It contains four distinct sorts of information: long tabulations relevant only to a very few specialists; formal descriptions of archaeological objects, depositional units, and architecture; comparative studies of Susiana painted pottery and a neutron activation analysis of ceramics from the broad Susiana Plain; and, finally, a summary discussion of the site in a regional and developmental context.

The most specialized materials are appendixes and indexes listing excavation loci, locations of individual finds, and summary data on faunal remains—essential material, but information that will be used only in the most exhaustive reexaminations of data from the excavations.

Somewhat less esoteric are the drawings and descriptions of excavated objects and architecture. These data are presented in five chapters, more than 80 line drawings, and 30 plates. In conjunction with the extensive corpus of material published in Chogha Mish, volume 1, they provide the essential data for chronological, functional, and comparative analyses of material from the site.

Alizadeh's presentation of these archaeological data is clear and well organized, and he has done an excellent job of dealing with the excavators' difficult and often confusing program of excavation. One improvement in volume 2 is that each figure includes a scale instead of the numerical designations (1:1, 2:5, and so forth) used in volume 1—a change that makes it easier to understand and interpret the relative size of the material in each figure. Alizadeh has also dropped the clumsy "family system" of vessel classifications used in volume 1. Instead, he describes vessels by assigning them a general ware designation (a classification combining paste, temper, color, and surface treatment) and showing specific variations in vessel shape and decoration through the drawings of individual vessels. This move from "splitting" toward "grouping" makes it easier to compare ceramics from Chogha Mish with those from related sites and easier to identify trends in chronological change. It is a significant improvement.

For most of the book's readers, however, the most valuable contributions will be the analytical and interpretive sections. These include an analysis of the stylistic and technical development of Susiana painted pottery (ch. 4); a neutron activation study of ceramic production and distribution in the Susiana Plain during the fourth millennium B.C.E. (appx. 1 [Ghazal et al.]); and an interpretative summary of Chogha Mish's occupational sequence, regional significance, and developmental context (ch. 1).

Alizadeh's stylistic analysis of painted pottery from the Susiana Plain provides an excellent summary of terminology, technological and decorative features, and the interregional connections of a ceramic sequence spanning roughly two and a half millennia, from 7000 to 4500 B.C.E. More important, this typology provides a basis for the discussion of prehistoric cultural development at Chogha Mish and in the Susiana Plain that Alizadeh presents in chapter 1.

The instrumental neutron activation analysis (INAA) study of fourth-millennium ceramics by Ghazal et al. demonstrates, contrary to results obtained in earlier work by Berman ("Ceramic Production and the Development of Complex Polities in Late Prehistoric Southwest Iran," Ph.D. diss., City University of New York [1986]), that with modern analytical methods, an improved sampling strategy, and improved software for statistical analyses, it is possible to distinguish the trace element compositions of ceramics made of clays from various parts of the Susiana Plain. The results of this study contradict the hypotheses of Johnson (Local Exchange and Early State Development in Southwestern Iran [Ann Arbor 1973]) and Wright and Johnson ("Population, Exchange, and Early State Development in Southwestern Iran," American Anthropologist 77 [1975] 267–89) that Uruk crosshatch-band jars were produced only at a few large sites.

Chapter 1, presenting Alizadeh's reconstruction of Chogha Mish's occupational history and developmental context, is the most useful part of this volume for the general archaeological community. He begins his discussion with the appearance of the earliest aceramic settlements in the Susiana Plain, then reviews the uninterrupted development of Chogha Mish from Archaic Susiana 1 (ca. 6500 B.C.E.) through Late Middle Susiana (ca. 4800 B.C.E.) times. At the end of the Middle Susiana, a monumental building at Chogha Mish is destroyed by fire and the 17 ha site is abandoned. Provocatively, Alizadeh suggests that the likeliest candidates for the apparent aggression against Chogha Mish were "developing highland mobile pastoralist communities who may have been vying with the Chogha Mish elite to control the eastern Susiana plain" (13). After the destruction of the monumental building, Alizadeh contends, the population of Chogha Mish then resettled at Susa.

Although the evidence for an early appearance of mobile pastoralists is largely circumstantial, Alizadeh marshals it effectively and in detail. Indeed, his proposals about the cultural and developmental role played by pastoral nomadic societies are among the most stimulating and significant contributions of this chapter. His summaries of urban development at Chogha Mish and changing settlement patterns in the Susiana Plain during the Protoliterate (Late Uruk) period, while less controversial, are equally interesting.

Alizadeh's contribution in publishing this volume is enormous. The excavations at Chogha Mish were famously confusing, and after both of the excavation's directors died before completing reports on the later seasons, it seemed that the results of their work might never appear. The manuscript's preparation was funded by the Shelby White–Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications, and this program also deserves credit for the part it has played in the final publication of these important excavations.

John R. Alden
Museum of Anthropology
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109


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