After World War II Japanese archeologists could not continue their work on sites in Korea and China, and their expertise became available for research in the Middle East and Persia. Japanese excavations, in some contrast to European and North American practices, would all be sponsored by universities, none by museums. In 1955, for the first time, a Japanese team conducted a general survey and an excavation in Persia. By 1979, when the Islamic Revolution and the subsequent Iran-Iraq War (see IRAQ vii) halted all archeological activities, Japanese national universities—those of Kyoto, Tokyo, Tsukuba, Hiroshima, and Hokkaido—had sent nearly 30 missions to Iran.

The archeological missions between 1955 and 1979 had two goals. The first concerned the origin of the farming village in Iran and Mesopotamia. Some archeologists assumed that these regions had an impact on the agricultural civilization of East Asia. For example, the Austrian ethnologist and archeologist Robert Heine-Geldern (1885-1968) suggested the comparative study of painted pottery in order to trace the eastward influence of West Asia. The second goal was the exploration of cultural relations along the Silk Road, whose trade routes crisscrossed Eurasia and ultimately connected Japan with Italy. Parthian and Sasanian artifacts relevant to the study of East-West connections, such as silverware, glasswork, and pottery, were being sold on the art markets in Iran and in the West; most of them lacked provenance and were the result of clandestine digging. The attention of Japanese archeologists was drawn to such objects as Sasanian faceted cut glass bowls (see GLASS, in EIr. XI, pp. 10-11, pl. 1), which were allegedly found in tombs in the Deylamān (q.v.) region of Gilān Province. In form, design, and decorative technique, these bowls are quite similar to one in the Shōsōin Repository of the Imperial Treasury in Nara as well as to fragments found in the tumulus of Emperor Ankan (d. 535 C.E.) in Osaka and to fragments unearthed in Kyoto and Kyushu (see below, xi). Other artifacts in the Shōsōin, including glass and silver, also could have been produced in Iran and Central Asia and brought to Japan through China. Thus they may give evidence of the cultural relationship between Iran and East Asia.

Kyoto University. The first of the Japanese scientific missions after 1945 were conducted by Kyoto University and made up of archeologists, architects, art historians, anthropologists, and botanists; its teams worked in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan between 1956 and 1959. The archeologists conducted general surveys in Persia, for example, of the old fort Mināb on the Persian Gulf and of Hormuz (q.v.) island. While they did not excavate any sites, they collected a great number of shards of Chinese porcelain—celadon, white, and blue-and-white wares. (For publications of the work of Kyoto University east of Iran during the 1950s-60s, see Bibliography.)

Tokyo University. Namio Egami (1906-2002), who had specialized in China and Mongolia until 1945, organized the Iraq-Iran Archeological Expedition in 1955. His team conducted excavations and anthropological research until 1966, focusing on the districts of Marv Dašt (Fārs province) and Deylamān (Gilān Province). In addition, Shinji Fukai (b. 1924), led a team of art historians and architects in 1965, 1976, and 1978. They surveyed the rock reliefs of Ṭāq-e Bostān near Kermānšāh (see SASANIAN ROCK RELIEFS at iranica.com), with particular interest in the site’s location on the Silk Road trade route. Fukai’s group employed photogrammetry (stereo camera) to measure the grottoes containing the reliefs.

Marv Dašt district. The goal of this expedition was to investigate the prehistoric farming communities in southern Iran. Archeologists dug the village sites of Tall-e Bākun, Tall-e Gap, Tall-e Jari, Tall-e Muški, and Tepe Saravān (Fahliān district), while the party of architects and art historians investigated the palace of Persepolis (Taḵt-e Jamšid).

Tall-e Bākun. This is a prehistoric site consisting of two mounds (A, B). In 1956, painted pottery, potsherds, and stone sickle blades were found in a dwelling site. The surface of a few potsherds show the impressions of grains and of flat-woven hemp cloth, documenting the cultivation of wheat and the knowledge of spinning and weaving. The pottery from mound A is painted with geometrical patterns and bird and animal motifs that are more elaborate than those on pottery from mound B. The site is dated to 3,500 B.C.E.

Tall-e Gap. The site comprises seven mounds (A-G), and in 1959, the largest mound (A) was selected for excavation. A building on the fourth stratum, with a square platform that contained a large amount of ashes, seems to have been used for animal sacrifice, since fire worship was not practiced on the Iranian plateau in the prehistoric period. The painted pottery, which is dated ca. 3,500-3,200 B.C.E., is characterized by comb-tooth patterns, stylized human and animal motifs, horizontal repetition of triangles and squares, and zigzag lines.

Tall-e Jari. This site (excavated in 1959) is made up of two adjacent mounds (A, B). In mound A, the dwelling of the upper stratum was constructed from plain mud bricks, while the dwelling of the lower stratum had walls painted in red. Coarse pottery and stone blades were found in the upper stratum, and red-polished pottery with geometrical patterns in the lower layer. The finds of mound A included a large number of accessories made from small shells and the bones of wild animals. The coarse pottery from mound B is dated to 5,000 B.C.E.

Tall-e Muški. This site was excavated in 1965. The typical pottery form is keel pottery, decorated only on the shoulder above the keel; it is homogenous throughout the strata, and the majority of it is red-slipped or burnished and buff-slipped. Particularly abundant among the clay objects are earplugs, which have also been interpreted as game pieces or mortars. There are many animal figurines, but neither a mother goddess nor a spindle whorl. Among the stone objects, blades form the most important group of chipped implements. The carbon-14 dating of the Muški objects is 6,690 B.C.E.

Deylamān district. This region comprises the tableland on the northern slope of the Alborz (q.v.) mountains. It lies 1,500 to 2,000 m above sea level, and is strategically situated, easy to defend and difficult to attack. Excavations were conducted in 1960, 1964, 1976, and 1978, and these focused on tombs (and not dwellings) of the late Bronze Age, early Iron Age, and Partho-Sasanian period in the villages of Qalākuti, Ḥasan Maḥalla, Nowruz Maḥalla, Lasulkān, Kòorramrud, and Ḥalimejān. This mission had two goals: One was to investigate late Bronze and early Iron Age civilization in northern Iran, and the other was to trace the sources of cut-glass vessels which had been found in China and Japan.

The archeological research on the grave sites revealed three main types of construction: dolmen, stone chamber, and shaft or pit. There was also a single instance of an urn burial for a child. Most tombs only housed one body, but the collective burial of two or more persons was also practiced. Such burials are interpreted as indications of the social structure, showing a relationship of master and servant(s) or lord and attendant(s). The largest burial was found in Qalākuti, where one tomb contained the principal deceased and thirteen other corpses; some of these were buried with swords and pikes, others with headgear and vessels.

The grave goods found dated to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age. They included bronze and iron weapons (swords and spearheads), horse equipage (bits and straps), mirrors, bronze figurines of animals, clay animal figures, accessories of gold and silver with precious stones and agate and glass beads, cylindrical seals, spindle whorls, needles, scissors, and grindstones. Animal bones, including limb bones of an antelope with bronze rings, were found in one pit, and are interpreted as evidence of animal sacrifice. Pottery was polished, in black or brownish red, or coarse. Notable were dishes with high stands or with three legs, large flat-bottomed bowls, and spouted or semi-spouted jars; these document that in Deylamān the manufacture of pottery was technologically well advanced during the Bronze and Iron Ages. The polished black or red pottery was of special interest to the excavators because of the similarities with proto-historic or prehistoric Chinese black or grey pottery.

A second group of finds comprised antiquities of the Parthian and Sasanian periods. They included pottery, iron weapons, blown glassware, accessories of gold, silver, and gems, iron shears, H-shaped bits, and bronze receptacles. These bronze objects are of a peculiar color; their alloy consists of copper, tin, lead, and iron with small quantities of bismuth, arsenic, antimony, zinc, and silver. A similar alloy can be found in Japanese antiquities. In a Parthian-period tomb of a man, the grave goods included swords and harnesses, but also a pair of iron shears 30 cm in length. These could have been used for shearing domestic sheep and goats, suggesting the presence of specialized small-cattle breeding in the local pastoral society. A glass bowl was unearthed at Ḥasan Maḥalla in 1964; it had embossed ornamentation, but was not done in the cut-glass technique.

Tsukuba University. The Prehistoric Archeological Expedition of Tsukuba University (the former Tokyo University of Education) worked in Persia between 1971 and 1977 for four seasons. The team was led by Seiichi Masuda (b. 1922), who had worked on Egami’s excavations in Marv Dašt and Deylamān. The goal of this mission was to compare the early stages of development in ancient farming villages of southern and northern Iran. His team focused on two sites: Tepe Jari-A in southwest Iran and the eastern and western mounds at Tepe Sang-e Čaḵamāq (Bastām, Semnān province). They excavated these sites in 1971, 1973, 1975, and the western mound again in 1977.

The excavation at Tepe Jari-A revealed the existence of three strata. At the bottom stratum was a culture with painted white-slip pottery that is comparable to the Jeitun type in Turkmenistan (Sialk I; see CERAMICS i), at the middle stratum a culture without painted pottery, and at the top stratum a culture with painted pottery that is comparable to the Sialk III.

At Sang-e Čaḵamaq, the western mound had five strata. Since potsherds were only found in the third stratum, the invention of pottery is dated to this period. Three types of buildings were excavated. The first contained rooms with a simple beaten earth floor and a hearth at floor level; apparently it was a workshop for everyday use. Another type had a room whose floor was covered with thick plaster painted in red, and this building is believed to have served for religious functions. Here the hearth is on a raised base and so is considered to be some sort of fire altar. The third type of building formed a small room with a raised, plastered floor. This room is interpreted as a sacred place for offerings, because the finds comprise a few clay figurines of mother goddesses and animals as well as bone spatulas, flint blades with microliths, and obsidian blades with flint cores.

The eastern mound (which is larger) had six strata. The pottery ornamentation there consists of geometric patterns in red-brown pigment. Painted pottery of the Jeitun type (Sialk I) was found in all strata, while pottery of the Čašma ʿAli type (Sialk II, 6,500 B.C.E.) also was unearthed in the upper strata. Notable objects were a husking tray, from the third stratum, and a house-shaped model. Other finds included cosmetic implements of clay or stone, round spindle wheels, stone tools, and sickle shafts with animal decoration. A significant find was a small piece of copper tubing, which suggests that metalworking had already begun in this area during the prehistoric period. This mound reveals the early stage of an agricultural settlement of a pre-pottery culture, as well as a more advanced stage with painted pottery.

Hiroshima University. The Hiroshima University Scientific Expedition, led by Hisakazu Matsuzaki (b. 1913) and Hiroshi Shiomi (b. 1930), conducted archeological research in northeastern Iran regarding prehistoric agricultural settlements. In 1971, they conducted a series of general surveys and joined the Tsukuba University group in their excavations of Sang-e Čaḵamaq. The Hiroshima team took charge of the westernmost site of the western mound. They excavated mud-brick dwellings at four of the mound’s five strata. As in sites on the eastern mound, a few rooms had a plastered floor, sometimes colored red, which suggests a special function for the room. Finds included stone implements, stone vessels, fragments of clay figurines, and earthen vessels, as well as horn and bone implements, and the site is considered Mesolithic or early Neolithic.

Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan. Located in Tokyo, the Center was founded in 1979, and its president is the Middle East scholar, H.I.H. Prince Takahito Mikasa (b. 1915). The center conducted its first archeological survey in Persia in 1990. In 2001 a team surveyed the district of Rostamābād in Gilān in cooperation with the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organization, and in 2002 they excavated at Tepe Jalāliya, a site in the Kaluraz valley. The mound’s first and second stratum are attributed to the Iron Age, while the third stratum belongs to the Partho-Sasanian period. Although the finds include pottery, terra-cotta spindle whorls, and stone vessels, on the whole they are quite limited in variety and quantity.


All publications are in Japanese with English summaries, unless otherwise indicated. Publications of Kyoto University. Scientific Expedition to the Karakoram and Hindu Kush (in English): Kinji Imanishi, ed., Personality and Health in Hunza Valley, Kyoto, 1963.

Shinobu Iwamura et al., The Zirni Manuscript; a Persian-Mongolian Glossary and Grammar, Kyoto, 1961.

Shiro Kitamura, Flora of Afghanistan, Kyoto, 1960.

Idem, ed., Plants of West Pakistan and Afghanistan, Kyoto, 1977.

Susumu Matsushita and Kazuo Huzita, eds., Geology of the Karakoram and Hindu Kush, Kyoto, 1965.

Masuzo Uéno, ed., Insect Fauna of Afghanistan and Hindukush, Kyoto, 1963.

Kosuke Yamashita, ed., Cultivated Plants and their Relatives, Kyoto, 1965.

Scientific Mission to the Iranian Plateau and Hindu Kush: Persia. Mitsukuni Yoshida and Koyama Kihei, Western Asia at Work 1964, Kyoto, 1966 (in Japanese only). Afghanistan and Pakistan. Seiichi Mizuno, ed., Haibak and Kashmir-Smast; Buddhist Cave-Temples in Afghanistan and Pakistan Surveyed in 1960, Kyoto, 1962.

Idem, ed., Hazār-Sum and FıÚl-Khāna; Cave-Sites in Afghanistan Surveyed in 1962, Kyoto, 1967.

Idem, ed., Durman Tepe and Lalma: Buddhist Sites in Afghanistan Surveyed in 1963-1965, Kyoto, 1968.

Idem, ed., Mekhasanda: Buddhist Monastery in Pakistan Surveyed in 1962-1967, Kyoto, 1969.

Takayasu Higuchi, Chaqalaq Tepe: Fortified Village in North Afghanistan Excavated in 1964-1967, Kyoto, 1970.

S. Mizuno, ed., Basāwal and Jelālābād-Kabul: Buddhist Cave-Temples and Topes in South-east Afghanistan, Surveyed Mainly in 1965, Kyoto, 1970-71.

S. Mizuno and T. Higuchi, Thareli, Buddhist Site in Pakistan Surveyed in 1963-1967, Kyoto, 1976.

Reports of the Institute for Oriental Culture at Tokyo University in the series: Tokyo University Iraq-Iran Archaeological Expedition. Kikuo Atarashi and Seiji Horiuchi, Fahlian I. The Excavation at Tape Suruvan, 1959, Tokyo, 1963.

Namio Egami and Jirō Ikeda, Anthropological Studies of West Asia: I–Human Remains from the Tombs in Dailamanistan, Northern Iran, Tokyo, 1963.

N. Egami et al., Dailaman: I–The Excavations at Ghalekuti and Lasulkan, 1960, Tokyo, 1965.

Idem, Dailaman: II–The Excavations at Noruzmahale and Khoramrud, 1960, Tokyo, 1966.

N. Egami and Seiichi Masuda, Marv-Dasht: I–The Excavation at Tall-i Bakun, 1956, Tokyo, 1962.

N. Egami and Toshihiko Sono, Marv-Dasht: II–The Excavation at Tall-i Gap, 1959, Tokyo, 1962.

Shinji Fukai and Toshino Sono, Dailaman: III–The Excavation at Hassani Mahale and Ghalekuti, 1964, Tokyo, 1968.

Sh. Fukai and J. Ikeda, Dailaman: IV– The Excavations at Ghalekuti II & I, 1964, Tokyo, 1971.

Sh. Fukai, Kiyoharu Horiuchi, and Toshio Matsutani, Marv-Dasht: III–The Excavation at Tall-i Mushki, 1965, Tokyo, 1973.

Sh. Fukai and Kiyoharu Horiuchi, Taq-i-Bustan: I and II–Plates, Tokyo, 1969-72.

Sh. Fukai, et al., Taq-i-Bustan: III–Photogrammetric Elevations, Tokyo, 1983.

Idem, Taq-i-Bustan: IV–Text, Tokyo, 1984.

Sh. Fukai and Toshio Matsutani, Halimehjan: I–The Excavation at Shahpir, 1976, Tokyo, 1980.

Idem, Halimehjan: II–The Excavation at Lameh Zamin, 1978, Tokyo, 1982.

J. Ikeda, Anthropological Studies of West Asia: II–Human Remains from the Tombs in Dailaman, Northern Iran, Tokyo, 1968.

Publications of Tsukuba University. S. Masuda, “Excavation at Tappe Sang-e Cagmaq,” in Proceedings of the 1st Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran, Tehran, 1973a.

Idem, “Excavation at Tepe Sang-e Cagmaq,” Japanese Scientific Monthly 25/12, 1973b, pp. 783-88; in Japanese.

Idem, “Excavations at Tappeh Sang-e Caxmaq,” in Firouz Bagherzadeh, ed., Proceedings of the IInd Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran/Gozārešhā-ye dovvomin majmaʿ-e sālāna-ye kāvešhā wa pažuhešhā-ye bāstān-šenāsi dar Irān, Tehran, 1974a, pp. 23-33.

Idem, “Tepe Sang-e Čaxamaq,” Iran 12, 1974b, pp. 222-23 and pls. IXb-c.

Idem, “Report of the Archaeological Investigations at Šāhrud, 1975,” in Firouz Bagherzadeh, ed., Proceedings of the IVth Annual Symposium on Archaeological Research in Iran/Gozārešhā-ye čahāromin majmaʿ-e sālāna-ye kāvešhā wa pažuhešhā-ye bāstān-šenāsi dar Irān, Tehran, 1976, pp. 63-70.

Publications of Hiroshima University. Hiroshima University Scientific Expedition, ed., The Way of the Steppe: Archaeological Research in Iran, 1971, Tokyo, 1973.

Publications of the Middle Eastern Culture Center in Japan. Tadahiko Ohtsu, Nokandeh Jebrael, and Kazuya Yamauchi, eds., Preliminary Report of the Iran-Japan Joint Archaeological Expedition to Gilan, First Season, 2001, Tokyo, 2003.

Idem, Preliminary Report of the Iran-Japan Joint Archaeological Expedition to Gilan, Second Season, 2002, Tokyo, 2004.

(Toh Sugimura)

Originally Published: December 15, 2008

Last Updated: April 13, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XIV, Fasc. 6, pp. 561-564

Cite this entry:

Toh Sugimura, “JAPAN v. ARCHEOLOGICAL MISSIONS TO PERSIA,” Encyclopædia Iranica, XIV/5, pp. 561-564, available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/japan-v-archeological-missions-to-persia (accessed on 30 December 2012).