The climate change that took place in Mesopotamia around 2000 BC did not lead to war, but in fact led to the development of a new shared identity. Although increasing drought often leads to competition and conflict, there seems to be no evidence of this in northern Mesopotamia according to Dutch researcher Arne Wossink.
Wossink studied how the farmers and nomads in northern Mesopotamia -- currently the border area between Turkey, Syria and Iraq -- responded to the changes in climate that took place between 3000 and 1600 BC. He expected to find considerable evidence of competition: as food and water became scarcer the natural result could well be conflict. He discovered, however, that the farmers developed much closer bonds with the semi-nomadic cattle farmers.
Competition caused by rapid population growth
The archaeologist analysed previous finds from the area as well as ancient texts. His research shows the importance of not seeing climate as the only cause: human responses in particular play a major role. Wossink studied three regions and only one of these demonstrated traces of competition between settlements. However, the completion in this area was probably due to the strong population growth that was taking place there.
Access to trade
The farmers in northern Mesopotamia chose not to compete with one another, but to adapt to the circumstances. Wossink shows that the arrival of the Amorites, who had until that time been regarded as (semi-)nomadic, was not simply a process of infiltration. The rise in the Amorites should be seen as the spread of an identity that brought crop farmers and cattle farmers together. By adopting the Amoritic identity, the farmers gained access to a large trading network that was necessary to survive the period of drought.
The research carried out by Wossink is part of the multidisciplinary project on Settling the steppe. The archaeology of changing societies in Syro-Palestinian drylands during the Bronze and Iron Ages. This project aims to provide insight into the variety and stability of human habitation in marginal regions of the Near East. It is funded by NWO's Open Competition scheme.
Earlier this year, Wossink was awarded a Rubicon subsidy by NWO. Rubicon offers researchers who have recently obtained their doctorate the opportunity to gain experience at a top institute abroad.
Eva Kaptijn received her doctorate within the same project on 28 October 2009.
The above story is based on materials provided by NWO (Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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