News

September 2022

New article on the osteoarchaeology from Bestansur

Dr Sam Walsh (UCLAN) has published a new article on the dental wear from the human burials at Bestansur. This paper presents the first evidence of extra-masticatory dental wear. Bestansur is a rare, recently excavated burial site of this period in the Zagros region, of Iraqi Kurdistan.

A total of 585 teeth from 38 individuals were analysed for features indicative of activities including: oblique wear planes, notches, grooves, and chipping. The most frequent features were chipping and notches suggesting activities such as processing fibres by using the teeth as a ‘third hand’. Evidence for these wear features was present in both males, females, and in children aged five and older. These aspects of childhood life-course and dentition are rarely investigated. This study adds to our understanding of human behaviours, and socio-cultural aspects of life during this transitional period.

You can read the article here.

August 2022

CZAP/MENTICA contributes to major new ancient DNA research

A trio of papers was published last week in the journal Science which report genome-wide data from 727 distinct ancient individuals—more than doubling the amount of ancient DNA data from this region and filling in major gaps in the paleogenetic record. A team of researchers, led by the University of Vienna and Harvard University together with 202 co-authors (including members of the team from the University of Reading and the Sulaimaniyah Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage), present a systematic picture of the interlinked histories of humanity across the ‘Southern Arc’, from the origins of agriculture to late medieval times.

You can download all three articles and supplementary materials free from the David Reich Lab here, or read the edition of Science featuring the articles and related editorials here.

This study includes the DNA results from three young children buried beneath the floors of Building 5 and a teenager buried outside Building 2 at Bestansur, dating from 7800-7200 BC. Their remains are providing new insights into the Neolithic transition and interactions between early farming communities. “The genetic results lend support to a scenario of a web of pan-regional contacts between early farming communities. They also provide new evidence that the Neolithic transition was a complex process that did not occur just in one core region, but across Anatolia and the Near East” said Ron Pinhasi, one of the study’s leading authors.

This research presents the first ancient DNA data for Pre-Pottery Neolithic farmers from the Tigris side of northern Mesopotamia—both in eastern Turkey and in northern Iraq—a prime region of the origins of agriculture. It also provides new data for early Neolithic farmers from the Northwest Zagros, along with the first data from Neolithic Armenia. By filling these gaps, the authors reveal genetic interactions of pre-Neolithic hunter-gatherers, and show that these early farming cultures formed a continuum of ancestry mirroring the geography of West Asia. The results also chart at least two pulses of migration from the Fertile Crescent heartland to the early farmers of Anatolia.

At Bestansur, the material culture made and used by the inhabitants points to wide-ranging connections across Southwest Asia, with strong links to neighbouring communities in the Zagros Mountains. Raw materials were transported across hundreds of kilometres to the site, such as obsidian from volcanic sources in eastern Turkey, precious stones from the Iranian Alborz Mountains and shells from the Mediterranean Sea. “The diverse ancestry links between the Pre-Pottery Neolithic groups across Anatolia, Mesopotamia and the Levant is in agreement with archaeological research on Neolithic exchange networks especially in exotic raw materials, across long distances”, says Songül Alpaslan-Roodenberg, whose physical anthropological research focuses on the early farmers of this region.

The corpus of human remains from Bestansur Building 5 is one of the most substantial and most richly contextualised Neolithic assemblages from the Eastern Fertile Crescent. It is providing unique insights into the challenges faced by human communities through the Neolithic transition, with considerable evidence for malnutrition and dietary stress early in life in many of the individuals. The team is continuing to work with leading DNA specialists to investigate further into the genetic relationships between the individuals who lived and died at Bestansur, and their interactions with the wider Neolithic communities of the region.

June 2022

The Archaeology of Iran from the Palaeolithic to the Achaemenid Empire

Roger Matthews and Hassan Fazeli Nashli of Tehran University (with Amy Richardson as Illustrations Editor), have just published The Archaeology of Iran from the Palaeolithic to the Achaemenid Empire, which is available to order and as a free Open Access download.

The Archaeology of Iran from the Palaeolithic to the Archaemenid Empire is the first modern academic study to provide a synthetic, diachronic analysis of the archaeology and early history of all of Iran from the Palaeolithic period to the end of the Achaemenid Empire at 330 BC.

Drawing on the authors’ deep experience and engagement in the world of Iranian archaeology, and in particular on Iran-based academic networks and collaborations, this book situates the archaeological evidence from Iran within a framework of issues and debates of relevance today. Such topics include human–environment interactions, climate change and societal fragility, the challenges of urban living, individual and social identity, gender roles and status, the development of technology and craft specialisation and the significance of early bureaucratic practices such as counting, writing and sealing within the context of evolving societal formations.

Richly adorned with more than 500 illustrations, many of them in colour, and accompanied by a bibliography with more than 3000 entries, this book will be appreciated as a major research resource for anyone concerned to learn more about the role of ancient Iran in shaping the modern world.

May 2022

Excavations at Zawi Chami Razan 2022

In May 2022, a small Iraq-UK Project team conducted a two-week season of excavations open-air site of Zawi Chami Razan (Zagros Survey site ZS3), expanding on the investigations in 2021. Four trenches have revealed substantial evidence for food preparation and craft activities. Our survey of the site in 2013 identified a large boulder mortar (discussed in our Open Access monograph). Further survey and excavations have found numerous boulder mortars and stone pestles, stone structures, and food debris such as burnt animal bone, snail shell and crab claw.

December 2021

Excavations at Bestansur and Zarzi 2021

The Iraq-UK Project team conducted a ten-week season of excavations at Bestansur in Autumn 2021. Two days were also devoted to survey and a sounding in the vicinity of Zarzi Cave. We are extremely grateful for all the support we have received throughout the season, and beyond, from all colleagues in the Sulaimani Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage, in particular Kamal Raeuf Aziz and Sami Hama Rashid, led by Director Kamal Rasheed Raheem. We thank also the staff of Slemani Museum including its Director, Hashim Hama Abdullah, and conservator Nyan Nasser for all their support. We were very pleased to receive a visit from staff and pupils of Bestansur High School and to be honoured with an inspiring visit to their school.

To read more about our activities during the field season, you can download our short field report here.

Excavations at Bestansur

The major aim of the 2021 season’s excavations at the Early Neolithic site of Bestansur was to expand the exposed area of Neolithic architecture to generate major new insights into the neighbourhood scale of occupation at the site. We achieved this aim by excavating Neolithic levels in two areas adjacent to Trench 10 where we have conducted excavations already for several seasons. During the course of excavations, we further augmented our recording procedures to develop our project geodatabase with the use of a GNSS system and FPV drone, the latter of which was kindly lent to the team by the Sulaimani Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage.

In Trench 10N and Trench 10W, we excavated Late Islamic levels, including a burnt building and stone walls dating to the 17th century AD, and an extensive activity area characterised by more than a dozen tanours, large storage features and basins. Underlying the later levels, major phases of Neolithic mudbrick architecture were identified in Trenches 10N and 10W, probably contemporary with the Building 8 and Building 5 phases in the central region of Trench 10. These Neolithic phases remain to be fully excavated in future seasons.

The architecture at Bestansur continues to demonstrate considerable knowledge of earthen construction techniques and elaboration. Building 9, the smaller building to the east of Building 5 in Trench 10, was well-constructed and had traces of probable red pigment on the eastern wall of the entrance portico, Space 51, and on at least two of the well-laid multiple floors of the ‘reception’ room, Space 61. Further excavation of burials was focused on eight individuals in Space 61 of Building 9 and the extended areas of Trench 10W and Trench 10N. While Buildings 5 and 8 have been the prior focus of human burials, this season increasing amounts of human remains were found in the extension areas of Trench 10.

Zarzi Cave and Zawi Chami Razan

We worked in the region of Zarzi Cave for two days. At Zarzi Cave itself we systematically collected chipped stone materials on the cave talus and lower slopes. These lithics all appear to date to the Epipalaeolithic period.

An open air site (Zagros Survey ZS3, now named Zawi Chami Razan) is situated across the Chemi Tabin river from Zarzi Cave on a low knoll overlooking the river. We located this open-air site during a survey season in January 2013. In the 2021 season we conducted systematic surface survey of the site; significant quantities of ground stone tools including boulder mortar pieces were recovered across the site. We excavated a 2 x 2m sounding at Zawi Chami Razan. A line of stones may be the remnants of a wall and lithic finds from this sounding indicate occupation of Epipalaeolithic date. We plan to conduct further excavations at this promising site in the near future.

February 2021

Slemani Museum Prehistory Gallery

During our field season, we were pleased to visit the Slemani Museum for the opening of the new Paikuli gallery. This was also our first opportunity to see the new Prehistory Gallery following its official opening in February 2021. Members of the team worked with the Slemani Museum, Sulaymaniyah Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage, and Dr Rozhen Kamal Mohammed-Amin at Sulaimani Polytechnic University to design new displays that would engage visitors with the deep cultural heritage of local and global importance in the region and to showcase the prehistory collections at the Slemani Museum. You can read more about our collaboration here.

Whilst in the field we initiated two new collaborative projects working with the Slemani Museum and the Sulaymaniyah Directorate of Antiquities and Heritage, supported by the British Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, to support heritage protection measures in the region and develop the creative economy through heritage and eco-tourism.

August 2020

CZAP Volume 2 Now Available

The second volume in the CZAP series is now available to order here and for open access download: Matthews, R., Matthews, W., Rasheed Raheem, K. & Richardson, A. (eds). 2020. The Early Neolithic of the Eastern Fertile Crescent: Excavations at Bestansur and Shimshara, Iraqi Kurdistan. CZAP Reports Vol. 2. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

The second volume in the CZAP Report series explores the major developments in the transition from hunting and gathering to more sedentary agricultural lifestyles through the Early Neolithic period, 10,000-7000 BC. This volume includes final reports by the large-scale interdisciplinary team on a wealth of new data from excavations at Bestansur and Shimshara and survey at Zarzi, through application of state-of-the-art scientific techniques, integrated ecological and social approaches and sustainability studies. The volume will be available open access online from September 2020. You can view further data and original records underpinning the excavations here.

Also now available is Matthews, R., Matthews, W., Richardson, A., Raheem, K. R., Walsh, S., Aziz, K. R., Bendrey, R., Whitlam, J., Charles, M., Bogaard, A., Iversen, I., Mudd, D. and Elliott, S. 2019. The early Neolithic of Iraqi Kurdistan: current research at Bestansur, Shahrizor Plain. Paleorient 45.2: 13-32.

August 2019

Excavations at Bestansur 2019

The MENTICA team conducted an 11-week season of excavations at the Early Neolithic site of Bestansur between March and June 2019. The season focused on Trench 10 to extend excavations from previous seasons. It is clear that there are multiple Early Neolithic mud-brick buildings in this area of the site, with major potential for investigation of activity variability across different spaces and buildings. By expanding to the north, east and west, we connected Trench 10 to Neolithic levels identified in Trenches 1 and 6 (excavated in 2012). We excavated more of the exceptional number of human remains buried within Building 5, with at least 16 individuals represented amongst the disarticulated burials. Among the remarkable finds from the excavations was a stone ear stretcher or plug found resting on the side of a skull - one of the earliest examples in the world.

To read more about our activities during the field season, you can download our short field report here.

The excavation team was co-directed by Professor Roger Matthews and Dr Wendy Matthews, with Dr Amy Richardson (field and data manager, small finds), Dr Sam Walsh (human osteoarchaeologist), Dr Ingrid Iversen, (microarchaeologist), Dr David Mudd (ground stone and chipped stone tools), Dr Charlotte Diffey (archaeobotany), Dr Rae Beaubien (conservator), Donna De Groene (zooarchaeology), Alessandro Guaggenti (excavations, micromorphology), Samira Idriss (excavations, conservation), and Firman Tawfiq, Kate Dudgeon, Paul Flintoft, Nick Pankhurst, Dan Wheeler and Mattia Cartolano (excavations, 3D photogrammetry). We are very grateful to Sulaimaniyah Directorate of Antiquities for all of their support, in particular to the Director, Kamal Rasheed Raheem, the Director of Slemani Museum, Hashim Hama Abdullah, and our government representatives, Kamal Rouf Aziz and Sami Jamil Hama Rashid, who helped us in very many ways and contributed greatly to the success of the season.

Additionally, a team from the University of British Columbia conducted four weeks of excavations in Iron Age and Sasanian levels at Bestansur, directed by Dr Lisa Cooper and assisted by Dr Lynn Welton. Throughout the season we benefited from the expertise and hard work of local workers, including residents of Bestansur village, to all of whom we are very grateful. We are delighted to have hosted visits by staff and students from Sulaimani Polytechnic University and the University of Sulaimani led by Dr Rozhen Mohammed-Amin and Dr Rafida Qaradaghy and to be building research collaborations on environment, ecology, and architecture at Bestansur.

November 2018

Join the MENTICA team

Two postdoctoral research positions and two PhD studentships are available to start on 14 January 2019 as integral components of the MENTICA project. We invite applications for four researchers to join the team in the following posts:

The deadline for applications for all posts is Friday 30th November 2018. Please follow the links for further details of the job descriptions and to apply.

For further information please see the project website

Or contact Roger Matthews: r.j.matthews@reading.ac.uk

October 2018

MENTICA: a new phase for the project

The CZAP team is excited to announce a new phase in the investigations of the Neolithic Central Zagros. Supported by an Advanced Grant awarded by the European Research Council to Prof Roger Matthews, for next five years the team will be collaborating with colleagues in Iraq and Iran to investigate The Middle East Neolithic Transition: Integrated Community Approaches (MENTICA). The aim of this project is to generate community-scale, inter-disciplinary insights into the Early Neolithic transition, through analysis of contextualised data from excavations at three archaeological sites in the eastern Fertile Crescent (EFC) of western Iran and eastern Iraq, a core area of early transition to farming-herding. The prime research question is: how did EP-EN human communities negotiate disruption in their transition from mobile hunting and foraging to sedentary farming and herding?


Over the next three months, the team will be advertising key post-doctoral and doctoral research positions in connection with the project. Links to job advertisements and updates on the project will be provided here.

June 2017

CZAP in the news

The CZAP team have conducted a busy and successful field season excavating the Early Neolithic buildings at Bestansur. You can read Kristina Killgrove's article about our ongoing investigations on the Forbes website here.

March 2017

UNESCO

We are very pleased to confirm that the Early Neolithic site of Bestansur in Iraqi Kurdistan has been formally accepted onto the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List, following nomination by the Iraqi government in recognition of the site's outstanding universal value to cultural heritage. The site entry can be viewed here.

February 2017

New article

CZAP zooarchaeologist, Dr Robin Bendrey (University of Edinburgh) has co-authored a new article modelling the Neolithic spread of zoonotic diseases in goat populations at the Central Zagros sites of Jarmo, Asiab, and Ganj Dareh. The results of the study are available here, in the open-access journal, Royal Society Open Science.

November 2016

RASHID International Podcast

Recorded at the second Protecting the Past conference, you can listen here to Prof Roger Matthews discussing the issues facing Iraq's cultural heritage and the initiatives taken by RASHID International. The conference was co-organised by the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project, with the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani and the University of Sulaimani. A selection of papers are available here, including English, Kurdish, and Arabic translations.

July 2016

New CZAP Article - available now

A summary of the project has been published in a guide to current investigations in Iraqi Kurdistan, and is now available through open access here. A full reference to this work and a list of recent project outputs is available on our Publications page.

June 2016

Prof Roger Matthews, President of RASHID International

Many congratulations to CZAP co-director Prof Roger Matthews, who has been elected to the role of President by Research Assessment and Safeguarding the Heritage of Iraq in Danger (RASHID) International, a wide-reaching network of archaeologists, historians, scientists, and heritage professionals, concerned with the ongoing cultural destruction in Mesopotamia. Read more about Roger's work in this new role here.

June 2016


Watch KhakTV's Bestansur Documentary Online

The film-crew from KhakTV joined us during our second field season at Bestansur back in 2012. It was early days in our excavations at the site, as we revealed Neolithic occupation in Trench 7, to the west of the tell. The documentary team joined us as we explored the deposits in and around a Neolithic building, with significant deposits of ground-stone, and a double-burial, as well as testing the results of our gradiometry survey. The two-part Kurdish-language documentary (with interviews of the team in English) is now available to watch below, or on the KhakTV YouTube Channel.


May 2016

New CZAP articles!

Two new CZAP articles have been published this Spring - the first by co-director, Wendy Matthews, on Humans and fire: changing relations in early agricultural and built environments in the Zagros, Iran, Iraq, and the second by Jessica Godleman, Matthew Almond and Wendy Matthews, conducting An infrared microspectroscopic study of plasters and pigments from the Neolithic site of Bestansur, Iraq. Both papers introduce exciting new insights into the technological and material choices of Neolithic people in the Central Zagros. You can find more details of recent CZAP articles on our Publications page.

May 2016

Rise of the Drones

The latest field season brought with it an opportunity for the CZAP team to work with Dr Tobin Hartnell and Mohammed Anwer, of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS). Our colleagues at AUIS have conducted flights over the site, taking high resolution photographs and video, and trialling 3D modelling techniques. These overhead images of the site and its surroundings give us a new perspective and we look forward to seeing more! Here is a first glimpse of the full extent of Building 5, courtesy of Tobin and Mohammed.

April 2016

CZAP 6th Season at Bestansur

In Spring 2016, CZAP team members ventured out for a sixth season of excavations at the Neolithic site of Bestansur, in Sulaimaniyah Province, Iraqi Kurdistan. Conducting focussed excavations on the walls and under-floor burials of Building 5, the site continues to surprise and attract significant interest from local media organisations. Watch Rudaw interview CZAP co-director, Prof Roger Matthews in the field, or take a look at a news item (in Kurdish) below:

January 2016

Congratulations to Dr Whitlam, Dr Iversen, and Dr Elliott

CZAP would like to start the year by congratulating three of our team members on the successful defence of their theses:

  • Dr Jade Whitlam: Plant use and neolithic societies of the eastern Fertile Crescent c. 10,000 - 5500 BC.

  • Dr Ingrid Iversen: Living in an Early Neolithic community: investigation of the social structure of settlement by microartefactual analysis of spatial organisation of activities at Bestansur, Central Zagros and Boncuklu, Central Anatolia.

  • Dr Sarah Elliott: Investigating early animal management in the Zagros mountains of Iran and Iraq: integrating field and laboratory methods for the identification and analysis of ancient faecal material.

These three exciting submissions to the University of Reading have incorporated material from the CZAP sites, shedding new light on Neolithic plant and animal management, and social structure in Southwest Asia.

December 2014

CZAP Volume 1 Now Available

The first volume in the CZAP series is now available for pre-order here: Matthews, R., Matthews, W. & Mohammadifar, Y. 2013. The Earliest Neolithic of Iran: 2008 Excavations at Sheikh-E Abad and Jani. Oxbow Books. The first volume in the CZAP Report series explores the origins of sedentism and increasing resource management in Southwest Asia, and associated developments in social, cultural and ritual practices through the Early Neolithic sites of Sheikh-e Abad and Jani.

Also now available is Matthews, R. & Fazeli, H. 2013. The Neolithisation of Iran. Oxbow Books. Buy it here. This volume comprises 18 studies by an international panel of scholars, as part of the British Association for Near Eastern Archaeology.