Because Iran means “the Land of the Aryans” most historians begin their description of Iranian history with the Aryans’ migration, to the Iranian plateau. Such an attitude, however, is unjust. Archaeological, geological, and natural evidence allows the suggestion that long before the influx of the Aryans into Iran and the establishment of their power there, the Iranian plateau was inhabited by various peoples, whose highly developed civilizations unquestionably influenced the invading Aryans.

The first traces of man on the Iranian plateau belongs to 100,000 B.C. Although the earliest periods (Paleolithic and Mesolithic ages) have not yet received extensive study. Well-documented evidence of human habitation is, however, found in deposits from several excavated caves and rock shelter sites, located mainly in the Zagros Mountains and in the southern Caspian region, and dating from Middle Paleolithic or Mousterian times (c. 100,000 B. C.) Paleolithic implements, produced by Neanderthal man or possibly some other Middle Paleolithic form of man, have been found around Bistun in Kermanshah, Khurnik on the Zabol-Mashhad road, and near Lake Bakhtegan, which is now a salt lake but may have been a freshwater lake in Middle Paleolitflhic times.

Paleolithic iran

Such instruments have been found as well as several other sites. The first bones of a modern, non-Neanderthal type of man, considered about 9,000 years old, were found in Hotu and Belt caves in the Alborz Mountains. These were accompanied by very elaborate stones tools, primarily blades, including scrapers and many other beautifiilly, worked specimens. The lifestyle of the Neolithic inhabitants is fortunately much better known. This period is characterized by the development of settled village agricultural life based firmly on the domestication of plants and animals. In Dusheh cave in Lorestan, remarkable rock paintings from about 8,000 B.C. show men riding horses and holding the animals’ reins. 

Hotu and Belt caves

Hotu and Belt caves

Among the most important of the archaeological excavations because they have produced relics from the 8th and 7th millennia, are the Guran and Ali Kosh mounds in Zagros. By approximately 6,000 B.C. the patterns of village farming had spread over much of the Iranian plateau and into lowland Khuzestan. Testimony to this is provided by the key discoveries from the mounds of Sabz in Khuzestan, Hajji Piruz in Azerbaijan, Godin in Lorestan, Sialk on the rim of the central salt desert, and Yahya near Dowlatabad in the southeast. Pottery begins to appear, and human figures are found on bone knife handles. 

The early designs on the painted pottery are geometric abstractions, showing a naive but strong expression of the lives of the makers. From about the beginning of the 5th millennium BC. to the end of the 3rd millennium, the communities of people on the Iranian plateau lived isolated lives and generally maintained the economic and cultural patterns established in the Neolithic. Despite this relative isolation, produced by the rugged, broken landscape of the plateau.


Archaeological studies do yield evidence for extensive contacts among these communities. Trade would appear to be the principal mechanism by which such contacts were maintained, and often Elam acted as an intermediary between Sumer and Babylon on the one hand and the plateau cultures on the other. The likelihood that the province of Fars participated in such trade networks is suggested by the appearance there, alongside strictly local ceramic, of pottery with clear Mesopotamian features. 


Fars contains an enormous number of prehistoric sites, with nearly 1,000 identified on the Marvdasht Plain alone. The period from the late 3rd to the end of the 2nd millennia B.C. represents a dark age in Iranian prehistory, warranting considerably more attention than it has heretofore received. Among the most promising archaeological sites dating from this period is Shahr-e Sukhte (Burnt City), an important urban center in southeast Iran, which has revealed relics from about 3,200 to 2,100 BC. 

Among the most brilliant recent archaeological discoveries is also the site of Jiroft, believed by many to have housed the earliest known oriental civilization. Beginning around 2,400 BC. or somewhat later, local varieties of pottery in northeastern Iran were entirely replaced by new gray and gray-black ceramic ware. This development suggests the advent of a new people (the Aryans) and the introduction of an entirely new culture. It was this development that marked the end of the Bronze Age in Iran and ushered in the protohistoric period.