IUAP Project: The Land of Sumer and Akkad

"Land of Sumer and Akkad" is project P5/14 of the Interuniversity Attraction Poles (Phase V) of the Federal Science Policy Office. The objective is to investigate the interaction between the palaeo-environment on the one hand, and the social, political and economic development on the other hand in Mesopotamia during the last 6,000 years. The present-day landscape is the result of a complex evolution due to the changes in the course of the rivers and the location of the coastline of the Persian Gulf. The ingenious and intensive irrigation systems humans made, and their urge to have water supply under control, played a role in this evolution. To detect the different steps of the development of the landscape, all possible sources have to be used. Therefore, this investigation requires a close collaboration with the following disciplines: Quaternary geology, Remote sensing, Philology, and History.

The Team of the RBINS – Geological Survey of Belgium investigates the evolution of the natural environment during the last 10,000 years. The research is carried out in the southern part of the Khuzestan Province, SW Iran. The study area is an extremely vast and flat plain. It is bordered by the Zagros Mountains in the north and northeast, and by the Persian Gulf in the south. The area forms the eastern extension of the Mesopotamian plain. Three major rivers, the Karun, Jarrahi and Karkheh, contributed to the geological development of the plain.

Research method

Until now, geological data about the Quaternary in the plain was virtually non-existent. The reconstructions of the coastline of the Persian Gulf and the location of the rivers published in literatures, are on the basis of historical sources and on surface observations. Therefore, they contain a lot of speculation.

Two field campaigns have been undertaken for the investigation of the geology of the last 10,000 years. Over 50 undisturbed hand borings have been carried out (by 3 women !) and few shallow temporary outcrops have been surveyed and sampled. Archaeological sites and irrigation systems have been located during the field campaigns. A ground control related to land use and characteristics of the surface sediments was done as well for further remote sensing treatment. The GPS turned out to be a very valuable instrument for the location of all observations and borings because the immense flat plain does not bear any reference point.

The collected samples have been analysed for microfossils, and the organic material and shells have been radiocarbon dated. The interpretation of the sediment succession of the boreholes together with the results of the remote sensing resulted in the reconstruction of the landscape throughout time.

The main results

Several satellite images have been processed forming now homogeneous basic maps. These maps were valuable instruments during fieldwork and were also used as base for the many figures and maps, such as e.g. the delineation of the geomorphologic units, the former courses of the rivers, the palaeogeographical reconstruction for 5 time slices, the location of the archaeological sites and former irrigation systems.

On the basis of recent satellite images, ancient aerial photographs and a 3D model, the remote sensing detected the interaction between the different rivers in the recent time as well as the relation between the rivers, the archaeological sites and the irrigation systems.

Coastal deposits have been encountered for the very first time in this region. A tidal flat environment (with mudflats, salt marshes and sabkhas) developed as from 9,000 years ago. In the course of time, the tidal environment extended via the palaeovalley of the Shatt el-Arab until about 200 km north of the present-day coastline of the Persian Gulf.

For the moment being, there are too few datations available to produce a curve of the relative sea-level rise. However, the data show that a higher sea-level stand than the present-day one, never occurred. This is in contradiction with the generally accepted view from the literature.

All data concerning the geology, geomorphology, topography and archaeology have been integrated into a GIS. This database allows to cross all domains and to detect interrelations between them.

Related publications

Conference Proceedings

  • B., O. & V.M.A., H. . The value of geological and historical data integration in recreating landscape history in Lower Mesopotamia: the post-10th century A.D. Lower Khuzestan plain, SW Iran. Geoarchaeology Open Science Meeting (2006).
  • L., D. . Changing river courses, Human adaptation and interaction in Lower Khuzestan (SW Iran). Late Holocene Landscape reconstruction based on Remote Sensing. Geoarchaeology Open Science Meeting (2006).
  • L., D. . Natural and Human-induced processes: Impact on the Landscape of the Lower Khuzestan plain (SW Iran) revealed by Remote Sensing. Broadening Horizons, Multidisciplinary approaches to the study of past landscapes (2006).
  • L., D. . Landscape evolution of the Lower Khuzestan plain (SW Iran) during the late Holocene revealed by Remote Sensing. BGRG International Conference (2006).
  • V.M.A., H. , B., O. , C., B. & H.J.T., W. . The impact of channel shifting of the river Karkheh on the late Holocene evolution of the northern part of the Lower Khuzestan plain (Persian Gulf, SW Iran): integrating geological and historical data. IGCP 495 UK Working Group Conference and Fieldtrip (2006).
  • V.M.A., H. & C., B. . The Holocene sedimentary record of the Lower Khuzestan plain (SW Iran): A Footprint of Palaeogeographical Changes. Broadening Horizons, Multidisciplinary approaches to the study of past landscapes (2006).
  • C., B. & V.M.A., H. . A tentative palaeogeographical reconstruction of the coastal plain of Lower Khuzestan during the Holocene (Persian Gulf, SW Iran). 2nd International Geoscience Programme Project 495 "Quaternary Land-Ocean Interactions: Driving Mechanisms and Coastal Responses" (2005).
  • V.M.A., H. & C., B. . The impact of channel diversion on the Holocene infill of a tidal embayment in the southern part of the Lower Khuzestan Plain (Persian Gulf, SW Iran). 2nd International Geoscience Programme Project 495 "Quaternary Land-Ocean Interactions: Driving Mechanisms and Coastal Responses" (2005).
  • V.M.A., H. , C., B. & S., D. . The shift from estuarine infill to delta progradation. The first results from the Holocene sedimentary record of the Lower Khuzestan Plain, SW Iran. Late Quaternary Coastal Changes: Sea Level, Sedimentary Forcing and Anthropogenic Impacts. INQUA & IGCP-495 joint meeting (2005).
  • L., D. . Investigation of changes in the fluvial and coastal environments in SW Iran using remote sensing. The Quaternary Research Association Third International Postgraduate Symposium (2004).
  • L., D. . Satellite imagery technique for an interpretation of the fluvial-marine geomorphology in SW Iran. International Geoscience Programme Project 495 "Quaternary Land-Ocean Interactions: Driving Mechanisms and Coastal Responses" (2004).
  • V.M.A., H. & C., B. . Flashfloods filling marshes in a late Holocene prograding coastal area: the Northern Persian Gulf, Khuzestan Province, Iran. The Quaternary Research Association Third International Postgraduate Symposium (2004).
  • V.M.A., H. & C., B. . Fluvial dominance in a late Holocene prograding carbonate coastal area: the Northern Persian Gulf, Khuzestan Province, Iran. International Geoscience Programme Project 495 "Quaternary Land-Ocean Interactions: Driving Mechanisms and Coastal Responses" (2004).
  • V.M.A., H. , C., B. & Gasche, H. . The reconstruction of History and Environment of the Mesopotamian plain during the middle and late Holocene. Belgian Association for Quaternary Studies (BELQUA), First Workshop (2003).
  • V.M.A., H. , C., B. & Gasche, H. . The reconstruction of History and Environment of the Mesopotamian Plain during the middle and late Holocene, Iraq. XVI INQUA Congress (2003).
  • V.M.A., H. & C., B. . Geo-environmental mapping of the Mesopotamian Plain during the middle and late Holocene, Iraq. The Quaternary Research Association Second International Postgraduate Symposium (2003).

Book Chapter

C., B. , L., D. & V.M.A., H. . The Persian Gulf Shorelines and the Karkheh, Karun, and Jarrahi Rivers: A Geo-Archaeological Approach. A Joint Belgo-Iranian Project. Part 1 125, 141-215 (2004).

Palaeogeographical reconstruction of the Mesopotamian Plain

Reconstruction of the environmental setting of the Lower Khuzestan plain and the extension of the Persian Gulf during the Holocene.

Palaeogeographical reconstruction at about 8000 years ago Palaeogeographical reconstruction at about 7500 years ago Palaeogeographical reconstruction in the period 5000-2000 years ago Palaeogeographical reconstruction in the period 1350-1250 years ago Palaeogeographical reconstruction at about 450 years ago
Reconstitution paléogéographique de la plaine Mésopotamienne

Reconstitution des milieux sédimentaires de la plaine du Bas Khuzestan et extension du Golfe Persique pendant l’Holocène.

Reconstitution paléogéographique il y a environ 8000 ans Reconstitution paléogéographique il y a environ 7500 ans Reconstitution paléogéographique couvrant la période de 5000 à 2000 ans avant aujourd’hui Reconstitution paléogéographique couvrant la période de 1350 à 1250 ans avant aujourd’hui Reconstitution paléogéographique il y a environ 450 ans
Paleogeografische reconstructie van de Mesopotamische vlakte

Reconstructie van de sedimentaire afzettingsmilieus in de vlakte van Laag Khuzestan en de uitbreiding van de Perzische Golf tijdens het Holoceen.

Paleogeografische reconstructie ca. 8000 jaar geleden Paleogeografische reconstructie ca. 7500 jaar geleden Paleogeografische reconstructie in de periode 5000-2000 jaar geleden Paleogeografische reconstructie in de periode 1350-1250 jaar geleden Paleogeografische reconstructie ca. 450 jaar geleden
Gallery
The Jarrahi river just before it enters the flat plain Mud cracks and salt pans on the sabkha The pedological auger with sediments from a freshwater marsh The mud flat at low tide The mud flat of the Khawr Musa tidal area at low tide Recently dug canal in the salt marsh with halophyte vegetation The transition from mud flat to salt marsh Village in a freshwater marsh Flooding of a freshwater marsh in the rainy season The freshwater marsh with extreme flooding The gauge auger with intertidal mud at borehole 54 Gypsum cristals Oil wells in the surroundings of Ahwaz Tells (archaeological sites) Ahwaz city crossed by the Karun river The Karun river during the rainy season in Ahwaz The anticline of Ahwaz View of the immense vast and flat plain Ancient canal Sediments showing the typical thin interlayering of intertidal flat deposits Mud cracks on the surface of the plain and remnants of the Iran-Iraq war of the 80's The gauge auger with subtidal mud interlayered with fine sand at a depth of 6 meters Typical view of the vast and flat plain with sparse vegetation Outcrop in a brickyard showing freshwater deposits at the base overlain by fluvial clay The opening up of new agricultural land with irrigation Archaeological prospection of a tell Dissolution of the rock in the anticline of Ahwaz Pleistocene deposits covering the anticline of Ahwaz The transition of salt marsh to freshwater deposits in borehole 28
Galerie
La rivière Jarrahi à son débouché dans la plaine Fentes de dessication et croûtes de sel à la surface du sebkha Sondage pédologique avec sédiments de marais d'eau douce Vasière à marée basse Vasière de Khawr Musa à marée basse Canal récemment construit dans le marais salé couvert de végétation halophyte Zone de transition entre vasière et marais salés Village dans les marais d'eau douce Inondation du marais d'eau douce durant la saison des pluies Marais d'eau douce endurant d'importantes inondations Carottage de vase intertidale du sondage 54 Cristaux de Gypse Puits de pétrole dans les environs d'Ahwaz Tells (sites archéologiques) Ville d'Ahwaz traversée par la rivière Karun La rivière Karun à Ahwaz durant la saison des pluies L'anticlinal d'Ahwaz Vue de la vaste plaine, sans aucun relief Ancien canal Les sédiments montrent de fines couches de dépôts vaseux intertidaux Fentes de dessication dans la plaine.Les monticules sont des reliquats datant de la guerre Iran-Iraq des années 80 Carottage de couches de vases subtidales avec sables fins à une profondeur de 6 mètres Vue typique de l'immense plaine dotée d'une végétation clairsemée Affleurement dans une briqueterie montrant des dépôts de marais d'eau douce situés à la base, recouverts par de l'argile fluviatile Développement des activités agricoles avec système d'irrigation Prospection archéologique sur un tell Marques de dissolution affectant l'anticlinal d'Ahwaz Dépôts pléistocènes couvrant l'anticlinal d'Ahwaz Passage de dépôts de prés salés à des dépôts de marais d'eau douce dans le sondage 28
Galerie
De Jarrahi rivier voor zij de vlakte instroomt Krimpscheuren en zout concentracie aan het oppervlak van de sabkha De Edelmanboor met sedimenten afgezet in een zoetwater moeras Het slikwad bij laag water Het slikwad van het Khawr Musa getijdengebied bij laag water Nieuw gegraven kanaal in uitgestrekte schorre met halofiete vegetatie De overgang van slikke naar schorre Een dorp in het zoetwater moeras De overstroming van het zoetwater moeras tijdens het regenseizoen Het zoetwater moeras bij uitzonderlijke overstroming De guts met slikke afzettingen in boring 54 Gypsum kristallen Olieputten in de omgeving van Ahwaz Tells (archaeologische sites) De stad Ahwaz met de Karun rivier De Karun rivier in Ahwaz tijdens het regenseizoen De anticlinaal van Ahwaz Typisch zicht van de uitgestrekte vlakte Een oud kanaal Sedimenten metv de typische fijne gelaagheid van getijdenafzettingen Krimpscheuren aan het oppervlak van de vlakte en overblijfselen van de oorlog tussen Iran en Irak in de jaren 80 De guts met subtidaal slik en fijne zandlaagjes op een diepte van 6 meter Typisch zicht van de uitgestrekte vlakte met schaarse vegetatie Ontsluiting in een steenbakkerij met zoetwater afzettingen aan de basis bedekt met fluviatiele klei Ontginning van nieuw landbouwgrond met irrigatie Archeologische prospectie van een tell Oplossingsholten in de anticlinaal van Ahwaz Pleistocene afzettingen die de anticlinaal van Ahwaz bedekken De overgang van schorre naar zoetwater afzettingen in boring 28
Related media(s)
Localisation map of the Lower-Khuzestan
Main geomorphological units reconstruction
Other member(s)
Laetitia Dupin
Dr Roland Gehrels and Dr Charu Sharma, Department of Geography, University of Plymouth, UK: foraminifera analyses
Dr Sue Dawson, University of St Andrews, UK: diatom analyses
Ir Mark Van Strydonck, KIKIRPA, Brussel: radiocarbon dating
Dr Florias Mees, Universiteit Gent, Laboratorium voor Mineralogie, Petrologie en Micropedologie: petrographic analyses
Dr N. Fagel, Université de Liège: X-ray diffraction
Dr Henk Weerts, Netherlands Institute for Applied Geosciences TNO, Utrecht, The Netherlands: fluvial sedimentology
Funding
Federal Science Policy Office – Research Programmes, Interuniversity Attraction Poles, Phase V, “Land of Sumer and Akkad”.
Partners and sponsors
Go to top