Discovery of a 4,000-year-old military network in northern Syria

December 21, 2017, CNRS
Discovery of a 4,000-year-old military network in northern Syria
View of the thickness of the Qal'at al-Rahiyya northern wall. Credit: CNRS

The discovery of more than a thousand sites in Syria has revised our understanding of the settlement of the steppes during all periods in the history of the Near East. Recently, analysis of aerial and satellite images has enabled the discovery of a vast structured surveillance and communication network dating from the Middle Bronze Age (2nd millennium BCE). This research, led by researchers from the Archéorient laboratory (Environnements et sociétés de l'Orient ancien – CNRS/Université Lumière Lyon 2) and the Directorate-General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria, is published in the journal Paléorient on December 19, 2017.

The region explored by the Franco-Syrian mission "Marges arides de Syrie du Nord" is located to the east of Hama and extends across approximately 7,000 km2. Positioned at the threshold of the densely populated sedentary regions of the Fertile Crescent to the west, and the arid, nomad-inhabited steppes to the east, it has not been continuously exploited by the region's inhabitants. Here, the multidisciplinary team from the geo-archaeological mission has discovered particularly well-preserved sites, including a fortified surveillance network over the territory dating from the second millennium (-2,000 to -1,550). It is the first time that such an extensive fortified system has been discovered in the territory.

This structure, exceptional in its extent and designed to protect urban areas and their hinterlands, is composed of a series of fortresses, small forts, towers, and enclosures that run along the mountainous ridge which dominates the steppes of central Syria. The researchers' work suggests that the fortresses were made from large blocks on unsculpted basalt and formed walls several meters wide and high. In addition, each fortified site was positioned in such a way to ensure that it could see and be seen by others. The spatial organization of this network thus depended on the ability to communicate through light (or smoke) signals in order to rapidly convey information to the major centers of power. The purpose of this regional network would have been to defend the territory, to surveil and protect transport corridors and, above all, to protect the most attractive lands.

Discovery of a 4,000-year-old military network in northern Syria
Access ramp at Qal'at al-Rahiyya, view toward the northwest. Credit: M.-O. Rousset mission Marges arides

These results consolidate field observations conducted prior to the exploration. These had already enabled the sites to be dated using ceramics collected on site. The access to aerial and satellite observations, from 1960 to the present day, made it possible to reconstruct the network beyond the limits of the zone under exploration. It has thus been identified across a north–south distance of around 150 km.

Discovery of a 4,000-year-old military network in northern Syria
The Rubba rampart. Credit: B. Geyer mission Marges arides

Explore further: Medieval treasure unearthed at the Abbey of Cluny

More information: Un réseau défensif de l'âge du Bronze Moyen dans les Marges Arides de Syrie du Nord, M.-O. Rousset, B. Geyer, N. Awad, S. Shabo. Paléorient, 19 december, 2017.

Related Stories

Medieval treasure unearthed at the Abbey of Cluny

November 15, 2017

In mid-September, a large treasure was unearthed during a dig at the Abbey of Cluny, in the French department of Saône-et-Loire: 2,200 silver deniers and oboles, 21 Islamic gold dinars, a signet ring,1 and other objects ...

First non-utilitarian weapons found in the Arabian Peninsula

March 10, 2016

An exceptional collection of bronze weapons dating from the Iron Age II (900-600 BC) has been uncovered near Adam, in the Sultanate of Oman. The remains were discovered scattered on the ground in a building belonging to what ...

Invaluable ancient Syrian mosaic discovered

November 2, 2015

Classical scholars from Münster are excavating one of the few sites of ancient Roman Syria in Turkey that are currently accessible as a result of the political situation in the Middle East.

Excavation in Northern Iraq: Sasanian loom discovered

November 6, 2017

A team of Frankfurt-based archaeologists has returned from the Iraqi-Kurdish province of Sulaymaniyah with new findings. The discovery of a loom from the 5th to 6th century AD in particular caused a stir.

Recommended for you

Rare fossil bird deepens mystery of avian extinctions

November 13, 2018

During the late Cretaceous period, more than 65 million years ago, birds belonging to hundreds of different species flitted around the dinosaurs and through the forests as abundantly as they flit about our woods and fields ...

Violent crime rates rise in warmer winters

November 13, 2018

As global temperatures climb, warmer winters in parts of the country may set the scene for higher rates of violent crimes such as assault and robbery, according to a new CIRES study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.