Research finds crisis in Syria has Mesopotamian precedent

Research carried out at the University of Sheffield has revealed intriguing parallels between modern day and Bronze-Age Syria as the Mesopotamian region underwent urban decline, government collapse, and drought.

Dr Ellery Frahm, University of Sheffield Department of Archaeology

Dr Ellery Frahm from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Archaeology made the discoveries by studying stone tools of obsidian, razor-sharp volcanic glass, crafted in the region about 4,200 years ago.

Dr Frahm used artefacts unearthed 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.

“Unfortunately,” explained Dr Frahm, “the situation four thousand years ago has striking similarities to today. Much like the fall of the Akkadian Empire, a governmental collapse is a real possibility in Syria after nearly two years of fighting. 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. But it isn’t just climate change that is the problem. Farming, rather than herding, has been encouraged at unsustainable levels by the state through land-use policies, and as occurred during urbanisation four millennia ago, populations have dramatically increased in the area.”

The diverse origins of the obsidian tools, which date from the rise of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia to several centuries after its fall, revealed how social networks and trading routes evolved during this period.

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