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Archaeologists explore Iraqi marshes for origins of urbanization
Date:3/31/2011

The first non-Iraqi archaeological investigation of the Tigris-Euphrates delta in 20 years was a preliminary foray by three women who began to explore the links between wetland resources and the emergence and growth of cities last year.

"Foreign investigations in Iraq stopped in the 1990s," said Carrie Hritz, assistant professor of anthropology, Penn State. "Iraqis continued research, but because their work is unpublished, we are unsure of where they surveyed."

The marshlands in Iraq and Iran were drained between 1950 and the 1990s. While initial explanations were that Iraq needed the land for agricultural uses, more often than not, politics played a role. After the first Gulf war, Saddam Hussein drained the areas between the Tigris and Euphrates to control and punish Shia dissidents among the Marsh Arabs.

Restoration of the Hammar marshes is now a high national priority. If we do not act quickly, the window of opportunity for conducting work in this region will close, according to the researchers who include Hritz; Jennifer Pournelle, research assistant professor, School of the Environment, University of South Carolina, and Jennifer Smith, associate professor of geology, Washington University in St. Louis.

The project aims to investigate the contributions of the early-mid Holocene shoreline of the gulf and marshes to the economic foundations of Mesopotamian cities. The researchers are looking at archaeological sites from 5,000 B.C. to Islamic times.

"Our interest is in early settlement," Hritz told attendees today (Mar 31) at the annual meeting of the Society of American Archaeology in Sacramento, Calif. " The early period of settlement is always linked to the development of agriculture."

Hritz notes, however, that marshes have all the resources necessary for settlement fish, game and plants. She suggests that people would need a wide resource base to create urban areas in the midst of the Tigris-Euphra
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Contact: A'ndrea Elyse Messer
aem1@psu.edu
814-865-9481
Penn State
Source:Eurekalert

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