CE27 - Culture, créations, patrimoine

Migrations, mobility and innovations: interpreting change from the Neolithic to the Early Bronze Age in the South Caucasus and Northern Iran – 2MI

Submission summary

The “Neolithic way of life" developed in the Caucasus ca. 6200 BCE, which is fairly late when compared with the astonishing steps taken by Near-Eastern cultures in the neighbouring Fertile Crescent as early as the 9th mill. BC. The existence of organic links between the Neolithisation process of the Near-East and that of the Caucasus is still a matter of debate, but the Caucasus no doubt appears as a marginal, backward area in the overall dynamics that shaped part of South-western Asia in the early Holocene. During the following period, i.e. the Chalcolithic, these dynamics seemingly changed completely and South-Western Asia underwent a progressive shift in its centre of gravity: some time ca. the 5th-4th mill. BC, a change in circulation flows appeared in the obsidian procurement strategies of Iranian and north Mesopotamian communities, which started to exploit Caucasian obsidian beds as well, instead of focusing on East Anatolian deposits. This shift in obsidian sourcing networks is coeval with the development of major technical innovations such as extractive copper metallurgy and the production of wool fabrics, which led to the systematic exploitation of a new range of raw materials (salt and metal ores) and probably entailed the appropriation of new territories - the Highlands. At any rate, it appears that Transcaucasia became a major source of attraction for human groups living in Iran, North Mesopotamia and beyond from the Late Chalcolithic onwards (ca. 4500 BCE), as shown by the number of Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age sites found in the Araxes and Urmiah basins. How should these profound, structural, changes be interpreted? The explanation that leaps to mind is of course that major changes in economic flows were prompted by technical innovations. We need to test this hypothesis by breaking down the intricate relationships between the development of these innovations, the quest for raw materials, and the rise of other practices, such as vertical pastoralism or long-distance nomadism.
Indeed, innovations, which may be technological or zootechnological, may have involved the migrations and/or increasing mobility of human groups living in the Near and Middle East, as claimed by several studies. But the processes underlying the changes in economic flows are still poorly understood, while the reality of human migrations from the Near-East towards the Caucasus during the 4th mill. BC has been actively challenged. Altogether, it is the agency of Late Prehistoric Caucasian communities that is being debated, between a centre-vs-periphery perspective that considers the Highlands as a mere source of raw materials, exploited by the proto-urban communities of the lowlands, and an analytical stance that places the evolution of the Caucasus within the complexity of Eurasian dynamics in Late Prehistory, which integrates not only the Near and Middle East but also the Pontic universe and the northern steppes.
Thus, this project lies at the core of on-going international research on: a) the neolithisation processes of the Caucasus, b) the interactions between the Caucasus and the Near and Middle-East from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age. Considering the state of the art, we have three goals in mind: i) the study of the Caucasian Neolithic, as seen from the Araxes basin, with a special emphasis on its possible connections with the Neolithic communities of the Fertile Crescent; ii) the study of interregional economic networks between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, in relationship with the emergence of new economic hubs; iii) the study of the human mosaic developing in the Highlands during the 4th mill., with a view to identifying the various cultural groups involved in what appears as a "copper rush".

Project coordination


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


AASPE Archéozoologie, archéobotanique : sociétés, pratiques et environnements
EAE Eco-Anthropologie et Ethnobiologie

Help of the ANR 299,321 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2020 - 48 Months

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