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27 December 2012
Crisis in Syria has Mesopotamian precedent

Research carried out at the University of Sheffield (UK) has revealed parallels between modern day and Bronze Age Syria, as the Mesopotamian region underwent urban decline, government collapse, and drought.
     "Unfortunately," explains archaeologist Dr Ellery Frahm, "the situation four thousand years ago has striking similarities to today. Some archaeologists and historians contend that the Akkadian Empire was brought down by militarism and that violence ended its central economic role in the region. Additionally, farming in north-eastern Syria today relies principally on rainfall rather than irrigation - just as in the Bronze Age - and climate change has already stressed farming there."
     Dr Frahm studied stone tools of obsidian crafted in the region about 4,200 years ago, from the archaeological site of Tell Mozan (known as Urkesh in antiquity) to trace what happened to trade and social networks when Bronze Age Syrian cities were abandoned in the wake of a regional government collapse and increasing drought due to climate shifts.
     "Our discovery that obsidian in Urkesh came from six different volcanoes before the crisis, whereas they normally came from just two or three at surrounding sites, implies that Urkesh was an unusually cosmopolitan city with diverse visitors, or visitors with diverse itineraries. During the crisis, however, obsidian only came from two nearby sources, suggesting that certain trade or social networks collapsed. It was two or three centuries before diverse obsidian appeared again at this city, and even then, it came from different quarries, signalling the impact the crisis had on trade and mobility throughout the wider region."
     "One compelling interpretation of our findings is that the regional government of the Akkadian Empire shaped Urkesh's local economy. With climate shifts and the end of the empire, Urkesh's inhabitants might have had to refocus their economy on local production and consumption, covering their own needs rather than engaging in specialised long-distance trade."

Edited from The University of Sheffield, EurekAlert! (18 December 2012)

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