What is it about?

An analysis of obsidian artifacts excavated during the 1960s at two prominent archaeological sites in southwestern Iran suggests that the networks Neolithic people formed in the region as they developed agriculture are larger and more complex than previously believed.

Featured Image

Why is it important?

This study applied state-of-the-art analytical tools to a collection of 2,100 obsidian artifacts housed at the Yale Peabody Museum. The artifacts were unearthed more than 50 years ago at Ali Kosh and Chagha Sefid, sites on Iran’s Deh Luran Plain that yielded important archaeological discoveries from the Neolithic Era — the period beginning about 12,000 years ago when people began farming, domesticating animals, and establishing permanent settlements. Original analyses performed shortly after the artifacts were discovered had suggested people first acquired the obsidian — volcanic glass — from Nemrut Dağ, a now dormant volcano in Eastern Turkey, and then relied on an unknown second source for the material. This new elemental analysis showed the obsidian came from seven distinct sources, including Nemrut Dağ, in present-day Turkey and Armenia, which is as far as about 1,000 miles on foot from the excavation sites. The new analysis, combined with computer modeling, indicates that there were intensifying connections among Neolithic people, suggesting the presence of a greater number of settlements between the source volcanoes and the two sites where the artifacts were unearthed thousands of years later. Scientists widely believed that humanity’s transition from the hunter-gatherer lifestyle to agriculture produced a period of rapid population growth due to the increased birth rates made possible by enhanced food supplies and permanent settlements. Finding evidence of this demographic shift often requires excavating locations that include burial sites, which can indicate a given settlement’s population and provide a clearer picture of how agriculture allowed people to disperse across a landscape. These new analyses of the obsidian artifacts provides similar evidence of this transition.


It wasn’t a simple pattern of people obtaining obsidian from one source and then shifting to the next. Rather, our analysis shows that they were acquiring obsidian from an increasingly diverse number of geological sources over time — a trend that was impossible to detect with the technology and methods available 50 years ago. Tracing these obsidian artifacts from their sources to their endpoints offers insight into how they moved from hand to hand to hand over time, which helps us better understand population changes in the region during the Neolithic Era. It suggested there were larger social networks and more settlements between the source volcanoes and the excavation sites than we previously thought.

Ellery Frahm
Yale University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Identifying the origins of obsidian artifacts in the Deh Luran Plain (Southwestern Iran) highlights community connections in the Neolithic Zagros, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 2022, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2109321119.
You can read the full text:



The following have contributed to this page