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The land of Summer and Akkad: a reconstruction of its environment and history

Research project P4/25 (Research action P4)

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This project considers a new interpretation of the extraordinarily complex history of the Mesopotamian alluvial plain. Contrary to what was accepted until recently, its geomorphological structure and capricious fluvial network played a determining role in the development of the civilisations that were born there. So it is of prime importance to try to understand relationships between this environment and the development of historical events.

The entire dynamics of Mesopotamian history rests on the above-mentioned premises: the region has been in movement from the start, switching from high to low, growth to decline, intense activity to periods on which sources maintain an obscure silence. For too long, reconstructing history was essentially the reserved domain of philologists, while reconstructing material culture was the work of uncoverers of temples, palaces and tombs. For too long, philologists and archaeologists avoided working in symbiosis, and experts in the so-called ancillary sciences operated in parallel, mainly pursuing their own interests.

The network proposes to coordinate the action of all types of research involved in studying the development of Mesopotamian civilisations, research focusing on changes in the fluvial system and mastery of irrigation, evolution of the landscape and climate (in the broadest sense), demography and major social phenomena, the origin of raw materials, the development and spreading of techniques, commercial exchange. Finally, the results will be confronted with archaeological and philological findings for the different periods.

In a preliminary phase, satellite images facilitated drawing of a 'base map' of the entire alluvial plain. The map includes modern reference points indispensable for future ground surveys, the most important geomorphological structures, and all known ancient sites. This document is the starting point for all further research and will be used to produce all the thematic maps of the project.

Increasing interest in deciphering economic texts has led to an unexpected multiplication of information on the organisation and functioning of society, its economy, and the state. A recent study of Antiquity's largest industry -pottery- and of chronographic Assyrian and Babylonian sources has already enabled to reduce the chronology of the second millennium before our era by circa a century... and our investigations have only just begun!

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