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The civilization of Elam, centred off the plateau in lowland Khūzestān, is an exception, for written history began there as early as it did in neighbouring Mesopotamia ().
The sources for the prehistoric period are entirely archaeological.
The term Persia was used for centuries, chiefly in the West, to designate those regions where Persian language and culture predominated, but it more correctly refers to a region of southern Iran formerly known as ), the ancient Greeks first encountered the inhabitants of Persis on the Iranian plateau, when the Achaemenids—natives of Persis—were expanding their political sphere.
The Achaemenids were the dominant dynasty during Greek history until the time of Alexander the Great, and the use of the name Persia was gradually extended by the Greeks and other peoples to apply to the whole Iranian plateau.
The separate cultural areas on the plateau are as yet barely understood by the modern archaeologist in any terms other than through the painted pottery assemblages found at several sites throughout Iran.
For the study of the centuries of the Achaemenian dynasty, there is sufficient documentary material so that this period is the earliest for which archaeology is not the primary source of data.In no instance, with the important exception of Elam ( The Elamites, below), did Iran participate in the developments that led to fully urban civilization in lowland Mesopotamia to the west or in the Indus valley to the east.Throughout prehistory the Iranian plateau remained at the economic and cultural level of village life achieved in the Neolithic Period.Early excavation in Iran was limited to a few sites.In the 1930s archaeological exploration increased, but work was abruptly halted by the outbreak of World War II.
Though distinctly different, all show general cultural connections with the beginnings of settled village life in neighbouring areas such as Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Central Asia, and Mesopotamia.