The Iranian Highlands:

Resiliences and Integration in Pre-modern Societies

A cooperation among the DFG, RICHT/ICAR and MCTH
Funded in the framework of the DFG-SPP 2176

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The Iranian Highlands: Resiliences and Integration in Premodern Societies

Funded by
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)


2019 - 2025

The DFG thematic priority program “The Iranian highlands: resiliencies and integration in pre-modern societies” (SPP 2176) was set up in March 2018 by the senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) for a period of six years, starting in 2019. Scholars are invited to submit applications for an initial period of three years.


Prof. Dr. Thomas Stöllner, Ruhr-Universität Bochum und Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum, Ur- und Frühgeschichte/Montanarchäologie (Pre- and Early History/Mining Archaeology)

Program Commission:

Prof. Dr. Reinhard Bernbeck, Freie Universität Berlin, Vorderasiatische Archäologie (Near Eastern Archaeology)

Dr. Wouter Henkelman, Maître de conférences, École Pratique des Hautes Études, Altorientalisik/Iranistik (Ancient Oriental Studies/Iranian Studies)

Prof. Dr. Susan Pollock, Freie Universität Berlin, Vorderasiatische Archäologie (Near Eastern Archaeology)

Dr. Judith Thomalsky, DAI, Außenstelle Teheran, Ur- und Frühgeschichte (Pre- and Early History)


The Iranian highlands play a central role in many periods of cultural development in the wider region. Highland societies were in close contact with the surrounding regions with which political and economic relationships were repeatedly constructed.

Relationships to Mesopotamia, Caucasia or Central Asia intensified periodically, via trade, immigration or political inclusion. The societies of the Iranian highlands were themselves ready to integrate these relationships into their own networks, to transform them or sometimes to resist the accompanying changes. Thus, the highlands and its occupants took a decisive role in their extended region and in the developing political, economic and social impacts. Highland landscapes, their resources and specific conditions of life contributed to these developments, but the cultural, social and economic processes have not been examined in detail for many periods because they have been for most of the time overshadowed by a “non-local” – especially Mesopotamian – perspective.

The SPP 2176 understands the Iranian highlands sensu lato as the central Iranian plateau with its mountain ranges, the Kopet Dag in the northeast, the Elburz in the north, the Zagros in the west, southwest and south, and Urmia Lake and the south Caucasus in the northwest. In the east, the Kerman region with the Lut desert and Iranian Baluchistan are also included.

Since 2000, Iran has become increasingly open to research by foreign scholars. Through the SPP, it is expected that European/German and Iranian scientific relationships will be re-established. German-language scientific research with regard to Iran can thereby acquire a new impetus, in Germany as well as beyond.

The promotion of young scholars and the inclusion of and networking with Iranian colleagues are explicit objectives of the program. Scholars from Iran should also take the opportunity to participate in projects in cooperation with German universities and research institutes, in order to extend research beyond existing frontiers.

General questions and objectives

Research on the Iranian highlands and the societies that lived there is an emerging field for sociocultural, archaeological and linguistic research in Western Asia. From a long-term perspective, the heterogeneous life-worlds of the Iranian highlands repeatedly resulted in cultural hybridizations, which worked in a transformative manner and showed a significant durability as well as flexibility. The thesis of SPP 2176 is that the interaction between starkly changing external conditions and deeply anchored cultural mechanisms for coping with crises resulted in multiple highland life-worlds, allowing linkages among very different ways of life (for example, mobile pastoralists and nomads, rural village and urban societies).

In contrast to the traditional conception of acculturation, the SPP does not take sociocultural adaptations as a basis but begins from the notion that new formations developed continuously on different scales in the highlands of Iran. The resiliency of the segmentally structured societies revealed in their astonishing flexibility and dynamics ever new social and cultural configurations. The SPP views them as a specific contribution of highland societies. It does so in conscious contrast to hydraulic societies such as Mesopotamia, which until now have been primary foci of research and defined as historic “role models”.

The different “highlandscapes” are the focus of SPP 2176; they will be examined with the help of an interdisciplinary and diachronic basis that includes archaeology, geologically-based archaeometry, archaeobiology, Iranian studies, ancient history and ancient oriental studies. Research projects should identify diverse life-worlds, with a focus on the question of how the social resiliency observable in the Iranian highlands developed in terms of economic, linguistic and social patterns and the strength of political-social integration specific to different time periods. These include the examination of transfers and exchange of knowledge and memory cultures in language, religion, and material culture. The SPP aims to document systematically different economic, social and cultural processes under the rubric of three thematic fields:

  • Raw material regimes and their networks;
  • Institutionalized relationships, ranging from formal-public institutions to family structures;
  • Mobility patterns and their natural and cultural relations to the environment.

These are the principal research objectives of the SPP.

Projects should be planned in a way that they can be linked to each other along the fields of the SPP. Cooperations between individual partners are expressly desired and should be indicated by name in the application.

Please submit your application by the 31st October 2018 at the latest, via the elan-Portal of the DFG – this portal is at your disposal for entering the application data and the secure transfer of documents. Choose “SPP 2176” in the list of priority programs. When preparing your application, please take into consideration the explanatory leaflet 54.01 concerning research grants including a guide for the application as well as the suggestions in the explanatory leaflet 50.05, part B – Allgemeine Informationen zur Antragstellung / General application information (especially with regard to eligibility to apply and to the financial means that may be requested).

If this application is your first one within the DFG, please take into account that you must register in the elan-Portal at least two weeks before you submit your application. Normally the confirmation of registration will be sent by the following working day. Without a prior registration, an application is not possible.

The application is to be submitted in English. Please send a copy of the application in electronic form to the coordinator of the program, Prof. Dr. Thomas Stöllner (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

The date of the evaluation of applications will be published in due course.


Further information

Further information on the priority program is available under:

You find the elan-Portal of the DFG to submit applications under:

The explanatory information leaflets of DFG, 50.05 and 54.01, are here:

For questions, the coordinator of the priority program is at your disposal:

Prof. Dr. Thomas Stöllner
Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Institut für Archäologische Wissenschaften (Institute of Archaeologic Sciences)
Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Lehrstuhl (Pre- and Early History, professorship)
At the same time: Deutsches Bergbau-Museum Bochum
Abt. Forschung, Leiter, Mitglied des Direktoriums (Research Dep., Head, Member of Board of directors)
Haus der Archäologien
Am Bergbaumuseum 31
D-44791 Bochum
Tel. +49-234-3222546 or Tel: +49-234-282538-20
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Information concerning applications at the DFG is available under the following addresses:

Information concerning content:

Dr. Christoph Kümmel
Kennedyallee 40
53175 Bonn
Tel. +49 (228) 885-2294
Fax +49 (228) 885-2777
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Formal information:

Sabine Thomas
Kennedyallee 40
53175 Bonn
Tel. +49 (228) 885-2810
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Contact person “Same chances in science”:

Dr. Ines Medved
Kennedyallee 40
53175 Bonn
Telefon: +49 (228) 885-2852
Telefax: +49 (228) 885-2555
E-Mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.