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Greater Mesopotamia: Reconstruction of its Environment and History (GMREH)

Research project P7/14 (Research action P7)


Persons :

  • Dr.  GUBEL Eric - Royal Museums for Art and History ()
    Coordinator of the project
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/4/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  ABRAHAM Kathleen - Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U.Leuven)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/4/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  GERMONPRE Mietje - Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences ()
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/4/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  TAVERNIER Jan - Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL)
    Financed belgian partner
    Duration: 1/4/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  NIEDERREITER Zoltan - Eötvös Loránd University (Budapest) (ELTE BTK)
    Financed foreign partner
    Duration: 1/4/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  ENGLUND Robert - University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
    Financed foreign partner
    Duration: 1/4/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  JOANNES Francis - Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (Univ-Paris 1)
    Financed foreign partner
    Duration: 1/4/2012-30/9/2017
  • Dr.  KANIEWSKI David - Université Paul Sabatier – Toulouse 3 (UPS)
    Financed foreign partner
    Duration: 1/4/2012-30/9/2017

Description :

This research project is focused on the Ancient Near East, a region extending from ancient Iran and the Arabian peninsula to the Mediterranean. Its objective is the study of the interaction of man with his environment and the development of, and interaction between, societies in the course of the regional history. The project builds upon the previous phases of this long standing IAP, the last one of which earned the very highest marks among the humanities IAP projects. This excellence in research has attracted new partners in Belgium and abroad. The expertise of four Belgian teams from two Belgian Universities and two Federal Scientific Institutions will now be fully integrated. The groundwork and stimulation of research provided by the previous IAP phases will allow a very efficient synergy.

The objective of this project is to provide entirely new perspectives of major historical processes through the integration of palaeo-environmental data, cuneiform writing, archaeological site exploration and palynological analyses. The aims are to assemble new data by the use of disciplines from the humanities and natural sciences in order to recreate the evolution of the environment and action of man. The changes in climate and the reconstruction of ancient environments will be studied by the various IAP partners by means of textual information, archaeological and environmental fieldwork. The study of seals and sealings is bound to produce an added value in this new phase of GMREH, by illustrating cross-cultural relations and (inter)actions of ancient societies.

From a methodology point of view, this research approaches the history of the Ancient Near East (in its broadest sense from material history to cultural phenomena) from a combined environmental, historical and archaeological viewpoint. At the same time, it re-examines a number of fundamental key-stone topics such as chronology, climate evolution, seashore variations and material culture sequences. This pluridisciplinarity cannot consist of a side-by-side contribution of archaeology, geology, philology, historical geography and history that would only produce more data within the confinement of each of these disciplines. A fully integrated synergy of these approaches is essential. Such an ambitious undertaking could, of course, never be realized by any single team. It will take the added value of a comprehensive network, such as the one proposed.
As for the general structure of the project, it is proposed to maintain and expand the very successful Work Packages of the previous phases, as follows:

I. Mapping and Surveying

During the past phases maps, satellite images, and information provided by Arab geographers and from European traveller’s accounts have been digitalized and integrated in a GIS system. These data concern mainly the Mesopotamian Alluvial Plain, Northern Syria, the Syrian coast and Western Iran. Additional fieldwork and a re-examination of the existing data on the basis of the results of the investigations carried out in the other Work Packages will allow insights into the evolution of the landscape. This is particularly true for the fluvial systems and the changing coastlines, on the basis of which landscape evolution models can now be developed which in turn will have their role to play in our (re)assessment of the history of this region.

II. Archaeology in context

The results of archaeological investigations set in a broader context will allow to set up a wide-ranging in-
depth study of cultural identity and social interaction in Elam, Luristan, Anatolia, the Northern/Central Levant and the Eastern Mediterranean in the transitional period of the Late Bronze -Early Iron Age. This period is traditionally known as a Dark Age, characterized by profound transformations. Our previous studies have shown that a reinterpretation and better understanding of this crucial period is possible, but only through a collaborative venture.

III. Historical Geography

Identification on the map of ancient place names, names of watercourses and their ever evolving courses are necessary prerequisites to an understanding of the history of the region and its cultures. As in the previous phases, geographical/geomorphological and textual data (toponomy) will be combined in order to set up models.

IV. Environmental Geo-Archaeology

Palaeo-environmental reconstructions provide insight into the patterns of human settlement and resources; they also allow the monitoring of human impact on the environment, such as increasing deforestation (for which textual/historical sources can supply additional information), which may have led to increased sediment supply and problems of rivers and irrigation canals silting up. The evolving coastline of the Persian Gulf will also be re-examined in the context of possible human-induced changes of sediment supply. The shallow continental shelf adjacent to the shoreline will be surveyed which will moreover allow detecting the different factors controlling the shoreline changes impacting on the shifting of human settlements. In Khuzestan (W-Iran) as well as in Tell Tweini (Coastal Syria), evidence of climate change has been found during the preceding phases of the IAP. The aim of this phase will be to integrate these in a model. In themselves the data are very promising: the climate change observed around Tweini (to be supplemented with data from Tell Kazel and Cyprus) could explain the region wide crisis period of the 12th century; the climate change in Khuzestan can be linked to the evolving coastline of the Persian Gulf.

V. History and Chronology

Fundamental data were first re-examined and as a result, a new chronology was proposed for the second millennium, solving the problem of the Dark Age at the end of the Old Babylonian period. New textual material, about 500 tablets originating from DOr-Abiešuh, will shed new light on this period. In the light of our environmental studies it is not unimportant to mention that climatic change has been proposed as one of the triggers for this transition. Another transitional period studied within our IAP is that between the Late Bronze Age and the Iron Age at Tell Tweini and Tell Kazel on the Syrian coast. The revival of urban culture at both sites and in the coastal region of Northern Phoenicia may be linked to a developing economic network connecting Cyprus, Phoenicia and the Syrian interior. Imports of Cypriot ceramics at Tweini and Kazel especially attest to this improving economic situation. New research on Anatolia in this period will also contribute to a better understanding of the history of this region. The study and publication of large corpora of texts (Nippur, DOr-Abiešuh, Kissura, Marad and Ma’allânâte), taking into account the importance of sealings, will be high on our agenda. Glyptic studies will further illustrate the complex phenomena of cultural interaction.

VI: Imaging and Technology

When using ordinary photography, not all the surfaces are photographed and sometimes not all parts of a 3D object are well lighted and clearly visible. New technologies, for which some of the members of the Belgian network have built up experience in the past few years, give access to some of the most state-of-the-art systems to digitally register archaeological sites and objects in 3D. In this new IAP phase these can be exploited to the maximum, allowing enhanced visibility to the excavated material and archaeological artefacts in the RMAH, KUL and UCL collections. The Portable Light Dome (developed by researchers at the KUL and funded by the FWO Hercules programme, with the RMAH as partner) allows the user to give a complete digital equivalent of the physical 3D object, thanks to high-quality imaging techniques. Especially with regard to tablets and seals the device has already proven its quality and substantially advanced the work of all researchers who deal with these historical sources. The obvious goal of the proposed recording program is to make them available via an online accessible database, a digital library. For the cuneiform tablets the recorded texts will be included into the existing online Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative-CDLI (UCLA/Max Planck), a long-standing partner of the RMAH.


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