Marshland of Cities: Deltaic Landscapes and the Evolution of Early Mesopotamian Civilization

Author(s): Jennifer Pournelle

Year: 2003


Prevailing theories of the evolution of early complex societies in southern Mesopotamia presume a uniform, arid landscape transited by Tigris and Euphrates distributaries. These theories hold that it was the seventh millennium BCE introduction of irrigation technologies from the northern alluvium to the south that began the punctuated evolution of Mesopotamian irrigation schemes. In this view, irrigation-dependent agro-pastoral production was the primary stimulus to urbanization and, millennia later, the emergence of city-states. In this dissertation, I cast serious doubt on the landscape characterization underlying this model. I argue that the archaic alluvial landscape of southern Iraq consisted in large part, not of desert or steppe, but of marshlands, and that this finding requires a comprehensive reassessment of southern Mesopotamian resource management strategies and their role in emergent complex polities. The earliest, largest, and longest-lived cities were founded and grew within and on the borders of marshlands. Large-scale irrigation was a later innovation, adopted in response to the dual processes of deltaic progradation and climate change that left cities stranded far upstream from their original resource base.

Cite this Record

Marshland of Cities: Deltaic Landscapes and the Evolution of Early Mesopotamian Civilization. Jennifer Pournelle. Doctoral Dissertation. University of California, San Diego, Anthropology. 2003 ( tDAR id: 380824) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8J67GK3



Temporal Coverage

Calendar Date: -6500 to -2500

Spatial Coverage

min long: 45.592; min lat: 31.224 ; max long: 45.692; max lat: 31.299 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Principal Investigator(s): Jennifer Pournelle

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