(ORDO NEWS) — The early Mesopotamian city turned out to be very different from what it was previously imagined. Built on islands, it had neither a center nor a surrounding defensive wall.
The Journal of Anthropological Archeology published an article by Emily Hammer, an anthropologist and archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania (USA).
The paper presents the results of remote sensing of the archaeological site of Tell el-Khiba, the place where the ancient city of Lagash was once located, which scientists associate with the Sumerian civilization.
According to modern ideas, Lagash, which was the core of one of the earliest states in the world, was founded approximately in the period of 4.6-4.9 thousand years ago.
The inhabitants left it about 3.6 thousand years ago for an unknown reason. And the first excavations of Lagash were carried out more than 40 years ago.
The data, collected mostly by a specially equipped drone, shows that Lagash mainly consisted of four swampy islands connected by waterways.
This does not quite correspond to the traditional view of scholars about Mesopotamian cities. It is usually believed that the settlements there were formed around a single temple (cult) and administrative center and were surrounded by a defensive wall. And irrigated agricultural areas were outside the city.
According to Emily Hammer, Lagash had no geographical or ritual center, and each urban sector developed distinctive economic practices on a separate marsh island, similar to medieval Venice.
For example, one island was traversed by waterways or canals, where fishing and the collection of reeds for construction may have predominated.
The other two swamp islands of Lagash were surrounded by walls, enclosing carefully planned city streets and areas where large furnaces meet.
Hammer suggests that these sectors were built in stages and may have been inhabited first. There they could grow crops and engage in pottery.
Drone images show the harbors on each marsh island. Most likely, the inhabitants of the urban sectors actively used boats to move between the islands.
But at the same time, on and near waterways, soundings show the remains of what could be footbridges. Reliably it can be found out only during the forthcoming archaeological excavations.
A few years ago, archaeologists from the University of South Carolina (USA) studied satellite images of Lagash and other ancient settlements in southern Mesopotamia.
Then scientists came to the conclusion that Lagash consisted of about 33 swampy islands, many of which were quite small.
Hammer believes the drone imagery provided a closer look at Lagash’s structures than was possible with satellite imagery. The resolution of the latter is less than that of aerial photography from low altitudes.
The initial data on where to shoot was collected by human inspection at ground level. And already according to these landmarks, the drone took high-resolution photographs of the desired part of the surface of the ancient city.
Soil moisture and salt absorption from recent heavy rains have helped reveal (through higher color contrast) the remains of ancient buildings, walls, streets, waterways, and other urban features buried underground.
As a result, the proposed 33 islands were “merged” into four structures. Three of them were large, according to Hammer, were densely populated. The smaller, fourth island was dominated by a large temple.
Drone images showing contrasting areas on various swamp islands, some of which appear to be planned and others more haphazardly, reflect waves of migration into Lagash between 2600 and 2350 BC.
Dense clusters of dwellings and other structures across most of Lagash indicate that tens of thousands of people lived there during their heyday. At that time, the area of the city was approximately four to six square kilometers.
Emily Hammer suggests that Lagash was abandoned at a time when the region became less watery. The advantages of the “Mesopotamian Venice” disappeared, and people left for other cities where the economy and defense were not so dependent on the availability of full-flowing canals.
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