Prehistoric Settlement Patterns around Tepe Yahya

Prehistoric Settlement Patterns around Tepe Yahya

Since its discovery in 1967, the ancient site of Tepe Yahya in modern day Iran has been of great interest to archaeologists. Symmetrical in shape, rising to a height of 30 meters, it measures 180 meters at the base and 40 meters at the top. It lies around 225 kilometres from the modern city of Kerman. The mound is located in a mountainous valley where it is the dominating feature of the surrounding landscape.

Excavations have found that Tepe Yahya was inhabited during a timeframe of five millennia, roughly from the middle of the fifth millennium BCE to the second half of the first millennium CE. Although there is a noticeable gap between occupations timeframes in the second millennium, Tepe Yahya seems to have been occupied continuously. The following periods have been distinguished as:

Period IV: 4500 – 3800 BCE

Period V A-C: 3800 – 3400 BCE

Period IV C: 3400-3000 BCE

Period IV B: 3000-2500 BCE


Period IV A: 2100-1800 BCE


Period III: 750-500 BCE

Period II A & B: 500 BCE -200 CE

A Period I A & B: 200 -700 CE

When looking at the archaeological record, nearly nine tenths of the mound was attributed to pre-Achaemenean times, more precisely, from the middle of the fifth century to the early second millennium BCE. After a few gaps, the site was re-inhabited but produced less than one tenth of the present volume of the mound. However, when looking at the surface data available, it indicates a third, fourth and fifth millennium site.

The shards found on the surface were heavier and larger than the ones buried in the soil, almost doubling the average weight of the latter. “In the open fields around Tepe Yahya, most of which show signs of past or recent cultivation, sherds are found in considerable numbers down to a depth of about 50 cm., which probably represents the level reached by animal-drawn plows”.

Archaeologists, after performing careful surface survey of the surrounding area, believe that the “successive inhabitants of Tepe Yahya had an increasingly smaller surface area at their disposal. Given the steepness of the mound, it is unlikely that its slopes provided additional building space or Lebensraum … As the superimposed settlements at Tepe Yahya diminished in size, condemned by the inexorable laws of mound construction, did their populations decline correspondingly, or did they spill over onto the surrounding plain?”


Vidali, Eda & Lamberg-Karlovsky, C.C. (1976) Prehistoric Settlement Patterns around Tepe Yahya: A Quantitative Analysis, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, The University of Chicago Press.