Two seasons of work have now been conducted by British and French survey teams, in conjunction with members of the Libyan Antiquities Department, under the charge of Dr. Abdullah Shaiboub. The objectives of the survey are to locate, survey and analyse the extensive remains of the ancient agricultural settlements that can be found in the wadis of the hinterlands of Tripolitania and the Sirtica. Within the framework established by the Department in cooperation with Unesco lies the archaeological aim of recording the evidence for periods when extensive areas of the pre-desert were, for whatever reasons, cultivated in ways that are not similarly practised today. In the longer term the programme is designed to locate those areas where modern farming might be re-established. Archaeology is thus brought into line with the aims of the modern world.
For the purposes of this report we intend to concentrate on the period which we call the Romano/Libyan in which the great majority of those farming settlements flourished. The prehistoric evidence is in any case mainly of the palaeolithic period, on which there is a separate section.
The preferred zone of settlement in Tripolitania has traditionally been the well watered coastal plain and the adjacent limestone hills of the Tarhuna Gebel as far south as the town of Beni Ulid, for these regions have more than 200 mm of rain a year, regarded as the threshold for settled farming without irrigation. Prehistoric settlement concentrated here, and mixed farming has probably characterised this zone from the fourth millennium b.c. In the Roman period the coastal cities like Sabratha and Leptis Magna were supported by prosperous farms on the plain and in the Gebel. In the Islamic period, too, the same region was densely settled.
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