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Mesopotamia is often regarded the “cradle of civilization.” The development of water management practices in the region is thought to have played a key role in the emergence of these early civilizations. We present the first direct dating of a palaeo-canal system at the ancient city of Girsu, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) (occupied between 4800 and 1600 BC). We describe the use of archaeological and radiocarbon (14C) dating techniques to establish the age of this canal system. Our results show considerable differences between shell 14C dates on the one hand and charcoal 14C dates and archaeological evidence on the other. This likely reflects the impact of freshwater reservoir effects from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Although the FRE from rivers is widely acknowledged, its impact on 14C dates in Mesopotamia is rarely discussed and poorly understood. Our results provide a first indication of its variability and magnitude. With the publication of our results we aim to highlight the problem and re-initiate collaborative research efforts in improving 14C dating in this important region.
The Sumerian culture flourished within the Tigris and Euphrates rivers floodplains and along their deltaic systems, which ca. 6000 yr were located ~250–260 km inland from the present Persian Gulf. Here, large floodplains and marshes were crossed by an intricate network of channels where several human settlements developed. In this paper, we describe in detail the paleoenvironmental context where the site of Abu Tbeirah (third millennium BC) developed, near the Sumerian capital of Ur. Our interdisciplinary approach, based on remote sensing and the geomorphological study of the area, as well as on sedimentological, paleontological, and paleobotanical analyses of trenches and boreholes deposits, reveals that the site developed along a sinuous channel in a floodplain and marshy environment, where several crevasse splays occurred. This channel was cut off following a flood event. The abandoned portion of the channel was exploited by residents and used as a small river harbor. Our research contributes to better define how the landscape of the site changed over the course of its history and how humans exploited water resources of the area during occupation of the site, a process that was pivotal for the development of the Sumerian culture.
Recent fieldwork and archival sedimentary materials from southern Iraq have revealed new insights into the environment that shaped southern Mesopotamia from the pre-Ubaid (early Holocene) until the early Islamic period. These data have been combined with northern Iraqi speleothem, or stalagmite, data that have revealed relevant palaeoclimate information. The new results are investigated in light of textual sources and satellite remote sensing work. It is evident that areas south of Baghdad, and to the region of Uruk, were already potentially habitable between the eleventh and early eighth millennia B.C., suggesting there were settlements in southern Iraq prior to the Ubaid. Date palms, the earliest recorded for Iraq, are evident before 10,000 B.C., and oak trees are evident south of Baghdad in the early Holocene but disappeared after the mid-sixth millennium B.C. New climate results suggest increased aridity after the end of the fourth millennium B.C. For the third millennium B.C. to first millennium A.D., a negative relationship between grain and date palm cultivation in Nippur is evident, suggesting shifting cultivation emphasising one of these crops at any given time in parts of the city. The Shatt en-Nil was also likely used as a channel for most of Nippur's historical occupation from the third millennium B.C. to the first millennium A.D. In the early to mid-first millennium A.D., around the time of the Sasanian period, a major increase in irrigation is evident in plant remains, likely reflecting large-scale irrigation expansion in the Nippur region. The first millennium B.C. to first millennium A.D. reflects a relatively dry period with periodic increased rainfall. Sedimentary results suggest the Nahrawan, prior to it becoming a well-known canal, formed an ancient branch of the Tigris, while the region just south of Baghdad, around Dalmaj, was near or part of an ancient confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates.
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