In this issue we are introducing some new themes to the newsletter. One of these new themes is called Congratulations. In each issue we will bring you the news of an assyriologist or archeologist who has, for example, published their first book, received an award, or, as is the case this time, defended their PhD!
For our first installment of this new recurring theme, we would like to congratulate Dr. Jaafar Jotheri on obtaining his PhD degree in Geoarchaeology from Durham University last month.
Tracking ancient river courses
For the last four years Jotheri has worked on the reconstruction of the ancient courses of the Tigris and the Euphrates in the Mesopotamian floodplain, which covers most of the central and southern parts of Iraq. The focus of his project lies on tracing palaeochannel courses, determining when these palaeochannels were active, and understanding the patterns of avulsion and their impact on the human settlements of ancient civilisations.
Jotheri has carried out this research using a combination of geological, geomorphological, remote sensing, historical and archaeological approaches. Fieldwork included “groundtruthing” of the remote sensing work. A total of 37 boreholes were dug, sedimentary and geomorphologic documentation were carried out, and 25 shell samples were collected and analysed by radiocarbon dating.
Rivers shifting across millennia
This study has reconstructed palaeochannels and archaeological sites within the area of southern Mesopotamia, identifying intensive networks of palaeochannels and archaeological sites within the area under study. More than 8,000 archaeological sites have been plotted during this study, and most of them show a location and alignment consistent with an identified palaeochannel.
Eleven major river avulsions (changes in the river course, ed.) have been identified, five for the Euphrates and six for the Tigris. Jotheri found that these avulsions contributed to the shaping, formation and aggradation of both the ancient and present–day landscapes of the floodplain. Two kinds of avulsion have taken place in the floodplain, re-occupational and progradational.
These avulsions have affected the distribution, flourishing and degradation of human settlements of the southern Mesopotamian civilisations. The study has demonstrated how human impact played a leading role in shaping both the Holocene and the recent landscapes of the Mesopotamian floodplain. Jotheri has found that by using periods of human occupation of archaeological sites to date associated palaeochannels, we can achieve an acceptable accuracy for their timing and duration, and gain clear indications about the activity of a given channel.
More than 8,000 archaeological sites have been plotted during this study, and most of them show a location and alignment consistent with an identified palaeochannel.
Growing up between the rivers
An interesting aspect of this project is that Jotheri was able to draw on his personal experience in the course of this study, as he grew up in an agricultural family in the Babylon Province in the south of Iraq, and until 2003, he himself worked with a primary style of irrigation system.
For example, in his project he mentions one example from this personal experience. In 1991, during the Second Gulf War, farmers in his village Jother (to the south of the Babylon Province) tried to breach the modern Hilla river levee by themselves, without permission or supervision from the Iraqi Water Agency. They dug a small canal to feed the original canal which had desiccated. When they had finished digging the small canal and joined it to the original one, water started flowing rapidly in the small canal and the erosion on its banks increased, widening the canal and increasing the discharge. The water overflowed the banks and the downstream area of the small canal flooded. The farmers tried to close the canal with sand bags but the situation became uncontrollable. Finally, they managed to fill the opening of the small canal – by using an excavator truck!
Jotheri was able to draw on his personal experience in the course of this study, as he grew up in an agricultural family in the Babylon Province in the south of Iraq, and until 2003, he himself worked with a primary style of irrigation system
This episode is perhaps a neat illustration of Jotheri’s argument: that human settlements both affect and are affected by the flowing of the rivers. With his PhD now successfully completed, there is but one thing for us to say: Congratulations!
All images courtesy of Jaafar Jotheri.