The Shahrizor Prehistory Project (SSP) is a new collaboration between the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, UCL Qatar, and the Sulaimaniya Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage.
It aims to investigate the crucial transitions in world history by carrying out new fieldwork in the archaeologically rich but little explored area of the Shahrizor Plain, Iraqi Kurdistan. Our efforts focus on the excavation, survey, and analysis of two previously unexplored sites, Gurga Chiya and Tepe Marina. They shed light on changes in village life that took place between the origins of farming and the appearance of the world’s first cities (c. 7000 to 3000 BC). This long period of social transformation has often been characterised in negative terms, as an extended “transitional” phase, or as so many faltering steps towards the evolution of the “state”. Through new fieldwork, we aim to develop a more positive understanding of these early forms of village life, their distinctive features, their everyday products and practices, and their wider place in the prehistoric world.
Social theorists have long assumed that the adoption of farming by early human populations led swiftly and inevitably to the rise of social inequality, territoriality, and the emergence of cities.
In the Middle East we find a different story. For thousands of years after the origins of farming, village communities throughout this region retained their essentially small-scale and egalitarian character. They achieved innovations in technology, diet, and social organisation that influenced the course of human history.
But, so far as our evidence shows, they did all this – for thousands of years – without forming urban settlements or allowing the emergence of centralised governments and permanent elites. Moreover, these pre-urban societies formed networks of social interaction and cultural transmission that are staggering in scale, extending from the Persian Gulf to the Taurus Mountains, and from the Iranian highlands to shores of the Mediterranean – a prehistoric version of the “global village”.