Central-Western Syria, one of the first areas of the country to be archaeologically
investigated, is located at the crossroads between the two most important
ancient trade routes of the Levant: the north-south itinerary from Anatolia
to Palestine and Egypt and the main east-west route from Mesopotamia through
the Syrian desert to the Mediterranean coast. Its central location within
the northern Levant accounts for the crucial role played by the region,
which is crossed by the River Orontes, throughout Syrian history.
Mishrifeh, ancient Qatna, was founded at the eastern edge of the green
Orontes Valley, in a region which gradually turns into the semi-arid steppe
of the Shamiyah. Due to its location, the site acted as a natural interface
linking different environments characterised by distinctive land use systems
and settlement patterns: irrigation agriculture and permanent settlement
in the river valley and dry-farming interlinked with semi-nomadism and
pastoral economy in the semi-arid region to the east of Mishrifeh.
The ancient city is located at the centre of a gently undulating plain
cut by the valleys of three small wadis which flow northwards and are
tributaries of the Orontes.
Today these wadis are dry most of the year and their discharge during
the rainy season is disproportionate to the actual size of their beds.
Geoarchaeological research carried out by M. Cremaschi, L. Trombino and
V. Valsecchi with the aim of reconstructing the ancient climate and natural
environment of the region and their evolution has shown that the wadis
originated in a wetter climate under conditions of higher availability
of water. These favourable conditions were present throughout the whole
region and permitted a dense occupation of the area, especially during
the Bronze and Iron Ages (c. 3000-600 BC).
During the survey carried out
by the Italian Component of the Joint Project, 24 archaeological sites
were identified in the Mishrifeh hinterland. These are regularly distributed
along the two wadis to the east (Wadi Mydan) and to the west (Wadi Slik)
of the site of Qatna, but not along the central wadi (Wadi Zorat) where
the city lay, with the exception of a cluster of four sites upstream of
Qatna. The sites were settled mainly during the Early Bronze Age IV and
Middle Bronze Age (c. 2400-1600 BC) and continued until the Iron Age (c.
1200-600 BC), or, in several cases, up to the Classical and Islamic periods.
The tells are generally located at the margin of or inside the river valleys
and their base is often surrounded by black organic soil deposits indicating
the former persistence of water in the form of ponds or small lakes. This
evidence strengthens the conclusion that water availability was a determinant
factor in the distribution of the sites and that settlements were founded
close to small bodies of water fed by the river network and karst springs.