Syrian crisis has Mesopotamian precedent
|Urkesh, today a small village known as Tell Mozan, was a major political and religious center of the Hurrians – an elusive population of the ancient Near East [Credit: http://www.urkesh.org]|
Dr Frahm used artefacts unearthed from the archaeological site of Tell Mozan, known as Urkesh in antiquity, to trace what happened to trade and social networks when Bronze-Age Syrian cities were abandoned in the wake of a regional government collapse and increasing drought due to climate shifts.
"Unfortunately," explained Dr Frahm, "the situation four thousand years ago has striking similarities to today. Much like the fall of the Akkadian Empire, a governmental collapse is a real possibility in Syria after nearly two years of fighting. Some archaeologists and historians contend that the Akkadian Empire was brought down by militarism and that violence ended its central economic role in the region.
|View of Tell Mozan from the north [Credit: Wiki Commons]|
The diverse origins of the obsidian tools, which date from the rise of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia to several centuries after its fall, revealed how social networks and trading routes evolved during this period.
Dr Frahm explained the motivation behind the research: "This time of transition in Mesopotamia has received great attention for the concurrence of aridification, de-urbanisation, and the decline of the Akkadian Empire about 4,200 years ago. However, our current understanding of this 'crisis' has been almost exclusively shaped by ceramic styles, estimated sizes of archaeological sites, and evidence of changing farming practices. Trade and the associated social networks have been largely neglected in prior studies about this time, and we decided obsidian was an ideal way to investigate them."
|Obsidian blade [Credit: University of Sheffield]|
"Our discovery that obsidian in Urkesh came from six different volcanoes before the crisis, whereas they normally came from just two or three at surrounding sites, implies that Urkesh was an unusually cosmopolitan city with diverse visitors, or visitors with diverse itineraries. During the crisis, however, obsidian only came from two nearby sources, suggesting that certain trade or social networks collapsed. It was two or three centuries before diverse obsidian appeared again at this city, and even then, it came from different quarries, signalling the impact the crisis had on trade and mobility throughout the wider region.
"One compelling interpretation of our findings is that the regional government of the Akkadian Empire shaped Urkesh's local economy. This city might have specialised its economy in response to demand from the Akkadians for certain commodities, such as metals from the nearby mountains. With climate shifts and the end of the empire, Urkesh's inhabitants might have had to refocus their economy on local production and consumption, covering their own needs rather than engaging in specialised long-distance trade.
|Dr Ellery Frahm investigates an obsidian outcropt [Credit: University of Sheffield]|
Dr Frahm's team used a variety of scientific techniques to analyse the obsidian artefacts, including an electron microscope outfitted for chemical analyses, a handheld chemical analyser that can be used at archaeological sites, and a series of sophisticated magnetic analyses at one of the world's best facilities for studying rock magnetism, the Institute for Rock Magnetism at the University of Minnesota.
Source: University of Sheffield [December 18, 2012]