Archaeologists unearth huge Phoenician defensive moat

Archaeologists unearth huge Phoenician defensive moat

Wide and intact, it helped fortify the defensive nature of the area, noticeably increasing its ability to resist attacks.

Cabezo Pequeño del Estaño phoenician

With a depth of three meters and over eight meters tall, the discovery of a defensive moat in the walled Phoenician site of Cabezo Pequeño del Estaño, located at the Alicante province town of Guardamar del Segura, strengthened the defensive capabilities of the village. The new archaeological dig, which is being conducted these days at the site, is framed within the General Research Plan of the Education, Culture and Sport Council of the Valencia Region government, promoted by the town hall of Guardamar del Segura and by the INAPH archaeological research institute of the University of Alicante (UA).

One of its head archaeologists from the INAPH, Fernando Prados, has classified the outstanding finding of the moat at this Phoenician walled site as “enormous and intact”. Works are being directed by Prados; also partaking are Antonio García, director of the Archaeological Museum of Guardamar Segura; José Gambín, architect at the same town and doctor Helena Jiménez, lecturer of Ancient History at the University of Murcia. The work team is rounded out with the participation of researchers in training and technicians from the UA.

Finding the defensive moat

Excavating the fortification is making it possible to obtain a comprehensive view of the defensive structure, obscured until now by sedimentary accumulation and the harmful effects of erosion and the quarry, which destroyed 75% of the village in the 90s (20th century). An aerial photo preserved prior to this destruction revealed the potential existence of a defensive moat that traversed the hill parallel to the lines of the wall. The excavation has confirmed this fact by revealing the moat, which was handmade; one can see marks of chisels in the rocky substrate.

With a depth of around three meters and a width of over eight at its tallest part, this device strengthens the defensive nature of the village, providing heightened defence in the event of attacks. Together with the existing one in the Castillo de Doña Blanca, in Cádiz, it is the only one with these attributes preserved in the western Mediterranean area from its time.

Once more, as happens with the spectacular wall of this site, the closest known parallels are found in the Near East, in Phoenician cities such as Tell Dor or Beirut (today the capital of Lebanon).

The exceptional nature of this finding confirms the essential role of Cabezo Pequeño del Estaño as the spearhead of the Phoenician colonial policies between the 9th and 8th Century BC. The uncertainty and hostility that these settlers experienced upon arriving at the Iberian coast led them to erect a fortification large enough to fulfil their interests at the mouth of the Segura river: to harness the resources, mainly metallurgic.

 

Press release from Asociación RUVID


Cremation in the Middle East dates as far back as 7,000 B.C.

The gender of the human remains found inside a cremation pyre pit in Beisamoun, Israel remains unknown. What is known is that the individual was a young adult injured by a flint projectile several months prior to their death in spring some 9,000 years ago. Preserved due to it being buried, the pit represents the oldest proof of direct (1) cremation in the Middle East.

cremation Middle East Beisamoun
Flint point thrust inside a burnt shoulder blade
© mission Beisamoun

An international team lead by CNRS archaeo-anthropologist Fanny Bocquentin (2)with aid from PhD candidate Marie Anton and several experts in animal, plant, and mineral remains, discovered and studied the bones found inside the pyre. An analysis of the clay used to coat the inside of the pit showed the 355 bone fragments, some of which were burnt, were exposed to temperatures reaching 700°C. The position of the bones and the preserved joints seem to indicate the body was placed seated onto the pyre and was not moved during or after cremation.

Excavations of the pyre pit.
© mission Beisamoun

Whether used as fuel, as ornamentation, or as a scent, siliceous traces indicated the presence of flowering plants, which made it possible to identify the season the person died. In addition to the exceptional pyre pit, the cremated remains of five other adults were discovered at the site. They dated back to the same period as burials whose traces were discovered among the ruins of abandoned dwellings.

cremation Middle East Beisamoun Israel
Archaeological site at Beisamoun, Israel. © mission Beisamoun

The use of cremation indicates an evolution of the relationship to death in the region. The veneration of ancestors and lengthy funerary practices seem to have given way to shorter rituals. This could be evidence of a transition phase because, some two to three centuries later, the dead were no longer buried inside or near villages and their traces are much more difficult to find.

The study is based on joint archaeological digs completed between 2007-2016 by the CNRS, the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and the Israel Antiquities Authority.

A section of the Beisamoun site (Israel) where the pyre pit is visible.
© mission Beisamoun
Bibliography

Emergence of corpse cremation during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic of the Southern Levant: A multidisciplinary study of a pyre-pit burial, Fanny Bocquentin, Marie Anton, Francesco Berna, Arlene Rosen, Hamoudi Khalaily, Harris Greenberg, Thomas C. Hart, Omri Lernau, Liora Kolska Horwitz. PLOS ONE, 12 August 2020. DOI : 10.1371/journal.pone.0235386

Notes

(1) The body was cremated directly, as opposed to other practices where dried exhumed bones were burnt.

(2) Member of the Prehistoric ethnology team at the Archéologies et sciences de l'Antiquité laboratory (CNRS/Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne/Université Paris Nanterre/French Ministry of Culture). This study also involved a PhD candidate from the Eco-anthropologie laboratory (CNRS/Museum national d’Histoire naturelle) with support from the Centre de recherche français à Jérusalem (CNRS/French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs/Aix-Marseille Université).

Press release from CNRS on the cremation pyre pit in Beisamoun, Israel, Middle East.


'Ein Qashish Neanderthal

Neanderthals made repeated use of the ancient settlement of 'Ein Qashish, Israel

Neanderthals made repeated use of the ancient settlement of 'Ein Qashish, Israel

This site provides a rare opportunity to study long-term use of an open air settlement

'Ein Qashish Neanderthal
The archaeological site of 'Ein Qashish in northern Israel was a place of repeated Neanderthal occupation and use during the Middle Paleolithic, according to a study released June 26, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ravid Ekshtain of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and colleagues. Credit: Ekshtain, 2019, CC-BY

The archaeological site of 'Ein Qashish in northern Israel was a place of repeated Neanderthal occupation and use during the Middle Paleolithic, according to a study released June 26, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Ravid Ekshtain of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and colleagues.

In the Levant region of the Middle East, the main source of information on Middle Paleolithic human occupation comes from cave sites. Compared to open air settlements, sheltered sites like caves were easily recognized and often visited, and therefore are more likely to record long periods of occupation. The open-air site of 'Ein Qashish in northern Israel, however, is unusual in having been inhabited over an extended prehistoric time period. This site provides a unique opportunity to explore an open-air locality across a large landscape and over a long period ranging between 71,000 and 54,000 years ago.

In a joint collaboration with the Israel Antiquities Authority Ekshtain and colleagues identified human skeletal remains in 'Ein Qashish as Neanderthal and observed more than 12,000 artifacts from four different depositional units in the same location on the landscape. These units represent different instances of occupation during changing environmental conditions.

From modification of artifacts and animal bones at the site, the authors infer that the occupants were knapping tools, provisioning resources, and consuming animals on-site.

Whereas many open-air settlements are thought to be short-lived and chosen for specialized tasks, 'Ein Qashish appears to be the site of repeated occupations each of which hosted a range of general activities, indicating a stable and consistent settlement system. The authors suggest that within a complex settlement system, open-air sites may have been more important for prehistoric humans than previously thought.

Ekshtain adds: "Ein Qashish is a 70-60 thousand years open-air site, with a series of stratified human occupations in a dynamic flood plain environment. The site stands out in the extensive excavated area and some unique finds for an open-air context, from which we deduce the diversity of human activities on the landscape. In contrast to other known open-air sites, the locality was not used for task-specific activities but rather served time and again as a habitation location. The stratigraphy, dates and finds from the site allow a reconstruction of a robust settlement system of the late Neanderthals in northern Israel slightly before their disappearance from the regional record, raising questions about the reasons for their disappearance and about their interactions with contemporaneous modern humans."

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Genome analysis of yams reveals new cradle of crop domestication in West Africa

Genome analysis of yams reveals new cradle of crop domestication in West Africa

Yam genomics supports West Africa as a major cradle of crop domestication

yams
Wild yams, photo credits: Marco Schmidt [1], CC BY-SA 2.5
Yams as seen today in West Africa descended from a forest species, a new study finds. The results challenge the hypothesis that domestication of sub-Saharan African plants mostly arose in tropical savannahs. Critically, they also advance researchers' understanding of West African crops' domestication history, helping to identify a major cradle of domestication around the Niger River. One of the best-known domestication cradles in the world is the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East, where wheat, barley, oat, lentil and chickpea, among other crops, first appeared in the archaeological records.

The history of crop domestication is much less documented in sub-Saharan Africa, in part because archaeological studies are largely fragmentary. Previous studies of domestication in Africa suggest an origin encompassing a large area from Senegal to Somalia, while more recent studies have challenged this hypothesis - proposing a more restricted domestication origin near the Niger River Basin. To assess whether areas near the Niger Basin could be considered major hotspots of domestication, Nora Scarcelli and colleagues investigated the domestication of yam, a major staple crop originating from Africa. They used genome re-sequencing to analyze 167 "wild" and domesticated yam species from the country.

Their analysis, which included sophisticated statistical modeling, suggests that that cultivated yam was domesticated from a forest species, D. praehensilis, starting in the Niger River basin. Its domestication process involved adaptations to the open field environment and human selection that increased tuber size and starch content in the cultivated yam. The study further suggests that the Niger River region played a major role in African agriculture, comparable to the Fertile Crescent in the Near East.

 

Press release from the American Association for the Advancement of Science


Balak Mesha Stele

New reading of Mesha Stele could have far-reaching consequences for biblical history

New reading of Mesha Stele could have far-reaching consequences for biblical history

The biblical King Balak may have been a historical figure, according to a new reading of the Mesha Stele, an inscribed stone dating from the second half of the 9th century BCE

Balak Mesha Stele
Mesha Stele (Moabite Stone), plaster replica of the basalt original in the Louvre, Dhiban, Jordan, Iron Age IIB, c. 830 BC - Oriental Institute Museum, University of Chicago, Photo Daderot,CC0 

The biblical King Balak may have been a historical figure, according to a new reading of the Mesha Stele, an inscribed stone dating from the second half of the 9th century BCE.

A name in Line 31 of the stele, previously thought to read , 'House of David', could instead read 'Balak', a king of Moab mentioned in the biblical story of Balaam (Numbers 22-24), say archaeologist Prof. Israel Finkelstein and historians and biblical scholars Prof. Nadav Na'aman and Prof. Thomas Römer, in an article published in Tel Aviv: The Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University.

The Mesha Stele was found in the 19th century in the ruins of the biblical town of Dibon in Moab (present day Jordan), and is now in the Louvre. The stone's inscription tells the story of the territorial expansion and construction endeavours of King Mesha of Moab, who is mentioned in the Bible. The stele was cracked in the 19th century and parts of it are missing, but portions of the missing parts are preserved in a reverse copy of the inscription, known as a 'squeeze', made before the stele cracked.

The authors studied new high-resolution photographs of the squeeze, and of the stele itself. These new images made it clear that there are three consonants in the name of the monarch mentioned in Line 31, and that the first is the Hebrew letter beth (a 'b' sound).

While the other letters are eroded, the most likely candidate for the monarch's name is 'Balak', the authors say. The seat of the king referred to in Line 31 was at Horonaim, a place mentioned four times in the Bible in relation to the Moabite territory south of the Arnon River. "Thus, Balak may be a historical personality like Balaam, who, before the discovery of the Deir Alla inscription, was considered to be an 'invented' figure," they suggest.

"The new photographs of the Mesha Stele and the squeeze indicate that the reading, 'House of David' - accepted by many scholars for more than two decades - is no longer an option," the authors conclude. "With due caution we suggest the name of the Moabite king Balak, who, according to the Balaam story of Numbers 22-24, sought to bring a divine curse on the people of Israel.

"This story was written down later than the time of the Moabite king referred to in the Mesha Stele. Yet, to give a sense of authenticity to his story, its author must have integrated into the plot certain elements borrowed from the ancient reality, including two personal names: Balaam and Balak."

 

Press release from Taylor & Francis Group

 

New reading of the Mesha Stele inscription has major consequences for biblical history

Line of the inscription lends credence to the story of Balaam in the Book of Numbers, Tel Aviv University researchers say

 

The legendary King Balak from the Book of Numbers may have been a real historical figure, according to a new reading of the Mesha Stele, the longest extra-biblical inscription in existence.

The Mesha Stele, an ancient inscribed stone dating to the ninth century BCE, tells the story of the territorial expansion and construction endeavors of King Mesha of Moab, who is also mentioned in the Second Book of Kings in the Old Testament. The stele was found in the 19th century among the ruins of the ancient town of Dibon in Moab, located in today's Jordan, east of the Dead Sea. The stele is on display at the Louvre Museum.

According to the study, a word on Line 31 of the stele that has until now been interpreted as "House of David" in fact refers to King "Balak," who is known as a Moab ruler only from the Book of Numbers.

The new Tel Aviv University-Collège de France study was published on May 2 in Tel Aviv: Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University. It was co-authored by Prof. Israel Finkelstein and Prof. Nadav Na'aman of TAU's Department of Archaeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures in collaboration with Prof. Thomas Römer of Collège de France and the University of Lausanne.

A recent exhibit, Mésha et la Bible, held in October 2018 at the Collège de France in Paris in conjunction with the Louvre Museum, showcased the Meshe Stele "squeeze," a reverse copy of the inscription on paper. This exhibition afforded researchers the unique opportunity to take high-resolution photographs of the squeeze.

Although the stele had been cracked in the 19th century, the parts that went missing were preserved in the squeeze, which was made before the stone broke into pieces.

The authors of the new research studied new high-resolution photographs of the squeeze and of the stele itself. These new images made it clear that there are three consonants in the name of the monarch mentioned in Line 31, and that the first is the Hebrew letter bet, which corresponds to the English letter "B."

The most likely candidate for the monarch's name is "Balak." The seat of the king referred to in Line 31 was "Horonaim," which is mentioned four times in the Bible in relation to the Moabite territory south of the Arnon River.

"We believe Balak was a historical figure like Balaam, who, before the discovery of the famous Deir Alla inscription in Jordan in 1967, was considered an 'invented' character," explains Prof. Finkelstein. "The new photographs of the Mesha Stele and the squeeze indicate that the reading 'House of David' -- accepted by many scholars for more than two decades -- is no longer valid."

In 1994 the French epigrapher André Lemaire suggested that letters missing in Line 31 of the stele would spell "House of David," as in the Tel Dan Stele, which features the term in reference to the Kingdom of Judah. Accordingly, Lemaire proposed that in the mid-ninth century Judah ruled in southern Moab, east of the Dead Sea.

"With due caution, we suggest that the line refers to the Moabite King Balak, who, according to the Balaam story in Numbers 22-24, was supposed to bring a divine curse on the people of Israel," Prof. Na'aman says.

"The biblical story was written down later than the time of the Moabite king referred to in the Mesha Stele," Prof. Römer adds. "But to proffer a sense of authenticity to his story, its author must have integrated into the plot certain elements borrowed from ancient reality, including the names Balaam and Balak."

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Press release from the American Friends of the Tel Aviv University


labor practices Middle East Allison Mickel Lehigh University

Better labor practices could improve archaeological output

Better labor practices could improve archaeological output

New analysis illuminates how much archaeological knowledge production has fundamentally relied upon site workers' active choices in responding to labor conditions

 

labor practices Middle East Allison Mickel Lehigh University
An excavation site in Petra, Jordan. Credit: Allison Mickel

Archaeological excavation has, historically, operated in a very hierarchical structure, according to archaeologist Allison Mickel. The history of the enterprise is deeply entangled with Western colonial and imperial pursuits, she says. Excavations have been, and often still are, according to Mickel, led by foreigners from the West, while dependent on the labor of scores of people from the local community to perform the manual labor of the dig.

In a recently published paper examining some of this history specifically in the context archaeological excavations undertaken in the Middle East? Mickel writes: "Even well into the 20th century, locally hired excavation workers continued to benefit little from working on archaeological projects, still predominantly directed by European and American researchers who paid extremely low wages and did not share their purpose, progress, hypotheses, or conclusions with local community members."

Over time, the teams have gotten smaller in size, but hiring and labor practices remain the same, explains Mickel, an assistant professor of anthropology at Lehigh University, who specializes in the Middle East.

"We haven't really changed the hierarchy of how we hire or the fact that workers are paid minimum wage--sometimes as little as a few dollars a day, which is not very much to spend even in their own context, for work that is dangerous and has a lot of risk to it," she says.

In a new paper, "Essential Excavation Experts: Alienation and Agency in the History of Archaeological Labor," published in Archaeologies: Journal of the World Archaeological Congress, Mickel illuminates the ways that nineteenth century archaeologists working in the Middle East managed local labor in ways that reflected capitalist labor management models. She focuses on two case studies from early Middle Eastern archaeology by examining the memoirs of two 19th century archaeologists: Italian archaeologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni, known for his work in Egypt, and British archaeologist Sir Austen Henry Layard, best known for his work in Nimrud, an ancient Assyrian city about 20 miles south of Mosul, Iraq.

Mickel's analysis reveals the different ways local laborers responded to similar conditions. Her examination ultimately reveals how much archaeological knowledge has fundamentally relied upon the active choices made by the local laborers who do the digging.

Divergent responses to exploitative labor practices

Mickel argues that the framework established by the German philosopher and economist Karl Marx of the capitalist mode of production can be seen in 19th century archaeological work in the Middle East and, in many ways, in archaeological projects today. This includes Marx's assertion that, she writes, "...the capitalist mode of production leads to workers experiencing a sense of powerlessness and an inability to fulfill the potential of their own skills, expertise, and abilities."

In Mickel's analysis, Belzoni's approach to securing and retaining local laborers for his work in Egypt, which began in 1816, exemplified the conditions of modes of production that lead to his workers' "...alienation in the Marxist sense," beginning with how little he paid them.

She writes: "Monetarily devaluing the archaeological work of native Egyptians in this way engenders an understanding that archaeological labor is quite literally of little worth--one that in Marx's view deeply impacts the self-image of the workers in a production process. Not only were the workers paid next to nothing for performing the manual labor of Belzoni's endeavors, they were also not involved in the conceptualization of the project. In the end, the antiquities were subsequently shipped thousands of miles away, challenging both ideologically and spatially any relationship between the workers and the archaeological objects being unearthed through excavation, as well as the knowledge gleaned from them."

Mickel also writes about Belzoni's use of strongarm tactics to maintain the workforce he employed. These include resorting to physical violence and bribery?strategies Belzoni used, in one example, on a foreman to force laborers to return to work during a strike.

During his famed excavation of the Memnon Head in 1816, Belzoni had to leave the site for an extended period of time in order to raise funds. He believed, writes Mickel, "...that the workers and their families were too lazy to dig on their own..."

"Indeed," she continues, "no substantial digging proceeded in Belzoni's absence by the time he returned. The reasons for this surely have nothing to with any indolence on the part of the native Egyptian workforce, but rather can be explained in terms of alienation."

In examining Layard's memoir, Mickel finds that although Layard worked in the same region and during the same time period as Belzoni, his workers' responded to similar working conditions very differently.

"Operating under extremely similar circumstances," writes Mickel, "the groups of workers examined here made very divergent decisions about how best to respond to an exploitative labor system, whether to rise up demonstratively against it or to resist the devaluation of their work by establishing themselves as essential to the production of artifacts and historical knowledge."

Layard's strategies for hiring and managing a local labor force had much in common with Belzoni's, including elements of capitalist labor relations modes such as low wages. Additionally, Layard's memoirs suggest "...that he viewed the total excavation endeavor as metaphorically signifying the superiority of Western civilization over Oriental peoples and cultures."

And yet Layard's workmen, explains Mickel, often appear in his writing as trusted experts in the excavation process: "These men developed impressive excavation abilities that Layard himself recognized, repeatedly hiring the same groups of people for season after season and site after site. One native Assyrian man whom he hired again and again, Hormuzd Rassam, ultimately went on to lead his own excavations on behalf of the British Museum at places like Nimrud and Nineveh; Rassam even published his own archaeological memoirs for popular distribution like Layard and other archaeologists of the time"

Mickel compares these two contexts and concludes: "Operating under extremely similar circumstances, the groups of workers examined here made very divergent decisions about how best to respond to an exploitative labor system, whether to rise up demonstratively against it or to resist the devaluation of their work by establishing themselves as essential to the production of artifacts and historical knowledge."

Focusing attention on the divergent decision these two groups of laborers made reveals how much is owed to archaeological workers' localized responses to a structure designed to maximize benefit to the archaeologists and minimize workers' control within the project, asserts Mickel.

She writes: "What would the archaeological record look like if this was not the case? How would archaeological knowledge be transformed if the means of its production were not controlled by archaeologists alone but shared with local stakeholders?"

Digging and questioning

As part of her work, Mickel supervises and participates in excavations in regions such as Petra, Jordan and Çatalhöyük, Turkey, while researching the history of archaeology and its contemporary practice.

Mickel has spent two to three months each summer in Turkey and Jordan, and between 2011 and 2015 spent a year at both sites, conducting dissertation fieldwork on a Fulbright grant.

"What I find in [Petra and Çatalhöyük] is relevant to a lot of other contexts because archaeology is fairly regional in its practice," she says.

Beyond digging, Mickel examines records of archaeological excavations for the individuals listed as site workers. She visits their homes and asks questions about the site workers' experiences on the excavations.

"I found that this system has led to one in which workers are doing this dance all the time in archaeology where they are integral to carrying out an excavation, they work for almost nothing, they are good at what they do, they have decades of experience in addition to generational knowledge that's been handed down. ... Most of these people, for context, their fathers worked in archaeology, their grandfathers worked in archaeology--it's almost like a family business for them to be there. So they have a ton of knowledge, but if I tell them how much I admire their expertise, they react really negatively to that label of expertise."

Mickel believes that an improvement of labor practices would benefit not just workers, but archaeology as a whole. She argues for ways in which the field could be producing better science if archaeologists were to change their labor practices.

"This isn't charity work," says Mickel. "If we want to have better archaeology, if we want to know more about the past, then we need to find ways to benefit from the knowledge that local people have been hiding for decades and decades and decades from us."

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Read more about this story in Lehigh's newsroom: Allison Mickel Examines the Limiting Labor Practices of Modern Archaeological Excavations.

 

Press release from Lehigh University


desert kites U2 spy plane Iraq Near East

Declassified U2 spy plane images reveal bygone Middle Eastern archaeological features

Declassified U2 spy plane images reveal bygone Middle Eastern archaeological features

Researchers from Penn and Harvard are the first to make archaeological use of U2 spy plane imagery, and have created a tool that allows other researchers to identify and access the Cold War-era photos

desert kites U2 spy plane Iraq Near East
FIGURE 12. Chains of desert kites as visible in U2 imagery from mission 1554, January 30, 1960 (Roll 14L, Frame 1783). Web map version at https://arcg.is/0jreeP.

In the 1950s and early '60s, with the Cold War at its peak, the United States flew U2 spy planes across Europe, the Middle East, and central eastern Asia, taking images of interesting military targets. Though the missions typically connected Point A to Point B, say an air field and an important city, in many cases the camera kept recording between those spots, capturing thousands of photos of the desert, steppes, fields, and villages below.

Such a collection can represent a goldmine for landscape archaeologists like Emily Hammer of the University of Pennsylvania and Jason Ur of Harvard University. But for decades, all film and documents from these missions--code-named CHESS by the U.S. government--remained classified. And even when they became public in 1997, they weren't indexed or scanned.

Until now, the majority of this kind of historical aerial documentation came from the CORONA spy satellite program, which the U.S. ran between 1959 and 1972. But only the highest-resolution CORONA images, taken during the program's final five years, are useful for most archaeological purposes. The U2 photos are earlier and a higher resolution than even the best CORONA images, offering the chance to see historical features undecipherable by CORONA or already gone by the time of those missions.

Knowing the potential insight offered by the U2 images, Hammer and Ur began sifting through the materials. By analyzing thousands of high- and low-resolution frames, they discovered many historical and archeological features, including prehistoric hunting traps, 3,000-year-old irrigation canals, and 60-year-old marsh villages no longer visible today. The work, which they published in the journal Advances in Archaeological Practice, represents the first archaeological use of U2 spy plane imagery--and a new and exciting window into history.

"The photos provide a fascinating look at the Middle East several decades ago, showing, for example, historical Aleppo long before the massive destruction wrought in the ongoing civil war," says Hammer, an assistant professor in Penn's Near Eastern languages and civilizations department. "Plus, the work and the accompanying online resources will allow other researchers to identify and access U2 photos for the first time."

Hammer and Ur have both conducted research in the Middle East for decades, in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They've also both used CORONA spy satellite imagery extensively. However, many of those image sets didn't date back as far as Hammer wished they would. "We knew that U2 spy planes must have taken thousands of images across large parts of the Middle East, but there was no easy way to access or reproduce the film negatives," she says.

A chance encounter with Lin Xu, a researcher who had retrieved U2 images of his hometown in China, led Hammer and Ur to press on. "Seeing the amazing quality of those archival photos," Hammer says, "we knew that it would be worth the detective work it would take to build a systematic index of them."

It wasn't an easy process. Ahead of time, they had to select the film rolls they wanted moved from the National Archives' storage center in Kansas to the aerial film section in Maryland. Once there, the researchers unspooled hundreds of feet of film over a light table to identify pertinent frames, then photographed the negatives in pieces using a 100-millimeter macro lens. Later, they stitched together and adjusted each frame, before geo-referencing the photos using GIS software to match up images with coordinates of real-world places.

Despite the tedium of some of the individual tasks, the process excited Hammer. "As you turn the spool of a film roll following the path of the U2 plane, you may not know exactly what you'll see in unfamiliar places, so there's often a sense of exploration and discovery," she says. "Other times, the pilots were flying over regions I knew by heart from travel and study, and I would almost hold my breath, hoping that the plane had veered just a little to the right or left."

The hours of work paid off, revealing many important archaeological features, including prehistoric hunting traps called desert kites in eastern Jordan, an Assyrian canal system in northern Iraq, and marshes in southern Iraq, case studies the researchers highlighted in their paper.

Desert kites, stone-wall structures that date back 5,000 to 8,000 years, were used to trap gazelle and other similar animals. The dry desert of eastern Jordan preserved many of them, but agricultural expansion in western Jordan dismantled or destroyed many more. The satellite images bring them back to life, showcasing a web of diamond-shaped enclosures with what look like long kite tails, offering the best view, to date, of these important hunting tools.

canal system Assyrians Iraq U2 spy plane Middle East
FIGURE 16. Ancient canals in northern Iraq: (a) U2 photograph of the subterranean canal above the Assyrian capital city of Nimrud (Mission 1554 Frame 398, January 29, 1960); (b) U2 photograph of Assyrian canals, tunnels, and sites at Negub (Mission 8648 Frame 853, October 30, 1959); (c) canals and site on the right bank of the Upper Zab River (Mission 1554 Frame 402, January 20, 1960). Web map version at https://arcg.is/uDb94; (d) DigitalGlobe image showing the growth of the modern town of Khabat over the features in 16c (June 2, 2016).

The second feature, the canal system in northern Iraq, provides insight into how an early empire maintained its power and governed, Hammer explains. "The Assyrians built the first large, long-lasting, multi-cultural empire of the ancient world, so many people are interested in how they organized territory, controlled people, built their huge cities, and managed the land," she says. "The irrigation system fed the royal capitals, made agricultural surplus production possible, and provided water to villages."

Finally, the U2 images of southern Iraq present the layout, size, and environmental position of Marsh Arab communities in the late 1950s and early 1960s, many of which disappeared after massive hydroelectric dams in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq impounded the rivers, and especially after the government of Saddam Hussein deliberately drained the marshes. Before that, "people lived a unique lifestyle there for thousands of years, herding water buffalo, building houses and all manner of things out of reeds, living on floating islands of reeds, planting date palms, and fishing," Hammer says. "Now we can study the spatial organization, demography, and lifestyles of these communities."

Though the three archaeological features represent different historical time scales, going back thousands of years or just decades, they all demonstrate how humans are changing the natural landscape, often in ways visible only from a 70,000-foot view.

Aerial images like those from the U2 spy missions allow archaeologists like Hammer and Ur to travel back in time. "The activities of ancient human communities frequently left large-scale traces on the landscape," Hammer says. "You can't see these patterns when you're standing on top of them, but just like stepping back from the blobs of paint on an Impressionist painting reveals the full picture, aerial and satellite imagery allow the patterns to emerge."

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Emily Hammer is an assistant professor in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also in the Anthropology and Art and Archaeology of the Mediterranean World graduate groups and is part of the Price Lab for Digital Humanities.

Jason Ur is a professor of anthropology in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University and director of its Center for Geographic Analysis.

 

Press release from University of Pennsylvania

Pictures and captions from the paper Near Eastern Landscapes and Declassified U2 Aerial Imagery, by Emily Hammer and Jason Ur, Advances in Archaeological Practice, published online: 12 March 2019; 2019 © Society for American Archaeology. The article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC BY 4.0.


Caelian Hill Ian Haynes Rome Transformed project Paolo Liverani

New research aims to transform study of eight hundred years of Rome

New research aims to transform study of eight hundred years of Rome

An international, interdisciplinary team led by Newcastle University's Professor Ian Haynes aims to revolutionise understanding of Rome and its place in the transformation of the Mediterranean World

Caelian Hill Ian Haynes Rome Transformed project Paolo Liverani
Caelian Hill, one of the Seven Hills of Rome, Italy

Emperors and Popes

The £2.1 million (€2.4 million) project funded by the European Research Council will pioneer a radically new methodology designed to analyse complex urban landscapes, exploring buildings buried up to 10 metres below the modern ground surface. Its focusses on a ‘forgotten’ quarter of Rome which, while omitted from most tourist itineraries, served as home to emperors and popes for generations. Between the first and eighth centuries AD, many of the most powerful people on earth lived in and around the Caelian Hill in the south-east of the city.

Drawing together diverse strands of data to visualise the way this area changed over eight centuries, the team will examine in detail the character of its many features, from palaces and the world’s first cathedral, to fortifications, aqueducts and private homes. Revealing in turn how these related to each other and to prevailing political, military and religious ideas, Professor Haynes and his team will transform the way major shifts in the chronological, geographical and ideological history of Rome are understood.

Ideological shifts

Ian Haynes Newcastle University
Professor Ian Haynes project director

Ian, Professor of Archaeology in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, who has directed archaeological investigations in the area around the Caelian Hill with Professor Paolo Liverani of the University of Florence for over 10 years – said:

“It is a tremendous privilege to be able to take this work forward. This grant not only allows us to develop a new cost-effective methodology applicable to the study of many of the world’s historic cities, delivering vital information to planners, heritage bodies, civil engineers, historians and archaeologists, it also helps us understand better some of the major ideological shifts that formed the world we live in.

“Over the course of this five-year project, we will be looking at the interplay of ideas, architecture, and infrastructure in the Caelian quarter to make the first ever large-scale assessment of the political, military and religious regenerations that emerged in this forgotten quarter of Rome. This matters because what happened here repeatedly shaped the development of Europe, the Middle East and north Africa”.

Rome Transformed

The project will involve colleagues from across Newcastle University, alongside the University of Florence, the British School at Rome and the National Research Centre for Italy’s Institute of Science for Cultural Heritage.

Involving extensive archival research, wide-ranging subterranean investigation, the largest geo-radar and laser scanning survey ever conducted in Rome, and using the latest digital 3D techniques, the Rome Transformed project will visualise five major transformations in the political, military and religious ideas that shaped ancient Rome over eight centuries.

Team members include archaeologists, architectural visualisers, botanists, computer scientists, engineers, geographers, geophysicists, historians, hydrologists and topographers.

 

Press release from the Newcastle University