Konstantinos Kopanias, Claudia Beuger, John MacGinnis, and Jason Ur. 2016. “The Tell Baqrta Project in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.” In The Provincial Archaeology of the Assyrian Empire, edited by John MacGinnis, Dirk Wicke, and Tina Greenfield, Pp. 117-128. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.
The world’s first empires were grand experiments in centralized political power and the territorial expansion of social control. The elite manifestations of empires are often prominent and have been studied intensively by historians and archaeologists, and they can lead to the impression that the state was all-pervasive in the lives of its citizens, from the rulers themselves down to the humblest farmer. Given the elite origins and biases of the historical and archaeological datasets, however, we might ask more precisely what were the impacts of empire on the quotidian lives of its people. Were issues of political control of concern only to competing elites, with little or no significance to the majority of the population, or were daily practices closely controlled? This paper addresses these issues by presenting preliminary data of the Erbil Plain Archaeological Survey (EPAS) to better understand the settlement landscape in the heartland of the Neo-Assyrian empire (c. 934–605 bc) in northern Iraq.
Excavations at the relatively small but strategically placed site of Hirbemerdon Tepe, located along the west bank of the upper Tigris River in modern southeastern Turkey, have yielded significant results. During the Middle Bronze Age (2000–1600 B.C.E.), the site was situated in an ecologically stratified landscape that included river terraces suitable for agriculture as well as forested uplands ideal for pastoral and hunting activities. A significant result of these excavations, which were conducted by the Hirbemerdon Tepe Archaeological Project, was the discovery of a well-preserved architectural complex with associated ritual artifacts on the northern side of the high mound. This report describes and situates this Middle Bronze Age site within its geographic, cultural, and ecological context. It examines the emergence of this small regional center and investigates the role of ritual activities in the development of socially integrated communities in the frontier zone of northern Mesopotamia during the beginning of the second millennium B.C.E.
We evaluate and further develop a multitemporal fusion strategy that we use to detect the location of ancient settlement sites in the Near East and to map their distribution, a spatial pattern that remains static over time. For each ASTER images that has been acquired in our survey area in northeastern Syria, we use a pattern classification strategy to map locations with a multispectral signal similar to the one from (few) known archaeological sites nearby. We obtain maps indicating the presence of anthrosol-soils that formed in the location of ancient settlements and that have a distinct spectral pattern under certain environmental conditions-and find that pooling the probability maps from all available time points reduces the variance of the spatial anthrosol pattern significantly. Removing biased classification maps-i.e., those that rank last when comparing the probability maps with the (limited) ground truth we have- reduces the overall prediction error even further, and we estimate optimal weights for each image using a nonnegative least squares regression strategy. The ranking and pooling strategy approach we propose in this study shows a significant improvement over the plain averaging of anthrosol probability maps that we used in an earlier attempt to map archaeological sites in a 20 000-km 2 area in northern Mesopotamia, and we expect it to work well in other surveying tasks that aim in mapping static surface patterns with limited ground truth in long series of multispectral images.
Jason A. Ur. 2014. “Umma. B. Archäologische.” Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie Reallexikon der Assyriologie und Vorderasiatischen Archäologie, 14, Pp. 327-330.
In The Economy of Cities, Jane Jacobs conjectured that the world’s first cities preceded the origins of agriculture, a proposition that was most recently revived by Peter Taylor in the pages of this journal. The repeated resurrection of Jacobs’ idea was out of line with extant archaeological findings when first advanced decades ago, and it is firmly contradicted by a much fuller corpus of data today. After a review of how and why Jacobs formulated her “cities first” model, we review current archaeological knowledge from the Near East, China, and Mesoamerica to document the temporal precedence of agriculture before urbanism in each of these regions. Contrary to the opinions of Jacobs and Taylor, archaeological data in fact are sufficiently robust to reconstruct patterns of diet, settlement, and social organization in the past, and to assign dates to the relevant sites. Our response illustrates how generations of archaeological discoveries have yielded solid empirical foundations for the evaluation of wider social scientific debates.
The world’s first cities emerged on the plains of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq and Syria) in the fourth millennium BC. Attempts to understand this settlement process have assumed revolutionary social change, the disappearance of kinship as a structuring principle, and the appearance of a rational bureaucracy. Most assume cities and state-level social organization were deliberate functional adaptations to meet the goals of elite members of society, or society as a whole. This study proposes an alternative model. By reviewing indigenous terminology from later historical periods, it proposes that urbanism evolved in the context of a metaphorical extension of the household that represented a creative transformation of a familiar structure. The first cities were unintended consequences of this transformation, which may seem “revolutionary” to archaeologists but did not to their inhabitants. This alternative model calls into question the applicability of terms like “urbanism” and “the state” for early Mesopotamian society.
Jason A. Ur. 2014. “Urban Form at Tell Brak Across Three Millennia.” In Preludes to Urbanism: Studies in the Late Chalcolithic of Mesopotamia in Honour of Joan Oates, edited by Augusta McMahon and Harriet Crawford, Pp. 49-62. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and the British School of Archaeology in Iraq.Abstract
A common but implicitly held idea in Mesopotamian archaeology is that once urbanism appeared, Mesopotamia was thereafter an urban civilization. Despite various ups and downs through the millennia, which saw individual settlements wax and wane, the city as a settlement form was the defining characteristic of its cultural tradition. It is understood that not all Mesopotamian cities were alike, but there exists an idea that there was a durable essence to its particular type of urbanism. This study will consider one urban place, Tell Brak in northeastern Syria, over a span of almost 3000 years. In particular, it will consider variation in urban form at Brak in its initial incarnation in the fourth millennium bc, its later third-millennium BC reincarnation as Nagar, and finally its mid second millennium BC form. Rather than being one city that experienced phases of expansion and contraction, the mound at Tell Brak holds the remains of three qualitatively different cities. The differences in urban form were not insignificant variations around an essential theme but were rather manifestations of evolving social and political structures and institutions. This study will describe the various spatial configurations at Brak, their sociopolitical implications, and their places in broader patterns of urbanism in Mesopotamia.
Scott Branting, TJ Wilkinson, John Christiansen, Magnus Widell, Carrie Hritz, Jason Ur, Benjamin Studevent-Hickman, and Mark Altaweel. 2013. “The 'External Economy': Networks and Trade.” In Models of Mesopotamian Landscapes: How Small-Scale Processes Contributed to the Growth of Early Civilizations, edited by TJ Wilkinson, McGuire Gibson, and Magnus Widell, Pp. 140-151. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Magnus Widell, Carrie Hritz, Jason A Ur, and TJ Wilkinson. 2013. “Land Use of the Model Communities.” In Models of Mesopotamian Landscapes: How Small-Scale Processes Contributed to the Growth of Early Civilizations, edited by TJ Wilkinson, McGuire Gibson, and Magnus Widell, Pp. 56-80. Oxford: Archaeopress.
The capitals of the Neo-Assyrian empire appear to be firm examples of cities created as acts of political will, via top-down centralized planning, and with little or no input from their more humble inhabitants. This presentation will argue for a more flexible model that recognizes variability in top-down and bottom-up processes among the Assyrian capitals. Two sources enable a critical assessment. Recent research on provincial capitals has adopted a holistic approach that includes geophysical prospection and the targeting of non-elite residential areas. Satellite-based remote sensing has also opened windows into urban structure. Assyrian cities were highly variable in their morphologies, and these differences can be used to investigate their divergent origins and developmental trajectories. This presentation will review the form and structure of imperial and provincial capitals, with particular emphasis on satellite remote sensing of Nimrud and new topographic data for Qasr Shemamok (the provincial capital Kilizu), now being excavated by the Mission Archéologique Française à Erbil under the direction of Oliver Rouault and Maria Grazia Masetti-Rouault.