The Swamps of Home: Marsh Formation and Settlement in the Early Medieval Near East

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
A. Asa Eger, Assistant Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: In studies of settlement and landscape archaeology in the Near East, marshes have only recently featured in discussions, having often been relegated to the liminalized frontiers of settlement: the uninhabitable wildernesses occupying the edges of both town and countryside. This is in contrast to the larger role played by marshes and bogs in Europe and Central and South America for settlement and land use. However, evidence from archaeological survey, coring and excavation, primary sources, and ethnographic studies has suggested that marsh wetlands in the Near East featured prominently in the human landscape. They were areas that were rich in renewable natural resources and provided transportation corridors and zones of settlement. In pursuing the evidence for wetland formation, a noticeable pattern arises during the Early Medieval period (the end of the Late Roman period through the beginning of the Early Islamic period, sixth to eighth centuries) when marshes form and develop consistently, encompassing significant parts of otherwise prime lowland areas for cultivation. 1 While low-lying regions, where marshes appear, have in all cases been susceptible to becoming periodic and seasonal wetlands, the Late Roman/Early Islamic marshes characteristically (a) became permanent all year round rather than seasonal, and often contained a body of standing water or lake; (b) continued to expand; and (c) all formed concurrently (roughly between the fifth and eighth centuries) throughout the Near East. In examples from both the Near East and Pre-Columbian civilizations,2 the causes for this have been debated as either natural (due to climatic shifts and seasonal inundations) or anthropogenic (due to increased land exploitation and intensive cultivation). With respect to the latter, a strong link is established between the potential human-induced factors for marsh formation and its use as a mode of subsistence.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2011
near eastern studies, archaeology, human settlement, marsh formation, landscape archaeology

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