Tepe Yahya Archaeology Soapstone Peripheral Region

Dr. Lambert-Karlovsky started digging at Tepe Yahya in 1965, spurred on by his interest in the works of previous archaeologists such as Sir Aurel Stein who dug near there in the 1920’s. Until then archaeologists had assumed that people were only literate as far east as Mesopotamia. But Lambert-Krapowsky’s digging changed all that, as he found not only a great deal of the lapis lazuli precious to ancients of the region, but many tablet scrolls.


When Lambert-Krapowsky started at the dig, he was not expecting to find much. He just wanted to explore the area; after all Sir Stein had already been there. But Lambert-Krapowsky wanted to walk where his hero had been, to travel in his footsteps, it seems.

So he went to Tepe Yahya, which is down in southeastern Iran, in Khabr National Park, about 50 miles south of the village of Baft in Kerman Province.


He found things then which his predecessor had not: a large amount of bowls made from chlorite, which the people of Tepe Yahya apparently used for trade. Chlorite was at around 2400 BC a valued item for bowls, because it was easy to carve but still very durable, like the Corelware of today. The bowls at Tepe Yahya were made in a factory that was there, which exported the bowls by the dozen all over the Middle East, via Susa, an area near there. These bowls were decorated with simple designs of swirls and glazes. There were also bowls made of steatite, or soapstone, also beautifully yet simply designed.

Tablets were another major finding of Lambert-Karlovsky. They were both blank tablets and those done in Proto-Elamite style, a kind of bookkeeping that was written with numbers and words together (for example 20 sheep of the 4th herder). This style of writing originated in south-western Iran.

The town of Tepe Yahya was fairly large, it was discovered. The mound itself was found to be about 65 feet high, and has given archaeologists the only geologic archaeological information for that part of Iran. People lived there as far back as 4500 BC. From there, as well as several other peripheral cities, larger cities were able to sprout up due to the economy gained from their trade.


The bowls from Tepe Yahya were extremely important, because they meant a change in the way archaeologists viewed the structure of the Middle East. Before the time of Lambert-Karlovsky’s dig, the general thinking about how the people of the Middle East operated was that there was a central core, and cities on the periphery of the region imported goods from there. However, Lambert-Karlovsky happened to be digging at the same time as the Italian archaeologist Maurizio Tosi was digging over in a site close to Tepe Yahya. Tosi found that the people who’d lived at his site used to mass-export lapis lazuli, just like the people from Tepe Yahya exported bowls. These findings forced archaeologists, who were uncertain at first, to acknowledge that the Middle East was economically structured in a much different way than they’d previously asssumed.