Cylinder seal with bulls and lion from the Proto-Elamite period; c. 3100–2900 BC, excavated in 1932, Louvre Museum, reference Sb 6166.[1][2]

The Proto-Elamite period, also known as Susa III, is a chronological era in the ancient history of the area of Elam, dating from c. 3100 BC to 2700 BC.[1][3] In archaeological terms this corresponds to the late Banesh period. Proto-Elamite sites are recognized as the oldest civilization in the territory of present-day Iran. The Proto-Elamite script is an Early Bronze Age writing system briefly in use before the introduction of Elamite cuneiform.



During the period 8000–3700 BC, the Fertile Crescent witnessed the spread of small settlements supported by agricultural surplus. Geometric tokens emerged to be used to manage stewardship of this surplus. The earliest tokens now known are those from two sites in the Zagros region of Iran: Tepe Asiab and Ganj-i-Dareh Tepe.

The Mesopotamian civilization emerged during the period 3700–2900 BC amid the development of technological innovations such as the plough, sailing boats, and copper metal working. Clay tablets with pictographic characters appeared in this period to record commercial transactions performed by the temples.

Proto-Elamite sites

The most important Proto-Elamite sites are Susa and Anshan. Another important site is Tepe Sialk, where the only remaining Proto-Elamite ziggurat is still seen. Texts in the undeciphered Proto-Elamite script found in Susa are dated to this period. It was originally assumed that the Proto-Elamites were in fact Elamites (Elamite speakers), because of cultural similarities (for example, the building of ziggurats), and because no large-scale migration to this area seems to have occurred between the Proto-Elamite period and the later Elamites. As Proto-Elamite writing has now been found over a wider area that is less certain.

Proto-Elamite pottery dating back to the last half of the 5th millennium BC has been found in Tepe Sialk, where Proto-Elamite writing, the first form of writing in Iran, has been found on tablets of this date. The first cylinder seals come from the Proto-Elamite period, as well.[4]

Tepe Sofalin

The site of Sofalin (Lat. 51” 44’ 06 N., Long. 35” 18’ 58 E) lies on the Tehran Plain on the north-central plateau of Iran about 10 kilometers east of the modern city of Varamin. Sofalin means pottery shards in Persian. The site covers an area 500 meters long and 400 meters wide with a height of 10 meters above the plain. Occupation ranged from the late 4th millennium BC to the Iron Age. It was excavated in two seasons from 2006 to 2007 by a Morteza Hessari led team of the Archaeological Service of Islamic Azad University of Varamin-Pishva. Among the finds were inscribed clay tokens, Proto-Elamite tablets, clay bullae, clay sealings, and blank tablets.[5][6][7][8] Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry of the residue in a Bevel Rim Bowl found beeswax.[9]

Proto-Elamite cylinder seals

Proto-Elamite seals follow the seals of the Uruk period, with which they share many stylistic elements, but display more individuality and a more lively rendering.[12]

See also


  1. ^ a b Louvre, Musée du (1992). The Royal City of Susa: Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre. Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 9780870996511.
  2. ^ "Site officiel du musée du Louvre".
  3. ^ Álvarez-Mon, Javier (2020). The Art of Elam CA. 4200–525 BC. Routledge. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-000-03485-1.
  4. ^ "The Habib Anavian Collection: Iranian Art from the 5th Millennium B.C. to the 7th Century A.D." website of the Anavian Gallery, New York. Retrieved 22 October 2012.
  5. ^ [1]Hessari, Morteza, "New evidence of the emergence of complex societies discovered on the Central Iranian Plateau", Iranian Journal of Archaeological Studies 1.2, pp. 35–48, 2011
  6. ^ Hessari, Morteza, and Sepideh Saeedi, "New Perspectives from the Proto-Elamite Horizon in the Center of the Iranian Plateau", The International Journal of Humanities, 24.4, pp. 33–42, 2017
  7. ^ [2],Hessari, Morteza, Reinhard Bernbeck, and Susan Pollock, "A Brief Report on New Radiocarbon Dates from Tappeh Sofalin, Pishva, Iran", Journal of Archaeological Studies 12.4, pp. 47–57, 2021
  8. ^ Hessari, Morteza, "A New Proto-Elamite Seal Impression from Tappeh Sofalin, Central Iranian Plateau", Übergangszeiten. Altorientalische Studien für Reinhard Dittmann anlässlich seines 65. Geburtstags, hrsg. v. Kai Kaniuth, Daniel Lau, Dirk Wicke (marru 1), pp. 131–136, 2018 ISBN 978-3-96327-002-4
  9. ^ Mayyas, A., et al., "Beeswax Preserved in a Late Chalcolithic Bevelled-Rim Bowl from the Tehran Plain, Iran" Iran, vol. 50, pp. 13–25, 2012
  10. ^ "Statuette of a Striding Figure". The Art Institute of Chicago.
  11. ^ "Kneeling bull holding a spouted vessel, ca. 3100–2900 B.C. Proto-Elamite".
  12. ^ The Royal City of Susa: Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre. Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1992. p. 70. ISBN 9780870996511.

Further reading