Hirbemerdon Tepe (Turkey)

Sedentism and Pastoral Nomadism in the Hirbemerdon Tepe Region, SE Turkey (2007-2011)

The Hirbemerdon Tepe Survey (HMTS) investigates human settlement and land use along the Upper Tigris River in Diyarbakir Province, SE Turkey. The survey region surrounds the Middle Bronze Age (ca. 2000-1700 BC) site of Hirbemerdon Tepe, which has been excavated since 2003 by an Italian-American mission.  In addition to the former settlements of agricultural villagers, the region preserves the traces of pastoral nomadic campsites, cemeteries, and landscape features. Pastoral nomads have been important catalysts for social and political change in the Near East but are an elusive component of archaeological landscapes. In two years of field survey…” to “In four years of field survey (summer 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011), the survey has identified over 130 sites ranging from Lower Paleolithic flint scatters to 20th century nomadic campsites.

Survey Methods.  The HMTS used different field methods in its two zones.  In the western half, where most land is currently cultivated, we employed walking transects at 25 m intervals. Field walkers marked artifacts with colored flags, which were then positioned using a GPS-enabled mobile computer. In the eastern part of the survey area, the landscape is hilly and eroded, and therefore poorly suited for agriculture.  Team members walked wider transects guided by Ikonos satellite imagery.

Results. The HMTS region found a remarkable range of sites, including:

Tepes. The HMTS region has two mounded sites, Hirbemerdon Tepe (Site 1) and Kavuşak Tepe (Site 4). All of the mounded sites in the HMTS region had MBA occupation.

Unmounded Ceramic Scatters. The cultivated fields in the HMTS region are characterized by an almost continuous scatter of small artifacts at a low density, a phenomenon known throughout the Near East and Mediterranean. Transect walking in the area immediately around Hirbemerdon Tepe revealed four concentrations of artifacts that represent sites: two scatters of Medieval Islamic pottery, a probable Neolithic scatter, and a MBA and Iron Age suburb of Hirbemerdon itself. Further to the south, a scatter of Hellenistic sherds (Site 8) has been traced over 8 ha in the area of Tepekonak. None of these sites would have been identified via traditional survey methods, and they demonstrate the abundance of sites that can be recovered with intensive field walking methods.

Lithic Scatters. Also included in these field scatters were a substantial component of Paleolithic tools and flakes. The ridge NW of Hirbemerdon was particularly rich in finds, including over a dozen Acheulian hand axes.

Cairn Fields. Many of the agricultural fields contain small piles of stones, generally 2 m in diameter and up to 1 m high. In some cases, it is certain that these cairns come from the clearance of stones out of the fields by modern farmers.  In other cases, these cairn fields are much older, as evidenced by the lack of disturbance and abundant growth of lichens. The largest field documented in 2007 is Site 16, where 172 cairns were mapped. They may mark the burials of pastoral nomads, or they might represent some other form of symbolic or ritual activity.  Because they have little associated material culture, they are difficult to date without excavation.

Campsites. The Upper Tigris region as been the location of winter pasture grounds (kıslak) for nomadic groups since at least the 15th century. The HMTS has found several locations of former campsites.  For example, Site 18 is a 20th century camp consisting of stone built rectangular animal enclosures and cleared spaces where tents were erected. 

Cisterns. Near the campsites in the eastern uplands were found several features for capturing and storing rainfall. Cisterns redirect surface runoff into channels which flow into holding tanks carved into the bedrock. These water catchment features demonstrate the modifications and adaptations of human groups to the otherwise inhospitable eastern uplands, and show that the landscapes of pastoral nomads can be found by archaeological survey in this region.


Click here for a list of publications on the Hirbemerdon Tepe Survey.

Elsewhere on the Web

The Hirbemerdon Tepe Archaeological Project excavation website [web]

Hirbemerdon Tepe on Google Maps [web]