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Durham University

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Publication details

Deckers, Katleen, Polisca, Federico, Riehl, Simone, de Gruchy, Michelle & Lawrence, Dan (2021). Impact of anthropogenic activities on woodland in northern Syria (4th-2nd millennia BC): Evidence from charcoal assemblages and oak measurements. Environmental Archaeology

Author(s) from Durham

Abstract

In this paper charcoals from the Syrian sites Tell Mozan and Tell Jerablus are investigated to understand the impact of 4th to 2nd millennium BC settlement and urbanization on the vegetation. In total 18,786 charcoal fragments from these sites have been identified and additionally oak charcoals have been measured for their maximal diameter and annual ring widths. Our results show that while oak had reached its maximal expansion in the Mid-Holocene, and vegetation in the Euphrates Valley was lusher than today, strong anthropogenic impact on the vegetation was occurring, probably already prior to the Late Chalcolithic period. Due to potentially enormous herds of sheep and goat, and possibly large-scale agriculture with perhaps some understory cropping, oak was growing very slowly, to the degree that it must often have had a shrub-like appearance. People did not apply systematic oak woodland management practices, such as coppicing or pollarding. They used dung as an additional fuel, probably to cover for shortages in wood resources. The land appears to have been used both intensively and extensively to a degree that was not sustainable in the long term, especially in the Early Bronze Age. Overgrazing and unsustainable agricultural practices increased desertification and made the political, settlement and provisioning systems vulnerable to collapse. This, combined with aridity impact on the oak, probably led to a decrease in oak proportion at Mozan in the Middle Bronze Age, which matches with the contemporary regional increase in desert-steppe environments observed from the seed data.