FollowupTo: sci.archaeology I haven't yet got hold of the current Science issue, but today

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From: (Michael L. Siemon) Message-ID: <> Followup-To: sci.archaeology Newsgroups:,sci.archaeology I haven't yet got hold of the current _Science_ issue, but today's (Tuesday's) NY Times has some further information: "The most revealing evidence has come from Tell Leilan, where Dr. Weiss has been excavating for 14 years and finding succes- sive layers of ruins going back some 8,000 years. For several millenia, this was a small village established by some of the world's first farmers. Around 2600 B.C.E., it suddenly expanded sixfold to become the city of Shekhna, with 10,000 to 20,000 inhabitants. They lived in the middle of a land of rainy winters, dry summers and a long growing season for wheat and barley, much as it is today. "All the more reason the kings of Akkad, or Agade, ... reached out and conquered places like Tell Leilan about 2300 B.C.E. The region became the breadbasket for the Akkadian empire... "...for years archeologists puzzled over the 300-year gap in human occupation of Tell Leilan and neighboring towns, beginning in 2200 B.C.E. It occurred to Dr. Weiss that since no irrigation works had been uncovered there, the region must have relied on rain-fed agriculture, as is the case there today, in contrast to the irrigated farming in southern Mesopotamia. A severe drought, therefore, could be disastrous to life in the north. "The idea was tested by Dr. Courty, using microscopic techniques she pioneered in a scientific specialty, soil micromorphology. By examining in detail the arragenment and anture of sediments at archeological sites, it is possible to reconstruct ancient environmental conditions and human activity. "One of the first discoveries was a half-inch layer of volcanic ash covering the rooftops of buildings at Tell Leilan in 2200 B.C.E. All ash falls leave distinctive chemical signatures. An analysis by Dr. Guichard traced the likely source of this potassium-rich ash to volcanoes a few hundred miles away in present-day Turkey" [hah! that's what I had guessed.] "Since the abandonment of Tell Leilan occurred at the same time and the climate suddenly became more arid, volcanic fallout was first suspected as the culprit... But from their knowledge of recent volcanoes, scientists doubted that the eruptions could have perturbed the climate over such a large area for 300 years. "And there seemed no doubt that the drought lasted that long, Dr. Courth said. In the surrounding countryside at Tell Leilan and elsewhere, she examined a layer of soil nearly two feet thick and lying just above the volcanic ash. This layer contained large amounts of fine wind-blown sand and dust, in contrast to the richer soil in earlier periods. Another telltale sign was the absence of worm holes and insect tracks, which are usually present in soils from moister environments. "This was strong evidence, the researchers reported, of a 'marked aridity induced by intensification of wind circulation and an apparent increase' of dust storms in the northern plains of Meso- potamia. "It was during the 300-year desertification that archives of the southern cities reported the migration of barbarians from the north and a sharp decline in agricultural production, and showed an increasing number of names of people from the northern tribes, mainly the Amorites. "According to the evidence of the sediments, rain in more abundance returned to northern Mesopotamia in 1900 B.C.E. and with it the tracks of earhtworms and the rebuilding of the deserted cities. Over the ruins of Shekhna... rose a new city named Shubat Enlil... The builders were Amorites." The Times reports: "Other archeologists said the theory was plausible and appeared to provide the first logical explanation for the Akkadian downfall... In an article accompanying the report in _Science_, Dr. Robert McC. Adams, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution and an anthropolo- gist specializing in Mesopotamia, cautioned that Dr. Weiss and his colleagues had not thoroughly established the link between climate and the empire's fall. He questioned whether such widespread and persistent drought could be inferred from local soil conditions at a few sites. 'It will demand of other people in the field to either refute it or replicate it with their own work.' Dr. Adams said of the theory. 'And the only way to get people to pick up that challenge is for Weiss to stick his neck out. I applaud it.'" The Times also has a nice sidebar (and accurate, as far as I can tell!) on the surrounding chronology, from the appearance of Akkadian, through the rise of Agade and on to the (Amorite ruled) Babylon of Hammurapi's dynasty. -- Michael L. Siemon "We honour founders of these starving cities Whose honour is the image of our sorrow ... They built by rivers and at night the water -standard disclaimer- Running past the windows comforted their sorrow."


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