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THE ANCIENT ENVIRONMENT


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.

 




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