Do-Ashkaft: A Recently Discovered Mousterian Cave Site in the Kermanshah Plain, Iran

Article excerpt

Since Dorothy Garrod's pioneering work at the Mousterian site of Hazar Merd on the western slopes of the Zagros Mountains in 1928, a number of Middle Palaeolithic sites in the area have been discovered, sampled and, in some cases, partially excavated. Some of these sites are located in the Kermanshah Plain, Central Western Zagros Mountains. These sites include the Hunter's Cave and Ghar-e Khar in Bisotun (Coon 1951: Young & Smith 1966), Kobeh and Warwasi in Tang-e Kenesht (Braidwood 1960), and two sites near Harsin (Smith 1986). All but the last two are among a large number of Palaeolithic localities on the south face of a series of calcareous mountain ranges (Kuh-e Parau/Bisotun massif) on the northeastern rim of Qara Su basin in the Kermanshah Plain (FIGURE 1).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Following a hiatus in archaeological research after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, an independent series of surveys in the area by the authors led to the discovery of three Mousterian sites at Bisotun in 1986 (Biglari in press). During recent years, we located two more Mousterian sites, including Do-Ashkaft, the subject of this note.

Do-Ashkaft is a large cave on the northern outskirts of the modern city of Kermanshah, about 1600 m a.s.l. on the southern face of the Maiwaleh Mountain. The large, bare mouth of the cave and another smaller cave next to it are situated about 300 m above the plain floor and thus visible from a far distance (FIGURE 2).

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

During our first visit to the site in 1996, the rich surface finds and other advantageous features encouraged us to undertake a fairly comprehensive study of the site, which is still going on, including a series of surface collections of lithic artefacts at one-month intervals, a geomorphological study of the site and its environs, and locating the local sources of raw lithic material.

The main chamber of the cave is 23 m deep and 15 m wide. The floor is covered with debris from modern use as a winter campsite by sheep and goat herders. Next to the mouth of the main cave there is a small spring with regular flow even in warm, dry summers, which seems to have played a major role in the geomorphological and archaeological history of the site. Exposed breccia at the entrance and some patches on the walls indicate lateral percolation of water into the cave sediments. In some places this breccia is about 2 m above the present floor. The presence and position of the breccia suggest that a substantial amount of the cave sediments may have been washed away. The breccia at the entrance is rich in fragmentary animal bones, charcoal and flint artefacts. Some Middle Palaeolithic artefacts, including a few side-scrapers and a Mousterian point, were recovered from this breccia. Animal bones are extremely fragmentary and some are burned, suggesting human involvement in their accumulation during the Mousterian occupation. They include a fragment of right mandibule of an adult specimen and an upper third right molar of a sub-adult ruminant, both allocated to wild Caprine (sheep or goat).

During the last four years more than 4000 pieces of flint were collected from the entrance area and the talus slope. Since there is no sign of later industries, except a few bladelets and an end-scraper, the surface collection seems to be unmixed and to represent a typical Zagros Mousterian industry. Primary observations indicate that lithic artefacts were predominantly made from raw material procured in the immediate vicinity of the site, a fine glossy opaque red and green material which seems to be jasper. …