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Greater Mesopotamia: Reconstruction of its environment and History

Research project P6/34 (Research action P6)

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The present proposal builds upon the former IAP projects all bearing the name The Land of Sumer and Akkad: Reconstruction of its environment and History (IAP II/34, IV/25 and V/14). Each of the past phases was concluded with a very positive ex-post evaluation by external experts. Each new phase took into account the recommendations of this panel to further fine-tune the subsequent projects.

One of the recommendations of the external experts was that the title should be broadened in order to reflect the broadening of our research. That is why the title is now changed to "Greater Mesopotamia : Reconstruction of its environment and History" since it will also include the Khuzestan (SW Iran), the Khabur basin, the upper Euphrates valley and the Mediterranean coastal area around Tell Tweini (Syria).
It can be said that the project, including teams from the Universities of Ghent, Leuven and Liège (all previous phases) and the team from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (since the preceding phase) has, during the past years, successfully coordinated, integrated and stimulated the Belgian research on the Ancient Near East. The participating teams combine expertise and long standing experience in the fields of archaeology, remote sensing, geology, philology and historical geography concerning Greater Mesopotamia. The preceding phases of the IAP in which they participated added to their critical mass in such a way that they were able to significantly extend their fundamental research which allowed them to reach a high level as expressed in their publications and in their communications at international scientific conferences. In turn this gave the network as a whole as well as the individual teams an internationally recognised standing.

In general terms, the project aims at developing a new interpretation of the complex interaction between man and his environment. To this end insight has to be gained in the still little known evolution of this environment and man's reaction to it and action upon it. Within the history of mankind the Ancient Near East provides a unique opportunity to study this interaction since it offers a continuous (though not always even) flow of exploitable data over millennia.
This research approaches the history of the Ancient Near East (in its broadest sense from material history to cultural phenomena) from a definite environmental viewpoint. At the same time it reexamines a number of fundamental givens such as the chronology and wishes to significantly add to the study and publication of primary sources for the historical study, as well textual as artefactual.
The implication of this approach is that pluridisciplinarity is an absolute necessity. More even, this pluridisciplinarity cannot consist in a side-by-side contribution of archaeology, geology, philology, historical geography and history which would only produce more data within the confinement of each of these disciplines. A fully integrated synergy of these approaches is of the essence.

The different teams have developed the necessary skills in using state of the art methods and techniques to assemble new data and significantly re-interpret older ones. The environmental angle allows to ask new questions and to view the accumulated knowledge in new ways.

The primary aim of the present project is to further develop and extend the acquired expertise in applying it to a wider region, Greater Mesopotamia, and a wider time range, from the third to the first millennium BC, Arabic geographical sources and even European traveller's accounts up to the nineteenth century CE. Building upon the results of the previous phases and the continuing research in the next one, it is also the explicit aim to initiate a wide ranging publication program, as well of syntheses as of commented editions of large text corpora, in casu from Sippar-Amnanum and Susa.
It goes without saying that such an ambitious undertaking could never be realised by any single team.

It is only thanks to the added value of the network, in the framework of the Interuniversity Attraction Poles that this becomes possible.

The research will be structured in five work packages. All teams participate in all work packages, except the RBINS team which, for evident reasons, will focus on work packages 1, 3 and 4.

1. Mapping and Surveying Greater Mesopotamia will involve, as its title indicates, the production of maps and organisation of surveys of Greater Mesopotamia. Remote sensing will be fully used in preparation of fieldwork or to study inaccessible regions (Iraq). Surveying will include coring, in order to produce accurate diachronic information on the evolution of the landscape.

2. Archaeology in context will combine the studies on the material culture but put them in the larger context of long term evolutions, as of pottery, or standard corpora such as the Old Babylonian terracotta figurines.

3. Historical Geography will build on the Mapping, especially of the traces of ancient fluvial systems and combine them with textual evidence and prospection data. Here, as well Arabic sources as European traveller's accounts will be brought to bear.

4. Environmental geo-archaeology is another focal point where the different regions within Greater Mesopotamia and covered by the project will be studied in order to develop a better knowledge of the ancient environments, their evolution and their interaction with human history.

5. History and Chronology groups all historical studies, starting with the New Chronology for the second millennium proposed during the preceding phase. Detailed historical studies as well as the historical setting of the different regions under study will be developed here.

As can be seen, each work group provides a specific scientific focus but always in complete cooperation between different scientific disciplines. In fact, Greater Mesopotamia (or at least our focus-regions) is seen from a number of different angles. This will build a kaleidoscope view wherein each facet is complementary to the others. This approach necessitates a fine-tuning of our scientific methodologies, which will enhance our research capacity. The construction of models and distillation of long-term trends will hopefully define new standards for research.

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