Between the Rivers and the Sea: Locating the Head of the Persian Gulf in the Lower Southern Mesopotamian Alluvial Plain, c.3000-139 BCE

01st December 2007

D’arne O’Neill

GDArts(Hons), Department of Archaeology, School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry, University of Sydney, November 2006

The thesis examines the location of the head of the Persian Gulf in the lower southern Mesopotamian landscape c.3000 BCE to the end of the Seleucid period (139 BCE) after the worldwide Holocene rise in sea-levels. It reconstructs a series of hypothesised shorelines on a NASA Landsat 7 satellite image 2000 through integrating three data sets – geomorphological, textual and archaeological. Locating the shoreline is important as without that knowledge it is difficult to assess the environmental constraints and advantages under which early Mesopotamian civilisation developed and flourished. This is even more important in the lower southern alluvial plain as one of its enduring physical characteristics is its very low gradient. Sterile soil at the Eanna sounding at Uruk was 0.99m above mean sea-level giving the area an elevation of around 1m when it was first occupied. Given such a low-lying landscape even a small change in sea-level would have had major implications for location of the shoreline and related settlement. Current scholarship has the sea-level incursion over by the beginning of the third millennium and the thesis concentrates on the following phases of sea-level change and discusses the relative importance of the rivers and the sea in the evolution of the area as the shoreline receded and the Tigris-Euphrates prograded their delta. In particular reconstructed ‘snapshots’ of the hypothesised location of the Gulf are mapped for three periods, Ur III (2100-2000 BCE), the reign of Rim-Sin 1 in the Isin-Larsa period (1822-1763 BCE) and during Sennacherib’s sixth campaign (c.696 BCE). While it is not often possible to do more than infer the location of the shoreline, it is clear that the lower southern alluvial plain was not inundated or ‘empty space’ but a viable settled lacustrine landscape, 3000–139 BCE.

D'Arne O'Neill
Between the Rivers and the Sea: Locating the Head of the Persian Gulf in the Lower Southern Mesopotamian Alluvial Plain, c.3000-139 BCE
December 2007
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Thesis Abstracts
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