Western Luristan, in northwestern Iran, comprises a series of parallel fertile valleys running NW-SE, through the high terrain of the Zagros mountains. The region is subdivided as the Pusht-i Kuh, which lies in the western foothills of the Kabir Kuh; and the Pish-i Kuh, which lies to the east of that range.

Bronze-making certainly flourished in that region early in the 1st millennium B.C., but a lack of copper ores there would imply some technological influences may have arisen from the contemporary trade network which linked Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and the Iranian Plateau. But the characteristic ornate "lost wax" castings (often with zoomorphic motifs) are without parallel amongst neighboring cultures. (This may reflect the physical isolation imposed on Luristan by the Kabir Kuh mountain range.) It now seems likely that the roots of this novel bronze-making tradition lie in Luristan itself, in metalworking practices developed as early as the mid–3rd millennium B.C. We have characterized these practices by the compositional and metallurgical analysis of grave goods from several cemeteries in the region including six dating to different phases of the Bronze Age (Early Dynastic I to Ur ED III, circa 2900–2000 B.C.)—Kalleh Nisar, Bani Surmah, Chigha Sabz, Kamtarlan, Sardant, and Gulal-i Galbi—and four dating to different phases of the Iron Age (circa 1300 B.C.–600 B.C.)—Bard-i Bal, Kutul-i Gulgul, Sar Kabud, and War Kabud.

This analytical program is an ongoing collaboration between MASCA and the Dept. of Near Eastern Archaeology of Ghent University. Its findings will be published as appendices to the primary series of publications of each of these sites in Acta Iranica, and in related conference proceedings (see below).


Map of the Pusht-i Kuh region, showing the nature of the terrain and the various archaeological sites under study.

Graphic: Lauren Sankovitch, MASCA



Fleming, S.J., Pigott, V.C., Swann, C.P. and Nash, S.K., in press: "Bronze in Luristan: Preliminary Analytical Evidence from Copper/Bronze Artifacts Excavated by the Belgian Expedition in Iran."

The archaeological research of the Belgian expedition in Luristan directed by the late Prof. Louis Vanden Berghe provided ample evidence that copper-alloy metallurgy flourished in Luristan from the 3rd into the 1st millennium B.C. The lack of copper ores in Luristan proper implies that some technological influences may have arisen from the contemporary contacts, including trade networks, which linked metalworking traditions extant along western periphery of the Iranian Plateau as well as with Elam, Mesopotamia and Anatolia. However, the distinctively ornate "lost wax" castings, often with zoomorphic motifs, are without parallel among neighboring cultures. It is possible that the roots of this novel bronze-making tradition may lie within Luristan itself, in metalworking practices developed as early as the mid-3rd millennium B.C. In our on-going efforts to understand the nature of Luristan metal and its production, we have characterized metallurgical practices by compositional and microstructural analysis of copper alloy grave goods from the Bronze Age site of Kalleh Nisar (circa 3200–2000 B.C.), and the Iron Age sites of Kutal-i Gulgul (Iron IA, circa 1300–1150 B.C.), Bard-i Bal (Iron I-III; circa 1300–650 B.C.), and War Kabud (Iron III; circa 800–650 B.C.). We also have considered the extent to which the alloy recipes and metalworking practices used in the production of these artifacts may be linked to their function (see micrographs: KN axe head and BB bracelet).

TO BE PUBLISHED (early 2005) as the Proceedings for the Ghent conference, The Iron Age in the Iranian World (November 2003).


A tin-bronze axe head (Ghent inv. BB.68-11) from tomb 68 in the Iron IB-IIA cemetery at Bard-i Bal (circa 1150 B.C.–900 B.C.).
(Sn, 7.6%; As, 0.22%)

Line art: Veronica Socha, Philadelphia


Micrograph for an axe head (Ghent inv. KN.A-II/13-6) from the Akkadian/Ur III cemetery at Kalleh Nisar (circa 2150–2000 B.C.), at a magnification of 100x, for a section cut from the lower end of the weapon's socket flange.
Etchant: Klemm's III
(Sn, <0.012%; As, 1.6%)

The microstructure, with its coarse and cored dendritic grains, reveals that the axe is a cast arsenical copper. The most prominent metallographic features are a high density of non-metallic inclusions-most likely sulfides-and a high degree of porosity that would be consistent with the axe flange being the last part of the axe to cool.


Micrograph of a fragmented bracelet (Ghent inv. BB.66-4) from tomb 66 in the at Bard-i Bal at a magnification of 400x, for a section cut from the broken end of the smaller fragment.
Etchant: Klemm's III
(Sn, 8.1%; As, 0.23%)

Though this artifact is very corroded (in the areas that shade orange-to-red), the extant microstructure of heavily striated, coarse grains indicate that the final treatment applied to this cast tin-bronze was a simple cold-working.

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