New drone data has revealed that the southern ancient Mesopotamian city Lagash, located between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in modern-day Iraq, would have been consisting of four marsh islands linked by waterways.
Lagash was one of the world’s first settlements, dating back between 4,900 and 4,600 years. Residents abandoned the Tell al-Hiba site around 3,600 years ago. The site was first excavated more than 40 years ago.
Drone photos taken over a six-week period in 2019 offered a more detailed look at Lagash’s buried structures than satellite imagery has previously provided, including ruins of buildings, walls, streets, waterways, and other features near ground level.
According to anthropological archaeologist Emily Hammer of the University of Pennsylvania, remote-sensing data mostly gathered by the drone indicate that a major urban settlement called Lagash largely consisted of four marsh islands connected by waterways
These findings add crucial details to an emerging view that southern Mesopotamian cities did not, as previously thought, expand outward from temple and administrative districts into irrigated farmlands encircled by a single city wall, according to Hammer’s report in the December Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.
Because Lagash had no geographical or ritual center, each city sector developed distinctive economic practices on an individual marsh island, much like the later Italian city of Venice, she suspects. Waterways or canals, for example, crisscrossed one marsh island, where fishing and reed collecting for construction may have predominated.
These recent findings, published in the December issue of the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, shed light on the development of the vast urban settlement and present findings that challenge long-held assumptions about the origin and development of the world’s oldest urban centers, in southern Iraq.
Two further marsh islands appear to have been surrounded by gated walls that enclose carefully laid out streets and areas with large kilns, where agriculture and activities like as pottery making could have occurred. These sectors are thought to have been constructed in stages and may have been among the first to be settled.
Drone photos also revealed the remains of possible harbors and footbridges on each island for boat travel, which would have connected each sector. A massive temple was located on a smaller fourth island.
Previous research by anthropological archaeologist Jennifer Pournelle of the University of South Carolina in Columbia revealed that Lagash and other southern Mesopotamian cities were built on raised mounds in marshes. Using satellite pictures, archaeologist Elizabeth Stone of Stony Brook University in New York proposed that the city consisted of 33 small marsh islands.
The discontinuous, walled nature of urban districts would have had social and logistical ramifications for city inhabitants. A number of contemporary sites are characterized by several archaeological mounds, suggesting that early southern Mesopotamian cities were frequently spatially multi-centric.
More information: Hammer, Emily. “Multi-centric, Marsh-based Urbanism at the early Mesopotamian city of Lagash (Tell al-Hiba, Iraq).” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 68 (2022): 101458. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaa.2022.101458