Steve Renette – Archaeological Investigation of Autonomy and Resistance among Zagros Mountain Communities

Published: February 23, 2023

Resisting the State: Archaeological Investigation of Autonomy and Resistance among Zagros Mountain Communities

Steve Renette

Friday, February 24, 2023 at 3:00pm, Kaplan Hall 365

The archaeology of ancient Iran has prioritized investigations of state societies with urban centers. The mountain ranges that separate and connect these political cores tend to be treated as culturally static and peripheral to major historical developments, inhabited by pastoral nomadic tribes. Yet, the global studies of mountainous landscapes has long emphasized that these are naturally home to high degrees of ecological, cultural, and linguistic diversity. Writing the history of the Zagros Mountain peoples of western Iran requires the combination of new archaeological data with a critical analysis of art historical sources. In my research, I have argued that the mountain peoples of the Zagros have a long history of resistance against externally imposed, hierarchical, and extractive state structures. The era of successive Iranian empires (6th c. BCE – 7th c. CE) presents an interesting case of stability and prosperity in the Zagros Mountains as highland states applied strategies of negotiated degrees of autonomy to incorporate the diverse mountain peoples. In this talk, I will rely on data from my fieldwork project at Kani Shaie in Iraqi Kurdistan and my analysis of the archives of the Mahidasht Survey Project in Kermanshah, western Iran, to introduce my next project that investigates how Zagros peoples maintained autonomy under the transformative rule of the Achaemenid, Arsacid, and Sasanian empires.

About the Speaker

Dr. Steve Renette is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Ancient History at Western Washington University. Following initial training in the archaeology of Iran at Ghent University in Belgium, he obtained his PhD in 2018 from the University of Pennsylvania. As a Killam Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia, he published a series of new archaeological datasets from western Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan, which form the core for his book project “Resisting the State” on the formation of a mountain identity in the Zagros Mountains. He is the project director of excavations at Kani Shaie and survey in the Bazyan Valley of Iraqi Kurdistan, which aims to document patterns of local responses to incorporation within expansive states from the Late Chalcolithic to the Medieval Kurdish period. He is also a core member of the Al-Hiba Publication Project at the Penn Museum, which produces final publications of the legacy data from excavations at the ancient site of Lagash in south Iraq.