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Ancient canal network is recasting archaeologists' understanding of the Assyrian capital

Ur takes a step back to see ancient networks
By Alvin Powell

Harvard News Office

Jason Ur: 'If you press your nose against a Monet, all you see is a blur. If you take a few steps back, you see lilies, you see bridges. For this reason, remote sensing data is really irreplaceable.' (Staff photos Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office)

The view from space of an ancient canal network is recasting archaeologists' understanding of the Assyrian capital of Nineveh and of the farming economy that supported it at its height of power almost 3,000 years ago.

The work of Assistant Anthropology Professor Jason Ur, detailed in the November/December issue of the archaeology journal Iraq, is casting doubt on the long-held belief that canals that brought water from springs and rivers far to Nineveh's north were mainly constructed to support the city's elaborate gardens.

Using declassified satellite photographs taken decades ago, Ur found what he believes is evidence of branches in the canals that indicate extensive agricultural irrigation in the lands north of Nineveh that scholars had thought dependent on rainfall for their annual production.

With irrigation, those fields would have been potentially far more productive than if they had been reliant on the vagaries of natural rain. Ur said the canals indicate that the farming system underlying what was then the Middle East's dominant empire was more complex and organized than previously thought.

There were likely smaller satellite cities in the areas where the canals branched, Ur said, some of which remain undiscovered or buried under modern villages.

"What I would guess is that there are undiscovered population centers there," Ur said. "The irrigation infrastructure is there to support larger settlements. We have to go and find them."

Satellite images of Tell Brak, Syria, led archaeologist Jason Ur to a deeper understanding of how ancient road networks moved food into the city.

Satellite photographs can be powerful tools for archaeologists in detecting broader patterns of settlement and networks that accompany ancient civilizations, such as roads and canals, Ur said.

An archaeologist trying to piece together these great works can walk the ground, digging to examine a promising mound here or an outcropping there. It helps, however, to step back from the landscape and look for patterns and structures that may be difficult or impossible to detect from the ground, where thousands of years of farming, road building, and urban development obscure all but bits and pieces.

"If you press your nose against a Monet, all you see is a blur. If you take a few steps back, you see lilies, you see bridges," said Ur. "For this reason, remote sensing data is really irreplaceable."

Low-level aerial photographs can serve a similar purpose as satellite photos, Ur said, but some nations don't allow archaeologists in, never mind flying over their countryside with a camera.

Further, he said, Cold War-era photographs allow researchers to look back in time at a landscape that may have been lost in the intervening years through urban development, military action, or other human activities.

Urban sprawl from the nearby Iraqi city of Mosul is a concern around Nineveh, which lies across the Tigris River. Already, Ur said, expansion of Mosul has obscured many features around Nineveh's clearly defined walls that were visible in satellite photos from the 1960s.

In addition to his work on Nineveh, Ur is examining the road system around the Bronze Age city of Tell Brak in northeastern Syria. The roads into the city, about 2,000 years older than Nineveh, probably arose spontaneously, Ur said, as people and goods flowed into and out of Tell Brak. Ur said he's detected a progression from the main city, to smaller satellite settlements, out to farms, to fields, and to pastures beyond.

"I'm interested in urban settlements and in how they were maintained and sustained," Ur said. "Irrigation, agriculture, networks of roads to satellite cities were probably very important to these early settlements because they were too large to sustain themselves."

In contrast to the natural growth of Tell Brak's road system, Nineveh's canals were public works, instigated and controlled by the central government, which at the same time was importing conquered people to act as labor. Ur said the Assyrians brought in not just men from the conquered lands, but whole families and villages, what he called entire "productive units."

"I see this as part of an overall demographic program, not only creating a new landscape, but also importing the labor to work it," Ur said.

Ur is a year into a new project in northwestern Iran, examining a new system of canals there thought to have been built by the Sasanian Empire, which battled Rome and the Byzantine Empire in the Middle East.

The researchers found the Sasanian canals from the satellite photographs, but also noticed small, brightly colored rings of what looked like stones dotting the landscape. On their first field expedition, in January 2005, Ur said they discovered the rings were circles of large holes - each hole about 6 feet wide - dug into the ground with earth mounded around them.

Researchers believe the holes were winter quarters for livestock, and the rings of holes represented winter campgrounds for pastoral people who spent summers in the nearby mountains.

Many of these ancient campsites have been destroyed by farming and development in the years since the photographs were taken, Ur said, making the satellites a valuable resource to understand how the land was used by ancient people. Without evidence from the photographs and a visit to investigate remaining campsites, the visible canals would have left evidence of the landscape's agricultural past, but remained silent on the land's use by ancient herding people.

"This is what I find interesting," Ur said, "how structures emerged."


Who are the Christians of Iraq? 

 An ancient prayer in apreciation of the months in a year

"Through your mercies, Lord, may the months
be for us the source of joy, the years, of delight;
let them bequeath to us in peace, O Lord:
Nisan has its flowers, Iyyar its lilies too,
Haziran its sheaves, Tammuz its heaps of grain;
let Ab and Illul bring along grape-clusters on poles,
let the two Teshris give response to each other in the grape pressing;
let the two Kanuns bring rest, Shebat and Adar, the Fast.
To you, Lord, be the praise."

March = Addar (a as in Art) 

Investigating canals across time, from space March 17, 05

Turkey Should not Deny the Truth if it wants to be believed March 16, 06

Assyrian Genocide on The Liberal Party's Agenda in Sweden March 15, 06

Turkish Large-Scale campaign Project 2006 - so called "The Lie of the Armenian and Assyrian Genocide." March 15, 06

Announcing the American Premiere of ASSYRISKA: A National Team Without A Nation March 14, 06

Turks' planned demonstration in Berlin stopped March 14, 06

US government report on Iraq's human rights Iraq, Politics March 13, 06

Another Priest attacked in Turkey March 13, 06

Assyrian Elected President of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences March 13, 06

In Syria's prison without cause for More than 20 Years  March 12, 06

Muslim's Blunt Criticism of Islam Draws Threats March 11, 06

An Interview with Rosie Malek-Yonan by March 11, 06


Will You be an Assyrian Actor? March 8, 06

In Turkey Assyrians/Syriacs are being robbed of property they owned for thousands of years March 8, 06

Iraqi Women Attacked for Removing Headscarves, NGO Says March 7, 06

Car bomb in Turkey injures Assyrian March 6, 06


"Christians do not wants to leave Iraq for good" March 4, 06

Iraqi Catholics Donate to Rebuild Samarra Mosque March, 3, 06

Relatives and friends gather at store where 2 were slain March 3, 06

A Preliminary Investigation into Assyrian Identity March 3, 06

Firodil Institute Meets The Christian Fair Trade Group March 2, 06 

UNESCO funding reconstruction of destroyed mosques but not Churches March 2, 06

Christian Churches in Iraq Subjected to Synchronized Terrorism March 1, 06

February = Eshvadt 

A better System of Government for Iraq Feb 28, 06

Exiled in a Museum, the Dream of Peace  Feb. 26, 06

Kurdish Minister Has No Objection to Assyrian Christian Administrative Area Feb. 25, 06

Vatican to Muslims - practise what you preach Feb. 24, 06

The tombs of Ur reveal treasures Feb. 23, 06

Rosie Malek-Yonan To speak at Berkely University Feb. 23, 06


Assyrian movie at the multimedia theater in Ankawa  Feb. 21, 06

Policies and Politics Iraq Three years on Feb. 21, 06

The Roman Catholic Church Role in Promoting Chaldean identity for the Catholic Assyrians Feb. 18, 06

Assyrians of Netherlands Concerned About Refugees Being Sent Back  Feb. 17, 06

Terrorism against Christianity in Pakistan Feb. 17, 06

Brought Up To Hate Feb. 17, 06

Christian and Muslim Victims of Violence  Feb. 17, 06

Assyrian-Americans Reach Out to Relatives Displaced By Iraq War Feb. 17, 06

Talabani: Autonomy for Turkmens in Kurdistan Feb. 16, 06

Ending the Exodus of Iraq's Most Vulnerable Feb. 15, 06

Christians targeted in cartoons row Feb. 14, 06

Muhammad Cartoon Protests Move Into Turkish Christian Town Feb. 14, 06

Press Release by the Assyrian Society of United Kingdom Feb. 13, 06

Iraqi Parliament Member Once Sentenced by Death of Hussein Feb. 12, 06

Iraq dignitary's visit marred by bomb threat Feb. 10, 06

SUA condemns the violence and terror against the Christians of Iraq  Feb. 10, 06

We Are Not Arab-Americans Feb. 10, 06

An Interview with Yonadam Kanna Feb. 9, 06

Lebanon bishops express solidarity with Iraqi Christians Feb. 9. 06

Ba-oota d' Ninevayee or the Fast of the Ninevites Feb. 8, 06

Chaldo-Assyrian Iraqi lawmaker speaks to backers in El Cajon Feb. 8, 06

For Iraq's Persecuted Assyrians, a Safe Haven is the Only Solution Feb. 8, 06

The Christian Role on Iraq's Fragmented Streets Feb. 6, 07

Brotherhood of cabbies joins ranks to mourn murdered driver Feb. 6, 6

Iraq Islamic Group Asks Christians to Stop Prayers in Churches Feb. 6, 06

How do Mohammad's caricatures affect the Assyrians? Feb, 6, 06

Protesters Torch Danish Mission in Beirut and ransacked the Christian neighborhood Feb. 6.06

Ongoing Hidden Persecution of Christians In Iraq  Feb 5, 06

Protests Over Muhammad Drawings Intensify Feb. 3, 06 


Iraq Christians on Edge As Cartoon Row Escalates Feb. 3, 06

Enough Is Enough - Six Assyrian Christian Churches Bombed in Iraq! Feb. 2, 06

Proposal for an Assyrian Regional Government Basic Law Feb. 2, 06

Ghetto-blaster: Cantons for Assyrians and Yazidis along with the Turkomans Feb. 2, 06 

Christian Watchdog Groups Say Iraqi Christians 'Endangered,' Fear Mass Exodus Feb. 2. 06

Iraq Christians Urge Westerners to Refrain from Inflaming the Situation. Feb. 2, 06

Legislation seeks to limit NGOs in Iraq  Feb. 2, 06

January = Canoon Kharaya 

Iraq's Simultaneous bomb attacks killed 3 Christians Jan. 31, 06

British House of Commons Holds Hearing on Assyrian Genocide Jan. 31, 06

IRAQ: Sectarian tensions on the rise Jan. 31, 06

The World's Silence over Terrorizing Christians in Iraq Jan. 30, 06

Explosions target Christian churches in Iraq Jan. 30, 06

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Comments about Iraq Jan. 28, 06

Insurgents Driven From Tal Afar in Northern Iraq: US Commander Jan. 27, 06

Saga of Assyrians in Iran comes to life in works by Turlock artist Jan.27, 06

Azerbaijani Soldiers Desecrate Armenian Christian Cemetery Jan. 25, 06

Iraq's WMD Secreted in Syria, Says Former Iraqi General Jan. 25. 06

The Armenians appreciate the Assyrian efforts for Seyfo's recognition. Jan. 25, 06 

Cash meant for Iraqis 'misused' Jan. 25, 06

Explosion Rocks Baghdad's Assyrian District Jan. 25, 06

UC Berkeley Course "Assyrians, the Forgotten OnesJan. 25, 06

Moslem Protesters set Fire to a Christian House of Worship in Egypt Jan. 24, 06

Seyfo: Report of Conference at the House of Commons about the Armenian and Assyrian Genocide Jan. 24, 06


Kidnapping of the Assyrians in Iraq continues Jan. 23, 05

Praying in Jesus' Own Language Jan. 23, 06

Renowned Assyrian Scholar Erica Reiner Jan. 22, 06

How does Iran effect Assyrians in Turlock California? Jan. 21, 06

The Seyfo Seminar at the House of Commons Jan. 21, 06

ADO: An Apolitical Petty Bourgeois Organisation or a Mature Political Leadership? Jan. 21, 06

Ammo Baba: tied, eye-folded, beaten, and then robbed Jan. 20, 06

The Final Iraq's Election's Results! Jan. 20, 06

Tomb raiders Jan. 18, 06

The Assyrian Republican mayor , Man on the move  Jan. 18, 06

Donations For Allan Enwiyah Jan. 18, 06

Exhibition by the Assyrian artist Hannibal Alkhas Jan. 17, 06

Politics & Policies: Deconstructing Iraq Jan. 16, 06

Poly Sci Course on Assyrians Offered at UC, Berkeley Jan. 15, 06

Kurds focus on corruption in Kurdistan administration  Jan. 13, 06

Ecumenism and the Eucharist Jan. 13, 06

An Assyrian Coach of the Canadian Beaver Bruins hockey team Jan.12, 06

Turkey's massacre of the Assyrians and the Armenians Jan. 11, 06

New Iraqi Constitution May Limit Women's Freedoms Jan. 10, 06

The Boomerang Effect in Iraq: If 'Kurdistan', Why Not Assyria? Jan. 10, 06

Bishop's Report From the Assyrians of Iraq Jan. 9, 06

woman journalist abducted in Iraq, interpreter, killed jan. 9, 06

PanGlobal TV adds AssyriaSat to channel lineup Jan. 9, 06

Bishop Worrys About the future of the Christians in Iraq Jan. 7, 06

Major Terror Plot Against US Ignored By US Media Jan. 6, 06 Jan. 6, 06

U.S. troops deliver gifts to Iraq - school supplies Jan. 5, 06

Iraq Election Despair Spreads To Expatriates Jan. 5, 06

Assyriologist, Erica Reiner Dead at 81- 1924-2005 Jan. 4, 06

The Last Assyrians Jan. 3, 06

Egypt Appoints First Christian Governor in Three Decades Jan, 3, 06

If Only Rocks Could Talk!  Jan . 2, 06

Car bombs, fuel riots usher in New Year in Iraq Jan. 1, 06

Errors in Biblical Dating According to Ancient Assyrian records January 1, 06






















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