Northeastern Syrian Archaeological Sites in their Environmental Context: A Fluvial Geoarchaeological Survey

A fluvial geomorphological field survey has been undertaken in the Upper Khabur basin of northeastern Syria to gain understanding of archaeological sites in their landscape context. The project focuses on several north-south streaming tributaries of the Wadi-el Radd which has its mouth in the Khabur (Figure 1). Hardly any trees grow within the area today, although Hillman (in Moore et al., 2000; Fig. 3.7) reconstructed the area to potentially be grown by deciduous oak park woodland.

A lot of archaeological sites – often tells (settlement mounds)- are located along streams. Therefore gaining insight into the fluvial history, will make it possible to contextualise the archaeological sites. The region has known intensive archaeological survey and excavation and therefore its settlement history is relatively well known (see e.g. Meijer, 1986; Lyonnet, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2000; Wilkinson, 2000b; Wilkinson and Barbanes, 2000, Wilkinson and Tucker, 1995). Several geoarchaeological field projects also have been initiated within this area (e.g. Courty, 1994; Rösner, 1995; Wilkinson, 2000a; Wilkinson, 2002; Besonen and Cremaschi, 2002 and French, 2003), however the landscape chronology still needs a lot of refinement.

Thermoluminescence (TL)-screening of redeposited sherds occurring in fluvial sediments made it possible to gain preliminary chronological insight (see methodology in Deckers et al. 2005). Additionally, several radiocarbon dates, partially on in-situ organic material have been performed, while also some Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL)-dates proved to be consistent and increased the chronological insight. About eighty fluvial sequences have been investigated, recorded and sampled and incorporated organical remains identified.

It appears, that only relatively recently the Upper Khabur Basin has known severe environmental changes through extensive water use and deforestation which had impact on the fluvial systems and make the region appear during the summertime like a steppe without water. Anthracological and textual evidence suggests the presence of an oak park woodland in the Upper Khabur region up to probably the 10th century AD. A denser tree cover may have resulted in steadier perennial flow. This steady, meandering, perennial flow has been documented in Jaghjagh sediments from the mid 4th to mid 3rd millennium BC (Figure 2) and possibly from the 5th century BC.

The Wadi Khanzir sediments reflect more the flashy intermittent regime of this stream – like it still is today-, with flash flood evidence pre-dating ca. the mid 5th millennium BC and probably dating to approximately 400 AD or later (Figure 3). Near Farsouk Kabir along the Wadi Jarrah organic rich soil sediments were deposited ca. 1300 BC (Figure 4). Between about 600 and 300 BC clay sedimented at Farsouk Kabir. At this stage it is impossible to relate this phase of landscape development to anthropogenic activity, since little is known about the settlement history and economy of this period. Future fieldwork will concentrate on refining the chronology of the sequences, correlating the evidence with the settlement history; in this way gaining improved insight into the interactions between humans and their environment through time.

List of references

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Deckers, K., Sanderson, D.C.W., Spencer J.Q.C., 2005. Thermoluminescence screening of non-diagnostic sherds from stream sediments to obtain a preliminary alluvial chronology: an example from Cyprus. Geoarchaeology. An International Journal 20.1, 67-77.

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