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Neolithic Tell Brak (Ancient Nagar -- Nawar) on the Khabur River in NE Syria

Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research
Tell Brak Project --- McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge

Selected Excerpt on Tell Brak

The Uruk Expansion: Cross Cultural Exchange in Early Mesopotamian Civilization
Guillermo Algaze in Current Anthropology Volume 30:5:1989 (571-608)

A tell site of circa 30 hectares on the Khabur River in northeast Syria overlooking an important river crossing. Material from the Halaf and Ubaid periods indicates a long history but the site is best known for its sequence of rich temples of the late Uruk and Jemdet Nasr periods when it was clearly an important centre. Most famous of all is the so-called Eye Temple, richly decorated with clay cones, copper panels and gold work in a style very similar to that found in the contemporary temples of Sumer in Mesopotamia. Later in the 3rd millennium BC Tell Brak became a provincial capital of the Akkadian Empire; the palace of Naramsin of this period was more of a depot for the storage of tribute and loot than a residential seat. The city was plundered after the fall of the Akkadian Empire but the palace was rebuilt in the UR III Period by Ur Nammu ... (AHSFC)

How Agriculture Developed in Northern Mesopotamia --- Archaeology Magazine (October 03 2017)

TELL BRAK in SYRIA---Science Nordic reports that a new study of grains excavated from ancient cities in northern Mesopotamia is giving archaeologists a new picture of how agriculture developed in the area. A team led by Oxford University archaeologist Amy Styring measured the stable isotopes of 276 grain samples taken from the Syrian site of Tell Brak, as well as four other settlements dating from 6500 to 2000 B.C. They compared the results with modern samples grown under controlled conditions which allowed them to assess how much manure was used to cultivate the grains. Among their findings was that as the cities grew in size farmers cultivated larger areas and used less manure, in contrast with southern Mesopotamia where irrigation became widespread and the land was farmed very intensively.

Urbanization at Tell Brak in Syria --- Archaeology Magazine (2008)

Archaeologists have long believed that the world's oldest cities lay along the fertile riverbanks of southern Mesopotamia in what is now Iraq. There in a land of plenty, went the idea, powerful kings began coercing their subjects to live together some 6000 years ago. Their great invention -- the city -- later spread throughout the Near East. But last August Harvard University archaeologist Jason Ur and two British colleagues turned that idea on its head. Their intensive field survey and surface collection of potsherds at the site of Tell Brak in northern Syria revealed that an ancient city rose there at exactly the same time as urban centers first sprouted up in southern Mesopotamia, but followed a very different model of development. "Urbanism" says Ur "is not one brilliant idea that occurred one place and then diffused.

Original Article: Isotope evidence for agricultural extensification reveals how the world's first cities were fed
in Nature Plants 05 June 2017 (PDF)

This study sheds light on the agricultural economy that underpinned the emergence of the first urban centres in northern Mesopotamia. Using δ13C and δ15N values of crop remains from the sites of Tell Sabi Abyad, Tell Zeidan, Hamoukar, Tell Brak and Tell Leilan (6500–2000 cal bc), we reveal that labour-intensive practices such as manuring/middening and water management formed an integral part of the agricultural strategy from the seventh millennium bc. Increased agricultural production to support growing urban populations was achieved by cultivation of larger areas of land, entailing lower manure/midden inputs per unit area—extensification. Our findings paint a nuanced picture of the role of agricultural production in new forms of political centralization. The shift towards lower-input farming most plausibly developed gradually at a household level, but the increased importance of land-based wealth constituted a key potential source of political power, providing the possibility for greater bureaucratic control and contributing to the wider societal changes that accompanied urbanization.

The emergence of the first urban centres represents a pivotal moment in human history and much research has focused on changes in the political, social and productive economy that accompanied and likely contributed to this change. In this study we consider the stable carbon isotope (δ13C) and nitrogen isotope (δ15N) values of 276 charred cereal grain and 44 pulse seed samples from the sites of Tell Sabi Abyad -- Tell Zeidan -- Hamoukar -- Tell Brak and Tell Leilan, located in the Khabur and Balikh drainage basins in northern Mesopotamia and dating to between 6500 and 2000 BC. This allows us to investigate how the staple economy supported the new population centres that emerged in the fourth and third millennia BC in northern Mesopotamia and thus to reconsider wider debates surrounding the agroecology of early urbanism, its sustainability and the role of political centralisation in shaping some of the world’s earliest urbanized landscapes.

(1) A Thousand Years of Farming: Late Chalcolithic Agricultural Practices at Tell Brak in Northern Mesopotamia by Mette Marie Hald --- BAR International Series (2008)

Chapter 1 Introduction

The present volume focuses on the agricultural developments in Late Chalcolithic northern Mesopotamia from the perspective of a major settlement in the region, Tell Brak in modern northeast Syria (Figure 1.1).

Agriculture formed the basis of the economy of ancient Near Eastern communities; a study of the crop husbandry practices of Tell Brak can potentially identify the plant economy of the site including the crops present in the settlement and methods of crop processsing and use. Any agricultural responses to changes in the socio-political system, known from the archaeological evidence to have taken place during the Late Chalcolithic, can also be assessed. These responses may be able to give us an indication of the wider economic responses to societal change during the Late Chalcolithic.

The Late Chalcolithic is a period of far-reaching changes in many aspects of life in Mesopotamia. On the southern alluvial plain (present day Iraq) the first city states appear, among them the city of Uruk which grows to become the largest of the cities in the south. The growth of cities coincides with evidence for elaborate ritual building complexes, an increasingly class-stratified society, industrial specialisation and multi-tiered administration which includes the invention of writing.

In northern Mesopotamia signs of an increasingly complex society appear including the growth of some towns into large urban centres within a multi-tiered settlement hierarchy with elaborate architecture and evidence for complex administration and manufacturing specialisation and participation in long-distance exchange networks. In the later half of the Late Chalcolithic settlements are also established in the north which carry distinct southern Mesopotamian features --- the material remains of the so-called “Uruk Expansion” (See Excerpt Above --- Algaze 1989 and 1993) or “Uruk Phenomenon” (Collins 2000). These enclaves vary from small districts within northern indigenous settlements with mixed southern and local material assemblages to seemingly independent isolated settlements covering the full range of southern Mesopotamian material culture. They are sometimes thought to have been established by southern Mesopotamian settlers with the purpose of securing trade relations between southern and northern Mesopotamia. There are however doubts as to the character of this southern intrusion on the north, especially whether the southern material culture should be viewed as the remains of a process of southern conquest or colonization or a less dramatic process of acculturation following reciprocal interaction between the communities of the two regions.

The archaeobotanical record of the Near East suffers from a lack of reported Late Chalcolithic plant remains. The large amounts of well-preserved charred plant remains at Tell Brak however provide us with much needed information on Late Chalcolithic agricultural practices. Comparisons can then be made with the limited amount of material recovered from other contemporary sites in the Near East.

The archaeological focus of this volume, Tell Brak, is a multi-period settlement with extensive Late Chalcolithic occupation levels. An almost complete chronological sequence from the Late Chalcolithic has been excavated on the site which allows us to follow not only the growth of the settlement from a town to a regional centre in the beginning of the Late Chalcolithic but also, in the later half of the Late Chalcolithic, the arrival of southern Mesopotamian material culture -- possibly southern settlers -- to this northern settlement and the effects a southern presence may have had on the local community.

Chapter 2 Environmental setting of the study

2.1. Introduction

The main area of the present study is northern Mesopotamia. The geographical division between northern and southern Mesopotamia can be set along a line between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers by the towns of Hīt and Samarra (Fig. 2.1) where the southern alluvial plain meets the limestone plateau of the Jezira (Lloyd 1984:14). The environmental diversity of Mesopotamia is the cause of a material diversity in terms of the variation in number and range of natural resources which has again created a cultural division of north and south, which is visible throughout the history of the region (Frangipane 1997:46).

(1) A Thousand Years of Farming: Late Chalcolithic Agricultural Practices at Tell Brak in Northern Mesopotamia by Mette Marie Hald --- BAR International Series (2008)

Tell Brak Project: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University

The Archaeology of Mesopotamia from the Old Stone Age to the Persian Conquest by Seton Lloyd (1984)

A 4th-millennium temple/palace complex at Arslantepe/Malatya: North-south relations and the formation of early state societies in the northern regions of Greater Mesopotamia by M Frangipane in Paléorient Volume 23/1:45-73 (1997)

The History of the Ancient Near East Electronic Compendium