Nestled in the Zagros Mountains near the modern city of Kangavar, Godin Tepe was first excavated in the 1960s and 1970s by a research team led by T. Cuyler Young Jr., a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada. After Young’s death in 2006, other researchers continued his work, and they recently published much of their findings in “On the High Road: The History of Godin Tepe” (Hilary Gopnik and Mitchell Rothman, Mazda Publishers, 2011).
According to their research, Godin Tepe apparently began as a simple rural agricultural village settled by the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia as early as the mid-fifth millennium B.C. It remained that way for some 1,000 years. Around 3200 B.C., the village’s small houses were razed to make way for a main building of mud-brick built around an oval enclosed area, like a courtyard. One of the surrounding walls facing into the courtyard had two windows, which were very unusual for architecture of the time in the Middle East.
When they looked inside the building with the windows, researchers found beveled rimmed bowls of a common type used in the region, along with a fireplace and food remains ranging from dried lentils to goat and sheep bones. But that’s not all—they also discovered more than 1,700 clay sling bullets, of the type commonly used in hunting and warfare. Hilary Gopnik of Emory University, who discussed the findings at a recent symposium at the Royal Ontario Museum, argues that the evidence suggests that Godin Tepe served as a sort of ancient takeout joint. On the other hand, Victoria Badler, a doctoral student of Dr. Young’s, suggests it may have had a military purpose, and that the windows may have been used to pass out provisions to soldiers.
This is not the first time that Godin Tepe has given us a “window” into its ancient civilization. In the early 1990s, according to findings published in the journal Nature, archaeologists found chemical evidence that people at Godin Tepe were making and drinking beer as early as 3500 B.C. Beer was thought to be a favorite beverage of the Sumerian civilization, which produced works of art depicting people drinking collectively out of a large vessel. Researchers had also discovered the earliest known chemical evidence of wine at the same site.
Thanks to its strategic position along the major east-west trade route known as the High Road, or Silk Road, which would eventually link the Mediterranean with China, Godin Tepe served as an important Sumerian trading post. The settlement was mysteriously abandoned during the second or third millennium B.C., and it’s unknown whether the inhabitants left under peaceful or violent circumstances.