As the guy at National Geographic responsible for keeping track of a bunch of scientists, I never know who or what I'll engage with each day. It could be dinosaurs for breakfast, poisonous frogs for lunch, and Inca gold for dinner. I'll post the highlights here as I encounter them. If you have questions or comments about archeology, paleontology, paleoanthropology, or any Society-funded projects, this is the place to post. I'll check things out and invite experts to weigh in on postings from time to time.
How Ancient is Iran?
Posted Jul 30,2008

Neolithic_skeletonThis early Iranian, seen here in a reconstructed Neolithic grave at the museum in Kerman, comes from a late chapter in the human story in Iran. Photo by author.

There is no reason to think that human ancestors were not in Iran as early as 1.8 to 1.6 million years ago. Iran is a crossroads that these ancestors, such as Homo erectus, likely passed through as they moved out of Africa at that time to new habitats as far north as Dmanisi in Georgia and as far east as China and Indonesia.

Fereidoun Biglari of The Paleolithic Research Center at The National Museum in Teheran, is leading efforts to search for evidence of early humans in Iran. He has had success finding tools, but no human remains from early time periods, such as the Homo erectus found at Dmanisi, have been found. It may just be a matter of time before he succeeds.

Biglari and his colleagues will also find more evidence from later time periods, such as when early modern humans emerged out of Africa 100,000 years ago. Don’t be surprised if someday you hear that the remains of Neanderthals have been found in Iran as well. They were present in the Levant and Central Asia at this time. A famous Neanderthal site, Shanidar, lies just across Iran’s western border with Iraq. I was pleasantly surprised to see an illustration from a National Geographic article on the Shanidar Neanderthals on display at the Tehran museum. We know Neanderthals traveled as far east as Uzbekistan; the path led through Iran.

The point is that, relatively speaking, people have always been in Iran. This is in contrast to the Americas, where people arrived just 14,000 years ago. This sense of having been in a place for a long time is alien to Americans, but familiar to Chinese, Africans, and other cultures with deep, deep roots. It is true of Iranians as well.

Dr. Hassan Fazeli Nashli, director of the Center for Archaeological Research in Tehran, described to me how people have lived on the Iranian plateau for a very long time. The Persian Empire, which was ruled by a series of dynasties over hundreds of years, was but a chapter in a much longer story.

Do you think we should look for human ancestors in Iran? Where would you look?

Posted by Chris Sloan | Comments (2)


Jul 30, 2008 8AM #

Chris, Neanderthals, or Neandertals? I have seen you spell it both ways!

chris sloan
Jul 30, 2008 8AM #

I don't think it matters. I prefer Neandertal simply because it is how I got used to spelling if in the 1990s. National Geographic magazine adopted that spelling then but recently reversed itself. If you really want to know why, ask the blogger at NGM's Roger's Rules of Order. She was involved in the decision. All I know for sure is that the "h" must be used if you are referring to their scientific name, ie; Homo neanderthalensis.

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