Models of Trade and Polity Formation in Bronze Age Northeastern Iran, CA. 3200-1600 Bce

Kyle Gregory Olson, University of Pennsylvania


A persistent hypothesis in the archaeology of complex societies posits that the acquisition of raw materials for craft production underpins the emergence of first the division of labor, then the emergence of social stratification, and finally, the development of political institutions and ultimately state formation. In cases where such raw materials — especially those needed for the fashioning of status symbols — are not available locally, self-aggrandizing leaders and aspiring elites will seek to create or otherwise manipulate long distance flows of such materials to either acquire the status symbols or to furnish the craft industries which they control. While this theory has for decades been the subject of debate and revision according to theoretical and methodological fashions, its premises have nevertheless achieved a level of disciplinary common-sense. So much so in fact, that interregional trade is seen by many scholars as an unquestionably key variable in polity formation, especially in the case of so-called “secondary” polity-formation. A case study based on the Gorgan Plain in northeastern Iran focusing on the chronological interval between the Late Chalcolithic and the Late Bronze Age (ca. 3200-1600 BCE) shows that the necessity and chronological priority of increases in interregional trade cannot be taken for granted in the process of polity formation. Indeed, cases where the order of operations is reversed are not only possible but do in fact exist. Through an examination of the historiography of macro-historical narratives of the relationship between interregional trade and Bronze Age political geography in Iran, the synthesis of underutilized survey and excavation data, the conduct of a virtual site survey using Google Earth, and the computation of spatial-organizational models, I show that the period in which the Gorgan Plain was most involved in interregional trade actually follows a period of polity formation, and is instead correlated with what all previous scholars have considered to be a phase of polity disintegration and collapse.

Subject Area

Archaeology|Geography|Cultural Resources Management|Middle Eastern Studies|Public policy|International Relations|Political science|Commerce-Business

Recommended Citation

Olson, Kyle Gregory, "Models of Trade and Polity Formation in Bronze Age Northeastern Iran, CA. 3200-1600 Bce" (2020). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI28027502.