Middle Elamite Malayan

By: Elizabeth Carter and Matthew Stolper

Originally Published in 1976

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Several lines of scholarly inquiry have recently drawn attention to Tall-i Malyan in south central Iran. The low mounds of Malyan cover nearly 200 hectares (500 acres) in the high intermontane valley of the Baiza district of Fars province, 46 kilometers north of Shiraz and 43 kilometers west of Persepolis. In 1969, an archaeological survey of the Baiza district and the adjoining area of the Kur River valley showed Malyan to be by far the largest pre-Achaemenid site in this relatively extensive plain on the Iranian plateau. Al approximately the same time, research in historical geography raised the possibility that modern Malyan is the site of Anshan, a place known from cuneiform texts as one of the chief cities of ancient Elam. The University Museum’s excavations at Malyan opened in 1971, with the concurrence of the Iranian Centre for Archaeological Research. Work continued in 1972 and 1974, and plans are under way for a fourth season in 1976.

Early in the 1972 season, a cesium magnetometer survey, conducted by Elizabeth Ralph of the Museum Applied Science Center, indicated magnetic anomalies on the highest point of MaIyan’s main mound. A trial excavation showed the source of the anomalies to be the large burned walls of a mud-brick structure. With subsequent work, almost 700 square meters of this building have been cleared. Despite this extensive excavation. the building is not completely exposed, nor is the duration of its occupation yet established with precision. Both archaeological and textual evidence strongly indicate a date in the closing centuries of the second millennium B.C. for the burned building and its contents. These years corres­pond in the political history of ancient Iran to the period of the Middle Elamite Empire.

The term “Middle Elamite Empire” refers to the state formed in southern Iran between ca 1300 and ca 1100 B.C. by a series of rul­ers whose inscriptions entitle them “Kings of Anshan and Susa.” In their reigns, Elam competed for power with contemporary states in Assyria and Babylonia, and achieved the greatest political and military successes of its long history. Archaeological and textual remains of this period have in the past come principally from the Elamite cities of Khuzistan, especially the old capital of Susa and the newer religious center of Chogha Zanbil (ancient Al-Untas-napirisa, later Dur-Untash).

The inclusion of Malyan in the Middle Elamite state, and the existence of a signifi­cant Middle Elamite occupation there, were demonstrated in the first season of excava­tion, when surface finds included brick fragments with portions of an Elamite building inscription. These fragments were quickly identified as partial duplicates of a recently published text in which the last Middle Elamite ruler, Huteludushshushinak, commemorated the building of a temple in Anshan. Consequently, the new fragments reinforced the proposed identifica­tion of Malyan as ancient Anshan, and so added historic interest and importance to the Middle Elamite period on the site,

However, none of these inscribed brick fragments has yet been found in a primary context. Scattered over the enormous extent of the site, they prove that there was a Middle Elamite occupation, but they do not show where the remains of that occupation are to be found. On present evidence, the burned building and its contents seem to constitute the first extensive remains of the period. Enough material is available to permit a brief description of the finds and the issues which they raise.

Stratigraphy and Architecture

The plan of the building shown here represents the burned level of the structure, the second of three phases of construction in evidence to date. A test excavation below the courtyard floor of this phase established the existence of at least one earlier floor, the first phase of the same structure. Fragmentary remains of the third phase, a rebuilding on a smaller scale which incorporated some wall-stubs of the burned level, were found to the northeast of the area shown on the plan (grid square EE39). At some time after this modest

reconstruction, an entirely unrelated struc­ture was built on the site. Its only remains are a line of nine pillar foundations made of large river pebbles, set into the earlier burned walls and rooms. The construction and subsequent erosion of this later structure account, at least in part, for the disappearance not only of much of the third-phase re-use of the burned building, but also of much of the primary collapse of the burned level itself.

The plan of the burned phase, as ex­cavated to date, consists of three main elements: a rectangular courtyard, a narrow surrounding corridor, and a series of rec­tangular rooms and suites surrounding the corridor and opening on it. The building is oriented with its corners toward the cardinal points of the compass.

The courtyard is 10.50 meters wide and at least 14 meters long. The surrounding cor­ridor is not entirely regular, but averages 2.00 meters in width. Its short arm, on the southeast, is 18.00 meters long; the length of its longer arms remains to be established. The section through the courtyard and corridor (section A-B on the plan) clearly shows burned ceiling beams in the fill of the corridor and the absence of any roofing debris in the courtyard. Hence the courtyard was open and the surrounding areas roofed, a conclusion supported by the character of the fill throughout the rest of the building.

In a general way, this centralized plan can be compared to plans of Middle Elamite structures from Susa and Chogha Zanbil. However the use of corner piers and pillars to divide the courtyard from the surrounding areas is without Elamite parallels.

All construction was in mud brick. The walls were originally plastered with a coating of straw-tempered mud 5-10 cm. thick. A fallen pillar establishes that the height of the building was, at a minimum, 5 meters. The bearing walls are generally 1.80 meters or 4 bricks wide. The outstanding exception is the southwest wall of the building, which is 5 bricks or 2.00 meters wide. The size of the southwest wall and the fill of the adjoining alley demonstrate that this is an outer edge of the building—the only one so far established with certainty. The walls exposed at the southwestern limit of excavation are accord­ingly parts of a second, similarly oriented structure.


The alley to the southwest of the building produced large amounts of scattered, broken pottery and miscellaneous small finds. In contrast, the finds from inside the building associated with the burnt level of the structure were limited to a few scattered small pieces and several larger concentra­tions of like objects. These major clusters of finds are indicated on the plan.

Four pots were found along the south wall of the small room adjacent to the northeast corner of the corridor. These vessels are of particular importance, since they are the only group of pots found in place, in primary association with the burned level: a band-rim jar (no. 5 in pottery group on page 40) was set in a shallow hole in the floor, while the others—a vat, a second band-rim jar and a small pot (no. 3 in the same group)—rested on a prepared surface of flint waste and clay. Nearby but slightly higher in the fill were two nearly complete “Elamite goblets”—tall goblets with long, narrow necks and bodies (no. 1 in the same group). All of these vessels can be compared to Middle Elamite pottery found at Chogha Zanbil and Susa. The rest of the room was littered with a number of flat stones, frag­ments of grinding stones and flint waste. Flotation of the earth around the jars pro­duced a few carbonized cereal grains.

The two rooms along the southwest arm of the corridor were remarkable for a group of over fifty glazed clay knobs and a single tile found scattered next to the main doorway. The curved, mud-plastered groove in the floor once accommodated the swing of a door hung in a socket on the northwest side of the door-opening. A second, smaller group of glazed clay knobs and another tile were found scattered near the southeast doorway of the same room.

In the excavations of Chogha Zanbil, comparable glazed knobs and tiles were found with particular frequency in the vicinity of doorways, as at Malyan. Hence, a straight­forward interpretation of the glazed pieces from Malyan suggests that they, like those from Chogha Zanbil, are fragments of architectural ornament, fallen from the door­jambs or from the doors themselves during the destruction of the building. If so, each knob once crowned an undecorated peg used to fix a tile to the wall or the door. However two facts move against this suggestion: first there are many knobs but few tiles; second, several of the knobs appear to be unfinishec or incorrectly made. It is possible that the southwest room of the burned building was the most lavishly decorated portion of the structure yet exposed; but it is equally possible that the functions of the room included manufacture, storage or simply disposal of glazed ornaments.

Finds from the central courtyard were equally puzzling. A cache of unworked piec€ of calcite was heaped against the central pillar on the southeast side; although this fin white stone may have been stored as raw material, no finished goods of the same material have been found. Diagonally across the court, next to the northwest corner pier, lay abundant flint flakes and a few stone tools, spread so densely that they gave the impression of a palaeolithic living-floor. Other areas of the building produced similar but less dense scatters of flint. A preliminar study of this stone assemblage shows that th flakes are not by-products from the manufatured ture of the few tools found, and it is con­sequently likely that the assemblage was no produced on the spot, but was brought in from elsewhere. Conceivably these stones were spread to form areas of well-drained surface over the earthen floors of the building but barring such a speculative interpretation the implications of the presence of these 170 kg. of flint in such a monumental and seemingly formal structure remain enigmatic.

The most striking and potentially the most information-laden group of small finds consists of nearly 300 cuneiform tablets and fragments. The great majority appeared in two concentrations in the northeast portion of the building: one group came from the northeast corner of the corridor, while a larger group came from the central room of the series along the east side of the corridor. Many of the texts lay directly on the floor, and although others came from less secure contexts higher in the fill, the general homogeneity of their contents allows them t be treated as a single archive.

The state of preservation of the texts is varied, Because the building burned, many texts were well-baked; because it collapsed, most were shattered. Only about 50 small tablets are intact, but a number of large fragments provide additional connected text No remains were found of benches, shelves, pots or other facilities for their storage; evidently the destruction of the building considerably disturbed their original arrangment ment.

With few exceptions, these texts are economic-administrative documents, disap­pointing as historical sources, and as yet no even secure independent chronological evidence. At least ten texts, however, indicate where they were written, if not when: Anza-an, the common Elamite spelling of Anshan. Since no other place-name occurs, this notice supports the brick fragments in the identifica­tion of Malyan as Anshan.

Apart from this specific evidence, the outstanding general feature of the texts is the fact that they are in Elamite, a language still imperfectly understood despite long study. The gaps in comprehension of Elamite gram­mar and lexicon result in part from the severe limits of the corpus of texts: texts from the Middle Elamite Empire are confined to about 150 rather repetitive monumental inscrip­tions. The Malyan texts are therefore a notable addition to the corpus, but because they are without close parallels they can be only partially understood.

To compensate for this difficulty, these texts contain a surprising number of Akka­dian loan-words and Sumerograms (that is, Elamite words spelled with Sumerian word-signs, as English “pound” is spelled with Latin Iibra abbreviated to “lb.”). Such terms make at least the general contents clear, and provide a context for the evaluation of uncertain Elamite forms.

Physically, the texts take a variety of sizes and shapes, but the majority are small, nearly cylindrical in shape, 4-7 cm. long, with 2-10 lines of script. Briefly stated, these short texts appear to be simple notes of issue and of outstanding items, recording disbursements of metals for the manufacture or decoration of various objects.

The metals issued include silver and gold (written with the Sumerograms KU.BABBAR and GUSKIN), bronze or copper

(spelled za-bar) and occasionally tin (ana-ku). Amounts vary from a single shekel to fifty minas—a range of about 3 oz. to 55 lbs., if Elamite and Babylonian measures are equivalent.

The objects for which the metals are handed out are more difficult to characterize. They are named sometimes with clear Akka­dian loan-words or Sumerograms; sometimes with Elamite words of certain meaning; sometimes with Elamite terms familiar from building inscriptions but still of uncertain sense; and sometimes with wholly new or uncertain terms. Most of those words which can be understood indicate furnishings and ornaments, and these provide a general semantic range for the terms still uniden­tified.

Several administrative formulae use a number of Elamite terms, each with its own problems of form and meaning. Their intent seems to be the statement, for accounting purposes, of one or more aspects of the disbursement: the issue of the metal, and/or its receipt, and/or its status as an outstanding item charged against the recipient.

Much remains to be clarified in each of these short texts, but an example can be rendered provisionally as follows:


(1)    10 GIN GUSKIN.MES

(2)    MUL.MES

(3)    sa za-ram(P)l-mi-na

(4)    PI-I-PIR r;u-ru-ru

(5)    ITI A-pi

(6)    na-24.KAM

(1)    10 shekels of gold;

(2)    (ornamental) stars,

(3)    for. .. ;

(4)    under the responsibility of Ururu.

(5)    Month V,

(6)    day 24.

The date-formula never specifies the year, a practice which suggests that these are ephemeral notes, relevant for less than a single year, to be discarded at short intervals, In fact, the great majority of dated texts of all formats fall into two consecutive months, indicating an archive recently cleared of stale documents.

Fragmentary larger texts provoke the same inference. They include inventories and summaries of the same materials and objects, using the same phrases and naming the same persons as the short notes. That is, they are digests of the shorter notes, in several formats: journals, giving daily totals of metals issued; tabulations, listing totals of each metal issued and totals of all metals issued to each man; or serial lists of issues, as in the following example:


(1)    [x+)2 MA.NA 2 GIN GUSKIN.MES

(2)    PI-1-1111

(3)    2 5/6 3 MA.NA GUSKIN.MES

(4)    PI-l-PiR Ku-uk-za-na

(5)    2 5/6 5 I/2 MA.NA GUSKIN.MES

(6)    [P1]+1111 ,,.Ki-si-Ia-ak

(7)    [ ) 5/6 MA.NA I/2 GIN

(8)    [GUS]KIN.MES Ia ka-as-[suj

(9)    [PI+P1R]

(10)  ITI La-lu-be(!—text -na) (II) na-2.KAM (12) h.An-za-an

(1)    [x+]2 minas 2 shekels of gold;

(2)    under the responsibility of Shalamirish;

(3)    2 minas 53 shekels of gold;

(4)    under the responsibility of Kukzana;

(5)    2 minas 55 I/2 shekels of gold,

(6)    under the responsibility of Kisishak;

(7)    [ ] minas 50 I/2 shekels

(8)    of gold for… ;

(9)    under the responsibility of Tempi[pi].

(10)  Month VI,

(11)  day 2.

(12)  Anshan.

Both texts illustrated here are sealed, as are many other tablets and fragments. With a single exception, the same seal impression appears on all of these. Its significance is uncertain, since there is no obvious distinction of form or content between sealed and unsealed texts.

The use of a single seal, the general similarity of handwriting among many of the texts, and the narrow limits of the subject matter in comparison with other administrative archives may be indications that these texts are the work of a single scribe or a department of a larger bureaucracy. Correspondingly, there are signs that more texts dealing with other subjects may be found nearby: a small number of fragments from the alley adjoining the burned building on the southwest bear fragmentary Elamite texts which are distinct in format, handwriting and content from the texts found within the building. They raise hopes of further additions to the Elamite corpus, a better view of the records kept at Malyan, and a clue to the organization which maintained these records.


Dating evidence from the burned building falls into two principal categories. First, pottery and small finds indicate a comparative terminus post quem for the final occupation of the burned level itself. Second, radiocarbon determinations from burned structural timbers provide a terminus post quem for the original construction of the building, while charcoal samples from burned reed matting should yield determinations close to the time of its destruction.

In the first category, the most common pottery forms found in the fill and on the floor of the burned level are: “Elamite goblets,” squat-shouldered pots, large jars with folded band rims, vats with heavy overhanging rims. In short, the Malyan pottery closely resembles a typical late second millennium B.C. assemblage from Khuzistan. The glazed clay knobs and tiles are in accord with this comparison. Particularly striking is a close parallel of both design and dimension between glazed tiles from Malyan and some examples from Chogha Zanbil. The glazed knobs from Malyan, with their 12-petal rosette decoration, likewise compare favorably with examples of Middle Elamite date from Susa.

These comparisons suggest a Middle Elamite date of ca 1300-1100 but the chronological limits of comparative material from Khuzistan are not fixed with enough precision to establish a date within the proposed range. In fact, some of the pottery forms and tile designs in question, appear in Khuzistan as late as the eighth century B.C., in Neo-Elamite times. Moreover, a glazed cylindrical box lid decorated with a rosette, found on the same floor as the pottery group, is very close to examples from Susa dated to the 8th-7th centuries B.C. Finally the possibilities of local stylistic conservatism in an outlying part of the Empire, or of situational conservatism—e.g. the use of archaic types in a structure perhaps devoted to formal purposes—cannot be altogether discounted. If such phenomena pertain, then the burned building may be somewhat later than stylistic comparisons suggest.

The Elamite texts from the building do little to lessen these difficulties, since their banal contents offer scarcely any historical or chronological information. Only one text appears to mention a king’s name, and that name is broken after the first syllable: “Hu […]” As the inscribed brick fragments suggest, the royal name may be that of Huteludush-Inshushinak. However, it may equally well be the name of a later Elamite king, or of a local ruler previously unknown.

The script used in the texts, like their contents, gives little usable dating evidence. The sign-forms differ sharply from those of the Middle Elamite monumental inscriptions; they resemble in some detail the signs of Neo-Elamite monumental texts from the eighth century B.C. But since monumental texts from the eighth century B.C. But since monumental inscriptions tend to use archaic scripts, while administrative records use more rapidly changing cursives, the terms of such comparisons are incommensurate. No other Elamite administrative texts from the interval ca 1300-700 are as yet known: while this circumstance lends added importance to the Malyan texts, it excludes a sound basis for palaeographic comparisons. Moreover, precisely the same structures apply to features of grammar and morphology. Less immediate comparisons, between the Malyan sign forms and Mesopotamian scripts of the late second millennium, allow a date in the Middle Elamite period, but do not require it. In view of these qualifications, the second category of dating evidence, radiocarbon determinations, assumes greater importance. Five carbon samples have been processed at MASCA, and the results form a coherent pattern.

Lab No.                    MASCA-Corrected Date

P-2060                     1540-1500 B.C. +/- 55
P-2061                     1400-1380 B.C. +/- 58
P-2330 1300-1270 B.C. +/- 60
P-2331 1100-1030 B.C. +/- 70
P-2332 1270-1240 B.C. +/- 70

MASCA correction factors are published in MASCA Newsletter Vol. 9 No. 1 (August, 1973).

All five samples are stratigraphically contemporary with or earlier than the burned level of the structure. The precise nature of the carbonized remains of the first two samples (P-2060, 2061) is uncertain; the third however (P-2330), was taken from a burned roof-timber. If the walls and roof of the building underwent no major structural alterations after they were first built, samples from durable roof beams may be expected to yield dates somewhat earlier than the time of the burning. The last two samples (P-2331, 2332) came from burned reed-matting, almost certainly debris from the roof. Since roof mats laid over cross beams of the roof deteriorate comparatively rapidly and require frequent replacement, these samples should reflect a date close to that of the destruction of the building.

Consequently, the Middle Elamite date proposed here, in the interval ca 1300-1100 B.C., achieves a high degree of probability. It is supported by a consistent set of carbon determinations. It accommodates well all available stylistic, ceramic and textual comparisons. And finally, the inscribed brick fragments from Malyan provide independent evidence of Middle Elamite presence while no comparable indication of later, Neo-Elamite occupation exists.


As usual, these first results do less to establish conclusions than to raise and specify problems. A number of issues now center on this partial view of a single struc­ture.

The first is the question of function. The grandiose monumental plan of the building is without exact Elamite parallels, while the character and distribution of the small finds—that is, the detritus left behind when the building was destroyed and aban­doned—are puzzlingly diverse. Pots, grain and grinding-stones from the northeast room indicate food processing. The quantities of stone from the courtyard suggest uncertain utilitarian purposes. The glazed tiles and knobs from the southwest room are elsewhere characteristic of religious architecture.

Even the tablets have no unequivocal implications on this issue. Their only strong implication is that one of the functions of the building was the storage (or, at a minimum, the disposal) of records. True, they mention items which also appear in Elamite descriptions of temple furnishings, a suggestive link with the glazed ornaments. Yet the terse phrasing of the texts does not tell where the metals were stored, where they were worked or where the finished products were used. Nevertheless, the larger texts tabulate as much as 50 minas (ca 25.25 kg., 55.55 lb.] of gold and 4 talents (ca 121.20 kg., 266.64 lb.) of copper at a time. The very existence and contents of these records indicate a complex organization capable of acquiring, storing, dispensing and account­ing for substantial amounts of raw materials and finished goods and thus sustaining a variety of crafts. The burned building cer­tainly formed part of such an organization, but the attribution of a label to the complex or to part of it, such as the customary ‘temple’ or ‘palace’, is pointless without fur­ther investigation.

Second, the internal chronology of the building further influences assessment of its functions. If the structure remained standing for any long period of time, its original intent and its final uses may have differed considerably. The dating evidence cited above strongly indicates a general date in the Middle Elamite period, ca 1300-1100 B.C.; C-14 determinations from reed mats suggest that the burning fell near the end of that interval. However, the evidence is not sufficient to permit finer discrimination of the dates and durations of the several periods of its history: its original construction and occupation, re-flooring, destruction and limited re-use. Nevertheless, the es­Iablishment of a well-dated archaeological and cultural sequence spanning the last half of the second millennium B.C. is a goal that now seems within reach.

The C-14 figures offer a maximum span of 625 years, an improbably long life-span for any mud-brick structure. On the other hand, almost 80 cm. of debris (some of it intentional filling) separate the first floor of the building from the floor of its burned level. A preliminary analysis of the ceramics from these two phases suggests that the assemblages differ considerably. Thus the building may span a significant archaeological interval if not a major historical one.

This possible ceramic change between phases of the building also points to a larger issue: the relationship of the Middle Elamite occupation at Malyan with contemporary Elamite centers in Khuzistan on the one hand, and contemporary settlements in the im­mediate surroundings on the other. The ceramics of the earlier phase include a local painted pottery, Qaleh ware. The pot­tery of the later burned floor compares closely with Elamite ceramics from Khuzistan, as already mentioned, but it differs sharply from the Shogha-Teimuran ceramics of late second millennium sites in the region of Malyan itself. The evidence is scanty but suggestive; it is possible that by the time the building burned, Malyan was an outpost of Elamite imperial civilization, with ties to Khuzistan, in an area of discreet local character.

Ancient historians have asserted on occasion that Elamite civilization and the successive Elamite states were founded on a union of the plains of Khuzistan with the surrounding highlands, expressed in the enduring royal title, “King of Anshan and Susa.” Whatever its strengths, an inherent weakness of such a union is the opportunity for regional separatism. When the last Middle Elamite ruler, Huteludush-Inshushinak, sustained a military defeat in Khuzistan at the hands of the Babylonians, his realm went into a sudden eclipse; Elam disappeared from historic records for three centuries. Regional diversity may have been a condition of the rapid dissolution of the Middle Elamite Empire, and the finds from Malyan may eventually serve as material evidence of this diversity.

Obviously, the first evidence of Middle Elamite Malyan still opens only a narrow view of a wide range of related archaeological and historical problems. Nevertheless, it forms a promising avenue of approach to a new perspective, a view from the highlands, on the rise and fall of Elam as a great power.

Cite This Article

Carter, Elizabeth and Stolper, Matthew. "Middle Elamite Malayan." Expedition Magazine 18, no. 2 (January, 1976): -. Accessed February 25, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/middle-elamite-malayan/

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