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Karim Shahir Culture

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Small Testing Trenches on Karim Shahir

An open site on a terrace of the River Zab in Iraqi Kurdistan which has given its name to a culture dated circa 9000-7000 BC associated with the transition from a hunting and gathering economy to one based on farming. There is little evidence for permanent structures on Karim Shahir sites and most of them were probably occupied seasonally meaning they were nomadic and somewhat sedentary. At Karim Shahir clear proof was obtained both of the knowledge of grain cultivation in the form of sickle blades and of the baking of clay in the form of lightly fired clay figurines. The economy was based on hunting with some possible evidence of herding while the artefactual evidence also suggests an increased dependence on plant resources: blades with the silica sheen often described as sickle gloss and pierced stone balls which might have been weights for digging sticks and stone axes (AHSFC)

From Cave to Village in Prehistoric Iraq by Robert Braidwood in
Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (Dec 1951) Pages 1+12-18

Karim Shahir was an open establishment of some two acres in area located two kilometers up the wadi from Jarmo in the valley of Chemchemal, Kirkuk liwa. The single occupation at Karim Shahir was exposed in about 550 square metres of area (in eight different operations) in the period from March 14 to May 9 1951. Karim Shahir appears to have been occupied for a short duration by a group of people in the stage loosely called [European term] “mesolithic” or EpiPalaeolithic. The site indicated some sort of architectural activity in that the principal (and only well-defined) level was strewn with erratic stones but it was impossible to comprehend any sort of hut plan.

Hence the term village in the present state of understanding of Karim Shahir cannot properly be applied to the site. The small object assemblage was predominantly of chipped flint with a large component of microliths but there were milling stone fragments (of both boulder-mortar and quern type), chipped celts with polished bits and ground stone rings, bracelets, beads and pendants. There was also a modest amount of ground bone and two rather amorphous unbaked clay figurines (figure 4). On typological grounds Karim Shahir is definitely older than the largely pre-ceramic but otherwise well established village stage represented by nearby Jarmo. In fact it seems likely that there may have been an intermediate stage lying between Jarmo and Karim Shahir in time, as certain surface materials gathered from other sites in the explorations appear to indicate.

On typological grounds Karim Shahir might seem somewhat antecedent to the Natufian assemblage of Palestine. On the other hand it is definitely an open-air establishment of some size even if only of temporary duration. In this sense it foretells a new order in human living about which Zarzi, Palegawra and even the Natufian are still mute. There are open-air camp sites in Europe which are doubtless older than Karim Shahir; the interest of Karim Shahir centers on the approximate time and place where it makes its appearance. We believe it to be the earliest open site in the “nuclear area" of Western Asia and we suspect it presages a new development which culminates in civilization.

(1) Prehistoric Archaeology Along the Zagros Flanks (1983)
Edited by Linda and Robert Braidwood et al (Oriental Institute Publications)
Chapter 1: Karim Shahir by Bruce Howe (Pages 23-154)

(2) Prehistoric Investigations in Iraqi Kurdistan
Robert Braidwood and Bruce Howe (1960)
The Oriental Institute (University of Chicago)
Pages 28 -- 52 et al 29.1 MB
Page 28: Karim Shahir and Possibly Germane Unexcavated Sites
Pages 52-54: Karim Shahir

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