Hamoukar (Syria)

Early Bronze Age Urbanism at Hamoukar, NE Syria (1999-2001)

Between 1999 and 2001, the Tell Hamoukar Survey (THS) conducted three seasons of field survey in Hassake Province, NE Syria.  The project was a part of the Hamoukar Expedition of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute and the Directorate General of Antiquities and Monuments of the Syrian Arab Republic.  The survey was intended to investigate early urban development in northern Mesopotamia by defining precisely the patterns of growth and decline at the 105 ha city of Hamoukar, and to identify all settlement and landscape features in its immediate hinterland.

The Surface Collection at Hamoukar.  In 1999, a surface collection was carried out via 10 x 10 m collections made at 100 m intervals across the site.  An initial town appeared early in the 4th millennium BC (LC 3 period) and grew to 15 ha by the end of the millennium (LC 5).  Hamoukar expanded to 98 ha around 2600 BC (the late Ninevite 5 period) and retained that size until around 2000 BC, when it was rapidly and completely abandoned.  During this phase of growth, Hamoukar, was the 2nd largest city in northeastern Syria.  Small villages existed on its lower town in the Iron Age and Hellenistic periods.  A small Parthian settlement may have existed underneath the modern town.  In the later Islamic period, the area around Hamoukar was controlled by pastoral nomads of the Shammar confederacy.  A small settlement existed atop the tell and was later replaced by a cemetery.  Today Hamoukar hosts al-Hurriya, a town of almost 1000 people.

The Tell Hamoukar Survey (THS).  In 2000-2001, the area around Hamoukar was surveyed.  Sites were identified via CORONA satellite imagery, visited on the ground, and collected.  Sixty sites were found in the 125 square meter survey area, beginning in the Proto-Hassuna period (6th millennium BC).  The region had three phases of settlement expansion.  In the mid-4th millennium, By the later 3rd millennium (Early Bronze Age), when Hamoukar was at its greatest extent, all of the high mounds in the area were settled, and elaborate field and track networks were in use (see below).  By the Iron Age, the pattern had shifted to many small and evenly spaced villages.  It is possible that this pattern was the result of the Assyrian policy of deliberately resettling conquered peoples in the areas around the Assyrian capitals.  The final resurgence of settlement before the modern era was in the Abbasid Islamic period, when many towns and farmsteads were settled.

The “Offsite” Landscape. The landscape of the THS region is a nearly continuous spread of sites, features, and artifacts. Transect walking beyond the site edges revealed a dense carpet of small and abraded potsherds in the fields. These scatters resulted from the manuring of fields during Hamoukar’s urban maximum (EBA, ca. 2600-2000 BC), when farmers took nutrient-rich debris from the settlement and spread it onto their fields. The tracks that the farmers, herders, and flocks took to their fields and pastures survive as straight and shallow depressions called hollow ways. These features were created by the continuous passage of human and animal feet. They are difficult to see from the ground, but CORONA satellite photographs are capable of detecting them. Because of their association with Hamoukar and its EBA satellites, they are also dated to the later 3rd millennium BC.

Web Map of a HEXAGON image of Hamoukar, Syria

For a list of Jason Ur's publications on Hamoukar, click here.