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Antiquity Vol 80 No 310 December 2006

Warkaini: a new Palaeolithic site near Kermanshah in West-central Zagros, Iran

Sonia Shidrang

The history of Palaeolithic research in the Kermanshah valley of West-central Zagros dates to the late 1940s, when C.S. Coon excavated the rich Mousterian site of Bisotun near Kermanshah (Coon 1951). Since then there have been a small number of surveys and excavations undertaken by western archaeologists e.g. the Iranian Prehistoric Project, directed by the late R. Braidwood in 1959-60 (Braidwood 1960). Until the 1970s the number of known Palaeolithic sites in the region was fewer than 10.

Figure 1

Figure 1. Qaleh Gabri Mount and the location of the site, looking north. Click to enlarge.

In the past two decades an attempt has been made by Iranian archaeologists to learn more about the Palaeolithic occupations of the Kermanshah region by conducting renewed surveys. During these new field surveys more than 30 caves, rock shelters and open-air sites have been discovered dating from the Middle Palaeolithic to EpiPalaeolithic periods. (see e.g. Biglari 2001, 2004; Biglari & Heydari 2001, Biglari & Taheri 2000).

Among these sites is the rockshelter of Warkaini which was located by F. Biglari and S. Heydari in 1995 and re-surveyed by author and F. Biglari in 2004-5. Warkaini is located at the north-west of the Kermanshah valley (34 25 N, 047 01 E), at the base of the southern escarpment of Qaleh Gabri Mount, 1400m above sea level (Figure 1). The shelter, which measures 13m long, 4m deep, and is an average of 120cm high, opens to the south, onto a rocky slope (Figure 2).

Figure 2

Figure 2. Map of the Kermanshah Region and the location of Warkaini, and other Middle/Upper Palaeolithic sites. Click to enlarge.
Figure 3

Figure 3. Map and cross section of the Warkaini rockshelter. Click to enlarge.

During both surveys, a total of 326 chipped stone artefacts was collected. A number of these artefacts came from a pit made by looters at the eastern corner of the shelter. The pit measures 210170cm and is approximately 80cm deep (Figure 3). The earth in the pit was damp and clayey, and light brown in colour. It contained some small limestone chunks, dispersed charcoal, 10 bone fragments, one tooth, and the lithic artefacts.

The collected artefacts from this part of the rockshelter floor were all fresh with no evidence of trampling. Other lithic artefacts collected on the talus slope were somewhat abraded and patinated. A complete range of morphological types is present in the lithic assemblage, including cores, core shaping and rejuvenation elements, flakes, blade/bladelets, Levallois elements, tools and debris fragments.

Figure 4

Figure 4. Middle Palaeolithic artefacts from Warkaini. Click to enlarge.

The assemblage is mixed and contains both Middle and Upper Palaeolithic elements. Middle Palaeolithic artefacts consist of some Levallois flakes and their byproducts, and some small centripetal cores made on flake (Figure 4). Upper Palaeolithic elements consist of bladelet cores (unipolar, bipolar and carinated), twisted bladelets, crested bladelets, blade/bladelets, tools made on blade/bladelets such as end-scrapers, and a proximal fragment of a probable Arjaneh (Font Yves) point (Figure 5). There are some other tool types that can be found from both industries such as convergent scrapers, notch/denticulates and retouched pieces.

It seems the pattern of raw material use is different in both industries. In Middle Palaeolithic specimens, there is a tendency to use a local brown chert, which occurs along the southern slopes of the Maiwaleh Mountain to the east (Biglari 2004). While in the Upper Palaeolithic elements, there is more variation of chert types used. The presence of many heavily retouched pieces, many cores made on flakes and fragments and the overall small size of artefacts indicate that Middle and Upper Palaeolithic occupants of the site had no easy access to good raw material sources and had to use what was available in the area and the site itself, such as discarded fragments and flakes as core to produce flakes and blade/bladelets.

During recent years, some scholars have proposed the Zagros region as one of the possible origins for Aurignacian industry (Olszweski & Dibble 1994; Otte & Kozlowski 2004). There are a small number of excavated sites with both Middle and Upper components in Zagros, which can shed new light on this issue. These are Shanidar on the western slopes of Zagros, Warwasi, Ghar-e Khar, and Gar Arjeneh in the valleys of West-central Zagros and probably Eshkaft Gavi in Southern Zagros. While these sites have presented some data regarding the probable transition from Middle Palaeolithic to Upper Palaeolithic in Zagros, there are some uncertainties regarding bioturbation and the techniques of excavation used in some of these sites, which make the possibility of mixed assemblages strong.

Since Warkaini has Middle and Upper Palaeolithic components, it has the potential to make a significant contribution to issues such as the relationship between the Middle and Upper Palaeolithic in Zagros, the origin of Aurignacian industry and new radiometric dates. Further investigations will continue.

Figure 5

Figure 5. Upper Palaeolithic artefacts from Warkaini. Click to enlarge.


I would like to thank Fereidoun Biglari for his help in the field and his comments. My thanks go also to Jacques Jaubert, Vincent Mourre, Jean-Guillaume Bordes, and Deborah Olszweski for their comments. And last, but not least, I am grateful to Mr Bairanvand, the director of ICHTO at Kermanshah, and Y. Moradi and A. M. Bisotuni for research permits and for providing logistical means.


Sonia Shidrang Center for Palaeolithic Research, National Museum of Iran (Email:;

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