Meet Our Wadsworth International Fellows: Sanaz Shirvani

With the support of the Wadsworth International Fellowship Sanaz Shirvani will continue her training in archaeology at the University of Montréal, hosted by Julien Riel-Salvatore. Read the previous entries in the series here.

As an archaeology student, my scholarly work has been mostly engaged with evolutionary cognitive archaeology/anthropology and study of the ancient mind in prehistoric societies. I am especially interested in a key transition in the history of our species; the transition to an agricultural lifeway beginning some 11,500 years ago in the Middle East. Along with this shift, several other fundamental changes took place, including the emergence of domestic plant and animal species; the development of sedentary villages; the increasing importance of places for ritual and interment; the introduction of clay objects; and the emergence of new belief systems and ideologies.

My current research emerges out of the intersection of these academic interests and focuses on one of the most important archaeological sites in the Central Zagros Mountains of Iran, Ganj Dareh Tapeh, which was originally excavated from 1965 to 1974 and has yielded some of the earliest evidence of goat domestication in the region.

I chose the PhD program at Université de Montréal (UdeM) to continue my education in Anthropology for several reasons. Iranian universities do not provide four-field anthropological training like that found in North American universities. This has resulted in a lack of interdisciplinary collaboration between archaeology and the other sub-disciplines of anthropology. Another reason is that my research on the Iranian Neolithic falls under the Ganj Dareh Project (GDP), which is led by my host supervisor, Prof. Julien Riel-Salvatore. Most of the Ganj Dareh archaeological collections and primary field documentation are curated at the Laboratoire d’archéologie de l’Anthropocène at UdeM which affords me training in the unique combination of North American and French conceptual frameworks that the UdeM Anthropology program provides.

My PhD project examines ancient clay objects (e.g., tokens, figurines, vessels) from Ganj Dareh Tapeh as cultural proxies for reconstructing and gaining insights into key  dimensions of the Neolithization process. In particular, I focus on how new media such as clay allowed the creation of new forms of material culture that became extensions of the human body and the human mind.