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A Remote Sensing Model of Herd Movement in Upper Mesopotamia during the Early Bronze Age

Kalayci, Tuna; Wainwright, John

For millennia, wool constituted a significant component of Mesopotamian economies. It was a measure of currency and was collected as tax. As a commodity, the production of wool affected labor relations, gender dynamics and other sectors of socio-economic life. Especially in the third millennium, the transition from flax to wool resulted in the organization of many institutional workshops, and textiles were produced in very high quantities. Therefore, as bearers of the wool, sheep were fundamental agents in Mesopotamian life. For instance, in Ebla, a third millennium city-state in Upper Mesopotamia, some herds reached 67,000 heads. In Presargonic Nabada (Tell Beydar), a single shepherd managed a herd of up to 300 sheep – an indication of grand number of animals.

The sheep was also a mobile agent and its movement between the settlement and open pasture was frequent. In fact, the archaeology of the mid-to-late Early Bronze Age Upper Mesopotamia provides ample evidence for the impact of herd movement on the landscape. Aerial and satellite imagery reveal ancient paths radiating from EBA settlements that terminate after several kilometers. It has been hypothesized that the controlled and constant movement of herds heavily contributed to the formation of route systems (also called hollow-ways).

This study presents the results of conducts a multi-spectral satellite data analysis of hollow-ways and models the soil compaction, vegetation productivity, and moisture retention capacities of modern soils as proxy variables for the impact of animal movement. The model highlights spectral differences between different roads and differentiates between potential traffic variations. In turn, in the absence of archaeological and epigraphical data, the variation map indicates detects sub-regions of Upper Mesopotamia with higher pastoral activities.

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