Upper Mesopotamia is the vast area between the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers. To the north, it is bounded by high altitude Taurus-Zagros Mountains. To the south, the desert conditions forms an impermeable boundary for rain-fed agriculture where precipitation levels critically drop under 200-300 mm/year. Khabur is the largest basin of the Euphrates River. Significant developments of the EBA manifested themselves there the most in terms of the rapid urbanization and intensification of agricultural production. By the second half of the Third Millennium BCE, the increase in number of settlements as well as their differential growth suggests a phase of urbanization. Subsequently, a distinct hierarchical settlement pattern was born, revealing a dichotomy between the urban and the rural. Urbanism was possible in regions where dry-farming was practiced. Also, large quantities of staples were needed to support the new urban economy, so that agricultural production was intensified.

In this archaeological setting, two groups of hollow ways were formed: (i) radiating from settlements and abruptly terminating in the landscape after two to three kilometers; and (ii) longer hollow ways connecting various EBA settlements together. For the first, Wilkinson suggests that hollow ways were used for controlled transportation of flocks from settlements to open pasture land. While moving, livestock was kept together to minimize crop damage and when the production boundary was passed, flocks were dispersed in open pasture land. As a result of continuous use by animals, farmers, and carts, linear depressions around settlements were formed. As for the second, hollow ways must have been utilized for the transportation of agricultural surplus, other commodities, and gift animals from one settlement to another. The roads must also have been used by the entourage and by the common folk. As a result of centuries-long practice, the evidence of movement remains visible today, notably on aerial and satellite imagery.


Standing on Tony Wilkinson’s shoulders and in consideration of the missing pillar in the study of hollow ways —the traffic— GeoMOP follows a satellite remote sensing approach coupled with Agent Based Modelling (ABM) which is built upon three major objectives:

  • Objective 1: is to map the EBA road system in its entirety across Khabur Basin. The objective also includes mapping EBA sites/estimating populations for the use of ABM.
  • Objective 2: is to determine prime physical characteristics of soils (i.e. soil productivity, moisture-retention capacity, and roughness levels) over ancient roads as proxy variables for the EBA traffic levels.
  • Objective 3: is to build an Agent Based Model (ABM) in order to translate soil physical characteristics into numbers of moving agents generating traffic; namely human, animal, and wheeled agents. Constructed over the results from objectives 1 and 2, the ABM will be used to explore the ways in which hollow ways were formed and sustained through continuous use.

Following the completion of the project, the model of ancient traffic with the aim of bundling numerous individual trajectories will provide solid empirical grounds for investigating numerous broad archaeological assumptions and for challenging normative theories. For instance:

  • Motivations for movement had socio-political and economic dimensions and same population levels at different sites might have generated different traffic levels. Therefore, one should show, but not assume that larger settlements were occupied by larger populations, and thus, they funneled larger amount of movement. Any deviation from this configuration is a significant contribution to the discussions on politico-demographic landscapes.
  • The dichotomy between authoritarian state models and emergent household models shapes the current archaeological discussions on the political sphere of EBA. In this respect, exploring the ancient movement for its controlled or bottom-up nature will contribute to the solution of this dichotomy. It is especially crucial to investigate whether the spatial configuration and intensity of use of ancient roads can describe variations in economies and can reflect conflicting economic interests of different groups.


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