Karst Landscape as a Settling Factor in Kamyaran Area: Past and Present

Document Type : Full length article


Assistant Professor of Geomorphology, Payame Noor University, Iran


In several perspectives including geographical determinism, possibilism, exceptionalism, ecological and other views, it is discussed about understanding how human and the environment interact. Human in dealing with different environments, depending on the capabilities of environment and existing tools and techniques, adopt themselves with the nature or interfere in it. Karst landscapes are one of the most sensitive and fragile environments that any interference by habitants could led to irreversible conditions. These environments are one of the most valuable resources of fresh water. Nearly 25% of the world population lives in karst areas- landscapes that are characterized by sinkholes, caves, and underground drainage (Veni, 2001). The interaction of human and karst has been regarded in the many studies mostly about the impacts of human activities on karst. In general, there are few studies concentrated on the various effects of karst on the human societies. Andrejchuk (2005) and Lovász and Gyenizse (2012) have regarded karst landscapes as a settling factor. These studies show that comparing with non-karstic areas because of the specific hydrology and geomorphology of karstlands the population mostly has concentrated around karst springs and in the other parts settlements are highly sparse. In fact, the history of human settlement dates back far into the past in karst environments. A significant number of protected areas as the world heritage belong to karst areas (UNESCO, 2008). Many of them, such as Yunnan, Guizhou and Chongqing in south western China, Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in South Africa, Lascaux cave in France and Shanidar cave in Zagros Mounts in Iraqi kurdistan have been protected for their archeological and historical values.
Karst areas are spread in substantial parts of Iran. About 90% of the Zagros Mountains contain carbonate rocks (Afrasiabian, 1980). Karst features are common along this mountain belt. The oldest evidence of human settlement dates back to Paleolithic era. The evidence is found in the karstic caves and rock shelters of Zagros. During the history, Zagros Mountains and their surrounded areas have been the cradle of many civilizations. Karst morphology has an important role in this respect. Zagros is still one of the highly populated areas in Iran.
In this paper, based on the effect of karst landscape, three patterns of human settlement including caveman, cemi-nomadic and sedentism have been studied in the karst lands of north western High Zagros in Kamyaran area. This area is characterized by karst landforms. Karst features have been mostly formed in pure and thick limestone of Biseton Formation (Jurassic to Cretaceous) and younger carbonate rocks of Tertiary. Comparing with tertiary karstlands, the karst features of older Biseton Formation are more developed. More development of karstification results in more developments of conduit networks and the concentration of groundwater that decreases the number of karst springs at surface. In the more developed karst systems like Biseton Formation the karst springs are sparse and have a high discharge and the dryness of the surface is a major problem for settlement. On the contrary, in less developed settings like tertiary limestone the number of karst springs is more and the discharge is not comparable with those of more developed formations. In the area, the less developed Karstlands of Tertiary limestone with more number of karst springs have had a great potential for settlement development.
Materials and Methods
In this research, in addition to some archeological and historical data, the data mostly were derived from geological maps (1:100000), topographic maps (1:50000), SRTM 27 meters, Google Earth, Flash Earth and field works. Data processing software was Global Mapper15 and ArcGIS 10 and the final maps were produced in ArcGIS 10. GPS, compass and camera were used in field works. A descriptive-analytical method has been applied in the research and the comparison of karstic and non-karstic areas was used as a technique. In this method, after collecting data, different data layers including elevation, geology, Karstlands, the distribution of caves and karst spring, the distribution of summer huts and rural and urban areas were prepared for further analysis. The layer of Karstlands was overlaid and compared with each layer and the relationships between the layers were analyzed based on info tables. It should be noted that the analysis of the caves and rock shelters was according to the existing historical and archeological studies about the area and surrounding places.
Results and Discussion
In the area, three patterns including caveman, semi-nomadic and sedentism as a major and dominant kinds of settlements have been studied. Many of the world’s greatest archaeological sites have been found in caves, where fragile materials that would easily be destroyed in other settings have been preserved. Caves were reliable sources of water when other sources went dry, and minerals and clays were mined for both practical and ceremonial use (Veni, 2001, 22). Pure carbonate rocks of Biseton Formation and also the younger limestone of Tertiary have a significant extension in Kamyaran area. Therefore, the area is dominated by karst features specially cave. Vertical and horizontal caves are common landforms in the area and have been formed at the bottom of sinkholes, along fault lines and bedding planes. However, all of the features were not interesting for caveman. Positions of archeological caves show that they are mostly distributed at the margin of Karstlands of tertiary limestone where the karst springs are available. Because of the dryness of karst lands of Biseton formation the caves were not interested by caveman.               
Throughout the territory in Zagros a way of living is common that is known as semi-nomadic life. This way of living that exists even today, has tied with sedentism. This means that the semi-nomads are groups that spend a part of their lives in highlands nearby and in the cold seasons return to their villages. In the Kamyaran area, the semi-nomadic life is intimately linked with karst region. It starts from early spring and lasts to early autumn. It takes almost more than half a year. During the immigration, semi-nomads live in specified places that are called Hawar or Hawargah. Hawar is a hut, usually with dry stone walls more than a meter tall and their roofs are covered by branches of trees or Rshmal (black tent). As it gets warmer this way of living depends more on the karst region. The nomads follow snow patches. When it retreats toward the highlands they change their Hawar. Thus, there are a lot of Hawars in the karst region distributed between piedmont to the summits and each group or village has several Hawars in different elevations. Karst sinkholes play a critical role in preserving snow. By the midsummer the snow cover at surface is almost melted and the only places which still have snow are inside the Noors (a local term for Aven) and sinkholes. The nomads also cover some snow by patches of local vegetation for preserving it.
Kamyaran is a fertile region in the south of Kurdistan province and has a long history of residence. This area is one of the most important passages between Western Iran and Mesopotamia. There are several ancient mounds, forts, inscriptions and prehistoric caves in this area that represent a long history of human habitation. Karstlands in terms of security, water and rich pastures have had a significant role in habitant’s life. The sedentism has been affected in a different way by karst. As mentioned above inside the Karstlands are dry in general. Karst springs are rare and spars. At the margin of karst lands that karst springs are mostly discharged, the number of villages is plentiful. Because of dryness, there is not any village or settlement inside the karst lands. In this respect, the number of villages (141) in different settings has been compared. The results show that the villages have been mostly constructed on the quaternary alluviums and other non- karstic formations. The key reason behind this condition is water. Throughout the area, only 6.33% of villages belong to marginal parts of the karst lands. At the same time because of the presence of karst springs at the contact line between karstic and non-karstic settings the number of villages is excessive in this part. Although these villages are on the non-karstic setting but they exist because of the karst water. Many of the most populated and important villages in the area use karst water.   
Surveys in the karst lands of Kamyaran show that humans settled in the area in the far past. Inside the caves and rock shelters of the area, traces and remnants of human presence from the Middle Paleolithic era to contemporary periods were obtained. Therefore, topographical and geomorphological features of the region had provided very favorable conditions in the distant past and even in the Ice Ages for caveman. The presence of rich pastures and vegetation and also the important role of karst geomorphology in preserving snow for a remarkable time, has led to forming a semi-nomadic life in the area. This study shows that the pattern of caveman is completely and semi-nomadic pattern to a high extent dependent upon karst system. In contrast, sedentary pattern has been affected differently by karst system. Settlements are rare and sparse inside the karst lands. They have mainly been distributed around the karst lands. Compared with non-karst and quaternary alluvium this condition represents that karst has had a coercive effects on the sedentary living. Rich aquifers in quaternary alluvial and easier access to the water via springs, wells and canals in these areas have resulted in a high density of rural areas. Despite the widespread use of modern technology to overcome nature, the complicated structure of karst system seems to be a great barrier for interference of human.


Main Subjects

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