University of Arkansas archaeologists have found evidence for the continuity of civilization across a time period when civilizations throughout the Middle East and elsewhere were collapsing. Their work occurred at Tell Qarqur, an important archeological site in the Orontes River Valley in northwestern Syria.
This image captures Tell Qarqur from the east
“This new evidence shows the survival of a city through this tumultuous period about 4,000 to 4,200 years ago,” said Jesse Casana, associate professor of anthropology. “Our discovery offers a rare glimpse of what cultures were during this transitional time and challenges ideas about the reasons for the collapse in the first place.”
The end of the third millennium B.C. – roughly 2200 to 2000 B.C. – is often described as a dark age because this period experienced the collapse of many major states, including the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, Old Kingdom Egypt and the Harappan culture of the Indus Valley. Major cities and small towns across the Middle East that had been occupied for centuries were suddenly abandoned, leaving a gap in the archaeological and historical record.
“Tells” are the name for ancient cities and towns, preserved today as large mounds, throughout the Middle East. Until the 1980s, little was known about Tell Qarqur, the site of two large mounds that archeologists know was occupied continuously for more than 10,000 years, from 8500 B.C. to the medieval period. Tell Qarqur experienced particularly large occupations during the Bronze and Iron Ages, from 3000 to 500 B.C.
The researchers are now trying to understand why Tell Qarqur survived, when nearly all civilizations in the region during that time collapsed. Some anthropologists have attributed the demise of these settlements to widespread drought. If there was a drought, Casana said, the important question was how it affected the environment and ancient communities, that is, how susceptible were their agricultural strategies to drought and did they adapt to changing conditions? These are some of the questions Casana seeks to answer with continued research at the site.