From the early third through mid-first millennia BCE, Elam was one of the major powers in the ancient Near East. Its territory encompassed parts of southern and western Iran, and comprised both lowland (modern Khuzistan) and highland Zagros Mountain components (Fars, and parts of Kerman, Luristan, and Kurdistan). Susa, in central Khuzistan, and nearby sites in the Khuzistan lowlands have been the primary focus of research. [See Susa.] Anshan (modern Tall-i Malyan) was the major highland site, 500 km (310 mi.) to the southeast, in western Fars. [See Malyan.] Carter and Stolper (1984) provide the essential synthesis of Elamite history and material culture, and the following discussion draws on the framework that they have established and the evidence that they present. The modern name Elam derives from the biblical Hebrew ῾elām, Akkadian elamtu, Sumerian elam(a), and ultimately native Elamite hatami and haltamti. Elamite was not closely related to any known ancient language, and no direct derivative survives.

Throughout Elamite history, the balance between the highland and lowland regions shifted back and forth. While the geographic distributions of archaeological assemblages (material culture) can be defined through fieldwork, linking the ancient political and cultural geographies referred to in texts to the topography and assemblage distributions remains difficult. Historical sources document political ties of varied strengths among the regions as changing with time, as did the material culture. Because of its ease of access, lowland Elam was periodically involved in Mesopotamian political developments and even incorporated into Mesopotamian states. Elamite polities in the Zagros highlands from the north to the southeast, however, were better able to sustain some autonomy, protected by the rugged topography. At times, the highland polities developed sufficient cohesion to be able to dominate the lowlands.

Native Elamite textual sources are sparse and episodic, leaving long periods of history obscure. Most of the texts come from Susa, where Mesopotamian influence often was strong. Almost no highland sites have yielded texts. Much of Elamite history must thus be extracted from tendentious, often hostile Mesopotamian texts. Their links between Elamite and Mesopotamian history provide the basic chronology for Elam.

Archaeological data are the major indigenous source for Elamite cultural history. Although excavation and survey had concentrated on Khuzistan, especially the area around Susa, the research ended by political events In 1978–1979 had begun to illuminate basic highland developments. Throughout Elamite history material culture, such as ceramics, was strongly regional. Thus, the absence of a single distinctive “Elamite” style exacerbates the problem of defining even the geographic scope of Elam. Elam's historical geography remains problematic, especially in the highlands, as a result of a dearth of native textual sources and the essential Mesopotamian ignorance of the highlands. The location of toponyms, cities, regions, and even important polities often remains uncertain. Texts and rock reliefs document an Elamite presence throughout lowland Khuzistan, southward along the Persian Gulf to at least Bushire (ancient Liyan), and eastward in the highlands into Fars (ancient Anshan in the Marv Dasht). The Elamite sphere in the highlands to the north of Khuzistan remains ill defined.

Physical Geography.

Differences in gross topography, climate, ecology, and natural resources yielded a regionally diverse mosaic of subsistence and economic potentials that were ultimately reflected in cultural regions. Khuzistan is an extension of the Mesopotamian lowlands east of the Tigris River. [See Tigris.] Although dry farming is possible, irrigation provides a more dependable agricultural base. [See Irrigation; Agriculture.] Resource poor, Khuzistan depended on the surrounding highlands for many basic materials, such as metals, hard and semiprecious stones, and wood. [See Wood.] River valleys, particularly those of the main rivers, provide the primary routes into the highlands through the rugged parallel ridges of the Zagros Mountains.

East of Khuzistan, in Fars, almost half of the Kur River basin (2,200 sq km, or about 1,350 sq. mi.), at an elevation of 1,600 m in the Zagros Mountains, is arable. There lay Anshan, the ancient name of both the regional polity and the largest known Elamite site (mod. Tall-i Malyan) in the highlands. North of Khuzistan, the intermontane valleys of Luristan and southern Kurdistan tend to be relatively small, with a mixed agricultural-pastoral economy. Limited routes lead northward to the Great Khorasan Road, the primary east-west route linking the Iranian plateau and areas farther east to central Mesopotamia, where it entered the lowlands along the Diyala River. [See Diyala.] Sociopolitical organization has tended to be tribal throughout history, with marked cultural and ethnic regionalism. Farther to the east, the Kerman range provides a link between the eastern valleys of the central Zagros and the great salt deserts (Dasht-i Kavir and Dasht-i Lut) of the central Iran.

Research on Elam.

Susa, always an important center, underpins the archaeology and history of Elam. The early excavations there, directed by Jacques de Morgan (1897–1908) and Roland de Mecquenem (1908–1946), who had both trained as mining engineers, were massive in scale. Mud-brick architecture, characteristic of southwest Asia, was not recognized, so that the excavations essentially yielded artifacts, monuments, graves, and occasional baked-brick structures without contexts. Roman Ghirshman (director from 1946 to 1967) concentrated on the second millennium BCE, excavating a residential area of almost 10,000 sq m on the Ville Royale mound at Susa, as well as temples and the city wall at the nearby monumental site of Chogha Zanbil. [See Chogha Zanbil.] Under Jean Perrot (director from 1967 to 1990), stratigraphic excavations at Susa and at smaller sites on the surrounding plain yielded a detailed sequence for the region.

Between the late 1950s and the revolution In 1978–1979, the scope of excavation and survey expanded greatly. In Khuzistan, Pinhas Delougaz and Helene Kantor excavated at Chogha Mish, concentrating on the prehistoric phases, and Etat O. Neghaban worked at Haft Tepe. [See Haft Tepe.] Numerous surveys and smaller-scale excavations throughout Khuzistan and the Zagros piedmont clarified the history of Elamite settlement. In Fars, Louis Vanden Berghe and later William M. Sumner constructed the Kur River basin sequence. Sumner's excavations at Tall-i Malyan/Anshan dramatically increased the geographic scale of Elam and highlighted the role of the highlands. Excavations at sites in the Kerman range, such at Tepe Yahya, Tall-i Iblis, Tepe Sialk, and Shahdad, yielded evidence of the exploitation of natural resources and contacts with the Elamite west. [See Tepe Yahya.] Growing numbers of surveys and excavations began to clarify developments in highland Luristan and southern Kurdistan and their relationships to lowland Khuzistan. T. C. Young's excavations at Godin Tepe provided a dependable archaeological sequence for the late fourth through late second millennia BCE. [See Godin Tepe.]

Although changes in archaeological assemblages do not often proceed in lockstep with political events, the following historical periodization corresponds workably (dates are approximate).

Proto-Elamite Era (c. 3400–2600 BCE).

Elamites are first identified historically in the Proto-Elamite era; ethnic affinities in prehistory are problematic.

Early stages of writing.

The Acropole I excavation by Alain Le Brun at Susa have distinguished several stages in the development of writing, although it is not certain that the innovation itself first took place there (Le Brun and Vallat, 1978). [See Writing and Writing Systems.] Small, variously shaped clay tokens were used as counters or, as Denise Schmandt-Besserat suggests represent set amounts of specific commodities. By level 18 (3200 BCE), tokens were placed inside a hollow clay ball (bulla) whose surface was impressed with one or more seals to provide a sealed record. [See Seals.] Sometimes, signs corresponding to the shape and number of the enclosed tokens were impressed on the exterior. In level 17 (3200–3100 BCE) numerical tablets replaced bullae, counters, and tallies. [See Tablet.] A more complex system of numerical signs, in which various shapes and sizes of marks had specific values, was impressed on pillow-shaped lumps of clay. The limited information recorded suggests short-term administrative records for local use. In levels 16–14B (and Ville Royale I, levels 18–13), pictographic signs were added to identify the item counted. This developed into the Proto-Elamite A script, consisting of perhaps four hundred to eight hundred distinct characters, one hundred of them common, and suggesting a predominantly logographic writing system. The Proto-Elamite B script dates to the late third millennium BCE and is found on statues, vessels, and large clay tablets at Susa and Shahdad; fewer than one hundred characters are known.

The basic script on Proto-Elamite tablets is similar to scripts of southern Mesopotamia, but it is distinct in all details, suggesting a different language and perhaps parallel but independent development. Proto-Elamite script was probably used to write an early form of Elamite and may thus define the minimal geographic extent of early Elam. In the later third millennium BCE, the Mesopotamian cuneiform writing system displaced Proto-Elamite script for writing Elamite. [See Cuneiform.]

Material culture


During the later Susa II period (3500–3100 BCE), which corresponds to the Late Uruk in Mesopotamia, the population of Susiana had declined and was concentrated into two enclaves focused on the towns of Susa and Chogha Mish, separated by an empty zone 14 km (9 mi.) wide. Scenes of organized warfare in seals and sealings illustrate conflict. Numerical tablets, found at Susa in LeBrun's Acropole I excavation levels 18–17 (see above), provide evidence for deep penetration into the highlands at Godin (V), Sialk (IV1), and Tall-i Ghazir.

In about 3000 BCE, Susiana separated culturally from the Mesopotamian world, and a polity began to emerge at Malyan 500 km (310 mi.) to the southeast, in Fars. During the Susa III period (3100–2700 BCE), Susa expanded, while the overall settlement density in Susiana remained low. The ceramic assemblage was basic: common types include coarseware goblets and trays, beveled-rim bowls, red-slipped basins, and jars. A new glyptic style emerged, using deep linear engraving to depict animals in human stances. Glazed steatite seals (the surface vitrified by heating) have geometric or sometimes plant or animal motifs; this “piedmont” style extended into the highlands. Proto-Elamite A tablets and associated pottery and glyptic, found at Malyan (Banesh period, 3400–2600 BCE), Sialk (IV2), Yahya (IVC), and even Shahr-i Sokhta/Sistan provide evidence for an even more extensive outreach into the highlands. On the Deh Luran plain, 60 km (37 mi.) to the northwest, the population peaked. [See Deh Luran.] The ceramic assemblage was much more Mesopotamian in character, with parallels to the Jemdet Nasr–Early Dynastic I Diyala region; red- and black-painted ware was related to Early Dynastic I–II Scarlet ware.


The Banesh period (see above) corresponds to late Susa II–III. Malyan reached 50 ha (124 acres) in size in the early third millennium BCE. In area ABC, large public buildings had painted wall decoration, while area TUV yielded a more “industrial area,” with Proto-Elamite A tablets and Susa III ceramics. [See Wall Paintings.] By the late Middle Banesh period (c. 3000 BCE), a massive city wall was built.


Proto-Elamite A tablets, Susa III pottery, and glazed steatite seals in a single large building on top of the mound at Tepe Yahya mark an extended reach to the east into Kerman. Numerical tablets and Susa III pottery also are found at Tepe Sialk (IV1), near the crossing of north–south routes with the Great Khorasan Road. Tall-i Iblis, a copper metallurgical site, yielded Susa III pottery.


At another junction of north-south routes and the Great Khorasan Road, an oval enclosure on top of Godin Tepe (period V) yielded Susa III ceramics and numerical tablets. The surrounding settlement, however, continued to use the local traditional pottery. Other sites along important routes through Luristan have also yielded late fourth–early third millennia lowland types of pottery, suggesting a network of lowland-connected sites in the highlands.

Proto-Elamite phenomenon.

The distribution of numerical and Proto-Elamite A tablets deep into the highlands suggests an outreach toward resource areas and routes. At sites like Godin V and Yahya IVC, late Susa II or Susa III pottery and tablets were essentially confined to a single building complex within a settlement where the preexisting local material culture continued with only slight changes. The presence of blank tablets at highland sites (Godin and Yahya) implies local use. Impacts on the highlands were highly variable. In many regions the lowland emplacements were short-lived. Banesh Malyan, however, developed into a sizable city. During Susa III, Elamite culture was becoming less Mesopotamian. It was then, at the very beginning of Elamite history proper, that the pattern of highland-lowland interrelationship, which was to characterize Elam throughout its history, first appeared.

Late Third Millennium (c. 2600–2100 BCE).

References to Elam appear in Sumerian historical and literary texts of the mid-third millennium BCE from southern Mesopotamia. [See Sumerians.] For example, the Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta epic recounts an expedition to Anshan and beyond for metals, lapis lazuli, and craftsmen; inscriptions from Early Dynastic Lagash already record conflicts with Elam, especially Susa (c. 2450–2375 BCE). The Sumerian King List includes a dynasty of Awan, an Elamite center.

In the Old Akkadian period (c. 2350–2200 BCE), Mesopotamian texts record Akkadian kings waging war and diplomacy against both lowland and highland Elam, although the historical geography, and thus the scope, remains problematic. [See Akkadians.] Susa and the Khuzistan plains were vassals or may have been incorporated into the Akkadian state; Susa has yielded Old Akkadian texts, school tablets, and other evidence of typical Mesopotamian administrative activity. Highland regions experienced both military and diplomatic pressure (Akkadian royal inscriptions record campaigns to Anshan). Texts document commercial ties among Umma in southern Mesopotamia, Susa, and areas farther east.

Material culture


At Susiana, the population gradually returned to levels reached in the fourth millennium. Susa itself grew from 10 to 46 ha (25 to 106 acres) in area. Small settlements were scattered across the plain, with two weak clusters, one of them centered on Susa. In Deh Luran, Tepe Mussian remained a large town (14 ha, or 35 acres). Eastern Khuzistan, however, seems to have lacked permanent settlement. [See Tepe Mussian.]

Evidence for the later third millennium at Susa is fragmentary. Banded plain-ware pottery typical of Susa III disappeared. Susa IV monochrome painted buff ware had decoration arranged in registers on the upper body; focal motifs included naturalistic, geometric, and abstract designs. This ceramic tradition is closely related to the early phases of the Godin III tradition in Luristan. Painted wares decreased in frequency through Susa IV, as Mesopotamian types of Akkadian date, such as jars with ribbed shoulders, became more common. Increasing Mesopotamian cultural impact is evident in the styles of cylinder seals, wall plaques, and votive sculpture. The Proto-Elamite A script went out of use, and the increasing use of Akkadian-style glyptic and ceramics reflected Akkadian domination of Khuzistan.

Fars and Kerman.

In Fars, a gap separated the Proto- Elamite Banesh (3200–2600 BCE) and Kaftari (2200–1600 BCE) periods (see below). Kerman was culturally distinct from the Elamite regions but long-distance trade contacts continued. “Intercultural style” chlorite bowls link Tepe Yahya IVB (2800–2300 BCE), lowland Elam, and Early Dynastic II–III (2700–2400 BCE) Mesopotamia. Made at Yahya and other (still unknown) sites, such vessels had their surface covered with incised decoration; characteristic motifs include intertwined snakes, humpback bulls, date palms, eagles with lion heads, and architectural facades whose geometric patterns seem to portray reed-mat, bundled-reed, and brick construction. All other aspects of material culture, such as glyptic and ceramics, show that Yahya's ties were to the Indo-Iranian traditions to the south and east. North of Yahya, Shahdad lies between the Kerman range and the Dasht-i Lut desert, astride major trade routes. Its material culture seems to have derived from the Proto-Elamite tradition, but it developed as part of the northeastern Iranian and south-central Asian world.


In Luristan, the Godin Tepe III monochrome- painted buff-ware ceramic tradition, related to and perhaps derived from that of Susa IV, spread northward through the eastern valleys. Godin Tepe itself overlooks the junction of north–south routes from Khuzistan and the Great Khorasan Road. The expansion of the monochrome-pottery distribution may reflect an early Elamite attempt to tap, or perhaps even control, the flow of materials from the Iranian plateau to the Mesopotamian lowlands. In the western valleys (the Pusht-i Kuh), the economy seems to have been predominantly pastoral. Megalithic stone-built communal tombs (lihaqs, 6–13 m long) yielded bronze artifacts and monochrome-painted buff ware associated with the early Godin III tradition. [See Tombs.]

Dynasty of Shimashki and the Sukkalmah (c. 2100–1600 BCE).

A century after the collapse of the Old Akkadian state, Ur under the Ur III dynasty reunified southern Mesopotamia and again moved against Elam (2100–2000 BCE). [See Ur.] Susa and the Khuzistan lowlands were incorporated into the Ur III provincial system. Although the polities in the highland Zagros maintained their basic autonomy, they experienced military and diplomatic activity. This intensive Ur III pressure on highland polities stimulated defensive alliances. From this emerged the Shimashki dynasty (c. 2100–1900 BCE), which regained the lowlands and led the destruction of the Ur III state. Shimashki probably lay to the north of Khuzistan in the highlands. The decentralized government structure characteristic of the following sukkalmah period may have emerged at this time. Conflict with Mesopotamia continued after the fall of the Ur III dynasty.

The Sukkalmah era (c. 1900–1600 BCE) is the best-documented period of Elamite history, based on building and cylinder-seal inscriptions and royal texts. The transition from the dynasty of Shimashki to the Sukkalmah remains unclear. As seen in texts from Susa, power was held by the sukkalmah (“grand regent”), the sukkal of Elam and Shimashki (“senior co-regent”), and the sukkal of Susa (“junior co-regent”), all drawn from a dynastic family. If more were known from other regions, such as Anshan, the picture might well become more complex. Although Elam was a major independent power, private legal documents from Susa, and the names of many individuals in them, were written in Akkadian or Sumerian rather than Elamite, although some legal terms and usages were non-Mesopotamian.

By the early eighteenth century BCE, Elam was one of the largest states in the area. It extended southward along the Persian Gulf and eastward into Fars (Anshan), although its ultimate eastern and northern limits remain uncertain. Elam exerted influence, if not actual control, over the city-states along the eastern edge of Mesopotamia, north to the Diyala River and beyond to the Lower Zab River; its diplomatic and economic contacts stretched across Mesopotamia and northern Syria to the Mediterranean coast. Susa's role in the tin trade is clear in texts from Mari on the Middle Euphrates River. [See Mari; Euphrates.] In the mid-eighteenth century BCE, Elam and Mesopotamian allies campaigned into northern Mesopotamia and Syria, before finally being pushed back by Hammurabi of Babylon. [See Babylon.] Elam then seems to have spent several centuries in decline.

Material culture


In Khuzistan during the Shimashki period, Susa was the only city (85 ha, or 210 acres); most of the population lived in towns (4–10 ha, or 10–25 acres) rather than villages. [See Villages.] Under the sukkalmah, three additional settlements grew to cities (of greater than 10 ha, or 25 acres) and the number of villages increased. Susa and its hinterland grew. (Political disarray in southern Mesopotamia and Elamite independence would have encouraged such growth.) The population in Deh Luran declined, and the plains in eastern Khuzistan seem not to have had permanent occupations.

At Susa, elaborate administrative and religious buildings stood on the Acropole, and perhaps the Apadana mound, but they were badly damaged by later building activity. A temple with terra- cotta lions may have stood on the Ville Royale. A dense urban residential neighborhood on the Ville Royale had streets that intersected obliquely and alleys between houses. The typical house plan consisted of mudbrick rooms around a courtyard. Burials were placed below house floors or courtyards. [See Burial Techniques.] Shimashki-era burials tended to be placed in an inverted, tub-like terra-cotta sarcophagus. [See Sarcophagus.] During the Sukkalmah period, vaulted tombs built of baked brick were used for repeated (family?) burials, a practice that continued into the first millennium BCE.

Pottery from the early second millennium BCE bears a close resemblance to that from contemporary Mesopotamia, despite political independence. During the Sukkalmah period, new forms related to the Kaftari assemblage at Fars appeared. Shimashki glyptic was very similar to Ur III Mesopotamian types; with presentation scenes the typical motif. Sukkalmah glyptic includes both Mesopotamian types, such as Old Babylonian-style worship scenes, and local types made of bitumen or soft stones with scenes of banquets, files of animals, or dancing. Vessels made of bitumen have handles, feet, and spouts in animal forms, for which there are parallels from Larsa-period Mesopotamia (2000–1800 BCE). Chlorite bowls, flasks, and compartmented containers are associated with Persian Gulf seals and suggest trade among southern Mesopotamia, Susa, the Gulf, and southern Iran. Popular art includes molded naked female figurines with headdresses, jewelry, and belts. [See Jewelry.]


Following an apparent occupational hiatus after the Banesh period, population grew during the Kaftari period in Fars (2200–1600 BCE). Malyan was a large regional center (150 ha, or 371 acres) dominating a four-level hierarchy of site sizes. The regional distribution of sites suggests a complex irrigation network. Excavations at Malyan uncovered substantial buildings and portions of the city wall. Ceramic parallels between the sukkalmah phase and the Kaftari assemblage reflect the close lowland-highland political connections. The black-painted buff ware of the Kaftari ceramic assemblage tended to have overall decoration. Plain and painted red wares provide parallels to Susa. Kaftari glyptic has both Susian-style scenes (a worshiper facing a table with food) and Mesopotamian types. Cuneiform texts from Malyan reflect Mesopotamian scribal traditions but are not written in Elamite, despite Elamite autonomy. [See Scribes and Scribal Techniques.]

Along routes from Susiana to Malyan (Kurangun) and from Malyan to the Iranian plateau (Naqsh-i Rustam), are rock carvings that may have been shrines. [See Naqsh-i Rustam.] In each, the central scene shows worshipers approaching a divine couple seated on serpent thrones beneath flowing streams.


The later phase of the Godin III monochrome painted tradition is found throughout the region. The ceramic assemblage is quite standardized, although red-slip or bichrome- painted decoration marks regional variants. Settlement density reached a peak, and valleys had central towns surrounded by villages. The western, outer Zagros valleys seem to have been essentially deserted, except by pastoralists, as a buffer against lowland Mesopotamian states. [See Pastoral Nomadism.] By the middle of the second millennium, BCE the density of settlement and complexity of the economy seem to have declined markedly.

Transitional and Middle Elamite Periods (1600–1100 BCE).

Elam regained strength throughout the fourteenth century BCE, and the titulary of the king at Susa claimed control of Anshan. By the thirteenth century BCE, Elam had reemerged as a major power, with a geographic scope comparable to that under the sukkalmah. Kings undertook extensive building programs. Untash-Napirisha carried out large construction projects at a number of centers in Khuzistan—the largest was the building of a new center, Al Untash Napirisha (modern Chogha Zanbil), 40 km (25 mi.) southeast of Susa. [See Chogha Zanbil.] In the twelfth century BCE, Elam had major military and political impacts on Mesopotamia, ousting the Kassite dynasty in Babylonia and effecting dynastic changes in other cities as well. [See Kassites.] At the zenith, under Shilhak-Inshushinak, Elamite forces again pushed deep into Mesopotamia, as far north as the Lower Zab and as far west as the Euphrates.

Material culture


The Middle Elamite state reached its zenith in the thirteenth–twelfth centuries BCE and represents something of a break with the past. The much broader use of Elamite for inscriptions and the development of a distinctive style of art and architecture all served to illustrate and emphasize Elamite power and independence.

Although the area west of Susa seems to have been abandoned as a buffer zone against southern Mesopotamian states, settlement across Khuzistan grew. Susa itself seems to have declined in size and importance, while a series of large new settlements, which may have been funerary cult centers, were founded outside central Khuzistan. [See Cult.] Susa's role as a religious center must have suffered. At first, the number and size of villages and small towns remained unchanged; later, however, population seems to have concentrated in large towns along major routes. The depopulation of Deh Luran continued.

Stamped baked bricks attest to repeated royal renovations of the Temple of Inshushinak at Susa, for which molded glazed frit bricks may have been used as a facing. The techniques used to make the molded-brick facade of another temple to Inshushinak were similar to those used by the Kassites in Mesopotamia. Large houses on the Ville Royale had a standard plan, distinct from the ones in contemporary Mesopotamia, with courtyard(s) surrounded by rooms; a large rectangular room with pilasters probably served as a reception room.

Haft Tepe (ancient Kabnak[?]) 20 km (12 mi.) south of Susa was built by Tepti-ahar (c. 1375 BCE). No houses have been excavated there. A funerary temple complex consisted of a walled compound with a baked-brick pavement. Two halls opened off of a portico; beneath each was a large vaulted tomb chamber. Some bodies had been carefully laid out and covered with ocher; others had been interred much more haphazardly. Two mud-brick terraces were found nearby, one of which was 14 m high and surrounded by halls with polychrome painted decoration. Crafts at the site included elephant-bone working, tablet firing, potting (ceramic kiln), and metalworking.

Untash-Napirisha (1260–1235 BCE) founded Chogha Zanbil (ancient Al Untash-Napirisha) on a ridge overlooking the Diz River after Haft Tepe was abandoned. Within an area of 100 ha (247 acres) enclosed by a city wall were a ziggurat complex and several monumental buildings. [See Ziggurat.] Courts, shrines, and temples to various gods inside a double wall surrounded the ziggurat with its temple to Inshushinak and Naparisha (the complex had undergone several major changes of plan). Decorated pegs attached glazed tiles to doorjambs, wooden doors had glass-bead decoration, and glazed frit griffins and bulls guarded the zigurrat's staircases. [See Glass.] In the eastern corner of the city, three monumental complexes consisted of large courtyards surrounded with rooms and storerooms; one contained five underground vaulted tomb chambers.

Through the second millennium BCE, the Elamite pottery assemblage became more uniform and simpler, which suggests more centralized production. The Middle Elamite assemblage included wide varieties of jars and goblets. Pottery at Deh Luran had more Mesopotamian Kassite parallels, while eastern Khuzistan had parallels to the Qaleh pottery tradition of Fars.

Royal Elamite seals from the seventeen to fourteenth centuries BCE display a deity seated on a serpent throne. Middle Elamite glyptic includes scenes of banqueting and hunting, mythical beasts, and geometric patterns; other seals have Old Babylonian or Kassite Mesopotamian parallels. Middle Elamite craftsmen were skilled in metalwork, glass, faience, and glazing. A fragmentary monumental stone stele shows Untash-Napirisha and his family in a religious procession. A massive solid bronze statue of Napirisha (although incomplete it weighs 1,750 kg), a serpent offering table, and a religious-offering tableau demonstrate bronze-casting skill.


In Fars, the regional population declined. On a high point at Malyan, a building whose plan consisted of a rectangular courtyard surrounded by corridors off of which rooms opened, yielded Middle Elamite pottery and accounting tablets dealing with precious metals, food, and animal products. Only Malyan itself has pottery with clear lowland connections. Distinct local ceramic assemblages seem to be at least contemporary with one another, suggesting a fragmentation of local (material) culture. The Qaleh assemblage is related to the earlier Kaftari in forms and decoration. The handmade Shogha assemblage has black-painted decoration on an orange ground, with animal, plant, and geometric motifs. Teimurran pottery is wheelmade, with extremely regular decoration that was probably painted on a turntable.


Ceramic distributions suggest a complex cultural situation in Luristan. Elamite goblets and some related forms are found throughout the southern and western valleys. Eastern Luristan was either abandoned or had perhaps shifted to a heavily pastoral economy. Elements of the Iron I–II western gray-ware assemblage characteristic of north-western Iran (e.g., Hasanlu V–IV), such as button-base goblets, appear in graves in the northern and eastern valleys of Luristan. [See Hasanlu; Grave Goods.] Local traditions, if any, are difficult to identify. The beginnings of the elaborate “Luristan bronze” tradition also appear, probably drawing on the lowland Elamite bronzeworking tradition.

Neo-Elamite Period (1100–500 BCE).

Nebuchadrezzar I (1125–1104 BCE) defeated Elam but seems not to have gained long-term control. After a period of historical obscurity, Elam again reemerged as a political refuge for Babylonian opponents of Assyria; at the same time, the Assyrians were moving into the central western highlands and establishing control along the valleys along the Great Khorasan Road. [See Babylonians; Assyrians.] By the second quarter of the first millennium BCE, Elam was under ever-increasing pressure from all sides: the Assyrians and Babylonians from the west, the Medes and Assyrians in the northern highlands, and the Persians in the southeast. [See Medes; Persians.] From about 750 to 650 BCE, Elam experienced a slow decline during nearly constant political and military conflict with Mesopotamian powers. Finally, In 646 BCE, the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal conquered Khuzistan and sacked Susa. Assyrian palace reliefs provide detailed information on dress, architectural facades, and other aspects of Elamite material culture.

Fragments of Elam, mostly in the highlands, maintained a political identity, but by the mid-sixth century BCE, former Elamite areas had fallen under Achaemenid control. Elam ceased to exist as a power. Under the Achaemenids, the Elamite language continued in use for display inscriptions, such as at Bisitun, and in administrative documents. [See Bisitun.] Although references to Elamites persist into the Hellenistic era, Elam's importance and independent identity had come to an end.

Lowland Elam had been in decline by the beginning of the first millennium BCE. The number of villages decreased, and many Middle Elamite towns were abandoned by about 1000 BCE (cultural developments in the highlands may have played a major role in this). During the second half of the second millennium BCE, many indigenous traditions disappeared as new groups appeared. The changes in the highlands accelerated through the first millennium BCE, sweeping away the past. Susa revived as a regional center by the end of the eighth century BCE. Neo-Elamite architecture shows a strong continuity with the past in location and ornamentation: a small temple on the Acropole had green-glazed bricks, and the pegs attaching glazed frit tiles to the walls bear knobs in the form of animal forequarters, humans, or bull men. Burial practices continued second-millennium BCE practices, including the use of painted clay funerary heads.

Neo-Elamite I pottery (1000–700 BCE) is little known; Neo-Elamite II pottery (700–500 BCE) is simple and demonstrates continuity. This is noteworthy because the Assyrian conquest of Elam and the sack of Susa In 646 BCE had little effect on the ceramic assemblage and other types of artifacts. The second half of the first millennium BCE is poorly known archaeologically.

[See also Mesopotamia, article on Ancient Mesopotamia; and Persia, article on Ancient Persia.]


  • Amiet, Pierre. Glyptique susienne: Des origines à l'époque de Perses- Achéménides. Mémoires de la Délégation Archéologique en Iran, 43. Paris, 1972. Comprehensive study of Susiana glyptic.
  • Amiet, Pierre. “Archaeological Discontinuity and Ethnic Duality in Elam.” Antiquity 53 (1979): 195–204. Important essay on the lowland-highland dynamic of Elamite history.
  • Amiet, Pierre. L'âge des échanges inter-iraniens. Paris, 1986. Synthesis of interregional connections.
  • Berghe, Louis Vanden. Bibliographie analytique de l'archéologie de l'Iran ancien. Leiden, 1979. This and the two supplements below are an exhaustive bibliographic resource, site by site.
  • Berghe, Louis Vanden, and E. Haerinck. Bibliographie analytique de l'archéologie de l'Iran ancien: Supplément 1, 1978–1980. Leiden, 1981.
  • Berghe, Louis Vanden, and E. Haerinck. Bibliographie analytique de l'archéologie de l'Iran ancien: Supplément 2, 1981–1985. Leiden, 1987.
  • Cahiers de la Délégation Archéologique Française en Iran. Paris, 1971– . Reports on the French excavations at Susa and other prehistoric Khuzistan sites since 1967.
  • Carter, Elizabeth, and Matthew W. Stolper. Elam: Surveys of Political History and Archaeology. Berkeley, 1984. Essential synthesis of Elamite history and archaeology.
  • Gasche, Hermann. La poterie élamite du deuxième millénaire A.C. Mémoires de la Délégation Archéologique en Iran, 47. Paris, 1973. Second-millennium BCE Elamite pottery corpus from Ghirshman's Ville Royale excavations at Susa.
  • Harper, Prudence, Oliver, et al., eds. The Royal City of Susa: Ancient Near Eastern Treasures in the Louvre. New York, 1992. Catalog from an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, with numerous illustrations, extensive essays on many aspects of Elamite art and culture from Susa, and recent bibliography.
  • Hinz, Walther, and Heidemarie Koch. Elamisches Wörterbuch. Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Iran, vol. 17. Berlin, 1987.
  • Hole, Frank, ed. The Archaeology of Western Iran: Settlement and Society from Prehistory to the Islamic Conquest. Washington, D.C., 1987. Comprehensive survey of development in western Iran, providing the Iranian context of Elam.
  • LeBrun, Alain, and François Vallat. “L'origine de l'écriture à Suse.” Cahiers de la Délégation Archéologique Française en Iran 8 (1978): 11–60. Stratigraphic evidence from Susa for the development of writing.
  • Mémoires de la Délégation en Perse, Mémoires de la Mission Archéologique en Iran, Mémoires de la Délégation Archéologique en Iran (series name changes over time). Paris, 1900– . Reports of the French excavations, primarily at Susa, by Jacques de Morgan, Roland de Mecquenem, and Roman Ghirshman.
  • Mésopotamie et Elam: Actes de la XXXVème rencontre assyriologique internationale, Gand, 10–14 juillet 1989. Ghent, 1991.
  • Miroschedji, Pierre de. “Fouilles du chantier Ville Royale II à Suse, 1975–1977, I: Les niveaux Élamites.” Cahiers de la Délégation Archéologique Française en Iran 12 (1981): 9–136. The first millennium BCE sequence at Susa.
  • Nicholas, Ilene M. The Proto-Elamite Settlement at TUV. Malyan Excavation Reports, vol. 1. Philadelphia, 1990. Report on the area TUV excavation at Malyan.
  • Pittman, Holly. The Glazed Steatite Style: The Structure and Function of an Image System in the Administration of Protoliterate Mesopotamia. Berlin, 1994.
  • Sumner, William M. “Proto-Elamite Civilization in Fars.” In Gamdat Nasr: Period or Regional Style?, edited by Uwe Finkbeiner and Wolfgang Röllig, pp. 199–211. Beihefte zum Tübinger Atlas des Vorderen Orients, Reihe B, vol. 62. Wiesbaden, 1986.
  • Sumner, William M. “Anshan in the Kaftari Phase: Patterns of Settlement and Land Use.” In Archaeologia Iranica et Orientalis: Miscellanea in honorem Louis Vanden Berghe, edited by Léon De Meyer and E. Haerinck, pp. 135–161. Ghent, 1989.
  • Vallat, Françoise. Suse et l'Élam. Paris, 1980.
  • Voigt, Mary M., and Robert H. Dyson, Jr. “The Chronology of Iran, ca. 8000–2000 B.C.” In Chronologies in Old World Archaeology, edited by Robert W. Ehrich, pp. 122–178. 3d ed. Chicago, 1992. Provides the most detailed synthesis of the archaeological evidence for the fourth and third millennia BCE.

Robert C. Henrickson