Report: Rock mortars of Sar Pol-e Zahab in their archaeological contexts: Evidence of third and second millennium BCE nomad camp sites in western foothills of Zagros Mountain, Iran


  • Sajjad Alibaigi Razi University
  • John MacGinnis British Museum



Rock Mortar; Central Zagros; Sar Pol-e Zahab; Camp site; Nomadism


During the 2016 archaeological survey in the Sar Pol-e Zahab region, in the border zone between Mesopotamia lowland and Iranian highland, a number of rock mortars were discovered on the edges of seven ancient sites. Owing to its climate and topography and its winter pastures, this region has long been favoured by nomads, and numerous remains of nomadic activities survive. The sites in question are small settlements that have been attributed to nomadic occupation owing to their small area, thin occupational deposits and extremely limited finds. Most of these sites are located near water sources such as springs and rivers. Furthermore, the associated cultural materials are not of high quality. This is in stark contrast to the settlements of farmers and sedentary settlers in the central range and western foothills of the Zagros, the remains of which formed relatively large mounds with complex stratigraphy representing extended occupations accompanied by cultural materials showing a higher degree of workmanship and artistry. In many cases, these characteristics are enough to distinguish the settlements of sedentary farmers from those of herdsmen and nomads. It appears that the nomads of the region, particularly in the third-second millennium BCE and in the Parthian period, used these permanently located rock mortars to grind grains and cereals during their seasonal occupation of these sites. These mortars are not out of context, they are related to the ancient settlements on whose periphery they are found.

Author Biographies

Sajjad Alibaigi, Razi University

Department of Archaeology
Razi University

John MacGinnis, British Museum

British Museum
Great Russell Street
London, WC1B 3DG


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How to Cite

Alibaigi, S., & MacGinnis, J. (2022). Report: Rock mortars of Sar Pol-e Zahab in their archaeological contexts: Evidence of third and second millennium BCE nomad camp sites in western foothills of Zagros Mountain, Iran. Journal of Lithic Studies, 9(1), 15 p.