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Drone Photos Give New Insight into Mesopotamian City Structure

A ground-penetrating eye in the sky has helped to rehydrate an ancient southern Mesopotamian city, tagging it as what amounted to a Venice of the Fertile Crescent. Identifying the watery nature of this early metropolis has important implications for how urban life flourished nearly 5,000 years ago between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, where modern-day Iraq lies.

Remote-sensing data, mostly gathered by a specially equipped drone, indicate that a vast urban settlement called Lagash largely consisted of four marsh islands connected by waterways, says anthropological archaeologist Emily Hammer of the University of Pennsylvania. These findings add crucial details to an emerging view that southern Mesopotamian cities did not, as traditionally thought, expand outward from temple and administrative districts into irrigated farmlands that were encircled by a single city wall, Hammer reports in the December Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

“There could have been multiple evolving ways for Lagash to be a city of marsh islands as human occupation and environmental change reshaped the landscape,” Hammer says.

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. For instance, waterways or canals crisscrossed one marsh island, where fishing and collection of reeds for construction may have predominated.

Two other Lagash marsh islands display evidence of having been bordered by gated walls that enclosed carefully laid out city streets and areas with large kilns, suggesting these sectors were built in stages and may have been the first to be settled. Crop growing and activities such as pottery making may have occurred there.

Drone photographs of what were probably harbors on each marsh island suggest that boat travel connected city sectors. Remains of what may have been footbridges appear in and adjacent to waterways between marsh islands, a possibility that further excavations can explore.

Read entire article at ScienceNews