A University of Leicester archaeologist has just returned from a period of fieldwork in Iran, working on the first archaeological project in the country to explore the very recent past.
Dr Ruth Young, of the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, has been looking at the effects the Iranian White Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s had on the ancient 'Landlord Villages' of the early Islamic period of the country's history.
Dr Young is no stranger to Iran and although she spends most of her time there 'in the field', she also works with colleagues in Tehran. Her current project is run jointly with the leading Iranian archaeologist Dr Hassan Fazeli, Director of the Iran Centre for Archaeological Research and Ms Minoo Salimi of the National Museum of Tehran, as well as with Iranian students in the capital.
She commented: "Iran's 'White Revolution' of the 1960s and 70s had a huge impact on social and political organisation and relations, and one area where this impact is manifest in terms of material remains are Landlord Villages.
"The antiquity of these villages is generally agreed to be rooted in the early Islamic period, although their origins and their actual dates remain largely conjecture. What is clear from a range of records is that Landlord Villages were an accepted and extensive form of social and economic organisation for large segments of Iran's rural population for the centuries leading up to the radical changes of the second half of the 20th century.
"The aims of our work in this area, are to record and analyse the material culture of Landlord Villages in order to further understand the social and economic relationships between landlord and farmers and between farmers.
"We also consider the creation and expression of identity within these villages and hope to provide a model of spatial analysis linked to function which can potentially be applied to self-contained settlements at different points in history and prehistory.
"This has been the third season we have worked on this project. In the first field season we planned two villages in great detail and carried out a series of ethnographic interviews with people who had lived in these villages. In the second season we planned a third village and conducted interviews, plus we carried out trail excavations at the village of Kazemabad, near Pishva. This year we excavated five larger trenches at Kazemabad.
"Many travelers in rural Iran have noted the mud-brick walled, self-enclosed landlord villages in the landscape, and these villages represented the social and economic order for a large segment of the Iranian population over many centuries prior to land reform in the 1960s and 70s.
"Their abandonment was closely linked to Iran's 'White Revolution'. This 'White Revolution' resulted in fundamental change to the structure of Iranian rural society, as well as a new economic and political order."
Now largely abandoned, these villages offer Dr Young's research team the opportunity to explore the use of space in relation to status, economic function, and individual and group identity.
The results of their fieldwork have shown that within these villages the landlord and family occupied one third to a half of all the area, while up to 20 farmers and families occupied the remaining area.
The material culture of farmers and landlord are in great contrast, as Dr Young explained: "The landlord had imported china while the farmers used locally produced pottery. This of course is not unexpected given what was known about the villages and the role of the landlords.
"What is unexpected is the material culture from the farmers' area of the village shows very little in the way of hierarchies or status, yet we know from earlier ethnographic and historical accounts that these hierarchies did exist. Indeed some accounts report up to four or five different tiers within the farmers.
"This of course has many implications for understanding material remains in other archaeological circumstances, and how we are able to learn about hierarchies and status."
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