Archive for August 4th, 2006

Ancient Travellers Used Highways, Spy Photos Show

Science, Sophistication of Ancestors, Uncategorized | Posted by Chris Parker
Aug 04 2006
Bronze Age Head
A Bronze Age diorite head from southern Turkey (Pic: Antakya Museum)

 

People of the Bronze Age traded and travelled more widely along a network of ancient highways in the the Middle East than previously thought, newly-released satellite images show.

About 5,000 years ago, wheeled wagons navigated wide dirt roads that extended dozens of kilometres across the fertile prairies of northern Iraq and what is now modern-day Syria and Turkey, and probably reached all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, American researchers said.

“We assumed that these ancient sites were pretty parochial, but in fact they were tied together by well-travelled highways,” said Associate Professor Tony Wilkinson, an archaeologist at the University of Chicago, who co-authored a paper on the findings to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Antiquity.

Domesticated agriculture was already well established by the Bronze Age period under study, having emerged thousands of years earlier further south in Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) where the physical evidence of trading routes disappeared long ago in the wetter soils.

To the drier north, remnants of the spoke-like system of roads were still readily visible when the satellite photographs were taken in the 1960s and 1970s by U.S. spy satellites searching the region for evidence of Soviet-sponsored missile sites. Taken at the height of the Cold War, thousands of the photos have been declassified in the past few years.

The detailed aerial views made it possible for the archaeologists to map the extensive network of roads linking Bronze Age towns that housed as many as 20,000 residents each.

Smaller byways that split off from the larger roads were likely used by ancient herders to direct their livestock past cultivated fields to pastures beyond, where the roads fade out – providing clues to the amount of land under cultivation and the size of the region’s agrarian economy, Wilkinson said.

Users of the ancient highways may have even been taxed, Wilkinson said, just like modern-day toll roads. Cuneiform texts written by the Akkadians, a ruling dynasty in southern Iraq, give the names of stopping places along the ancient roads.

“You get written itineraries for this period of the Akkadians who were constantly staging (military) campaigns through this area to the Mediterranean Sea. They even campaigned through to Cyprus,” Wilkinson said.