For anthropology professor Jesse Casana, tells reveal an ancient tale worth telling.
What Casana and his team learn about the formation of Tell Qarqur, a little-explored ancient settlement in Syria, could serve as a model for understanding the formation of tells, ancient mounds common in the Orontes River Valley where Qarqur is located and throughout the Middle East. That knowledge could enhance the understanding of the organization of human settlements in the ancient world.
“The entire Orontes River Valley is extremely interesting and largely unexplored. We’ve seen remains of very early sites that date to the threshold of agriculture for the entire world, ten to twenty thousand years ago,” Casana said.
Casana’s research interests focus on the way that the settlement systems were organized during the Bronze and Iron Ages and later in the Hellenistic through late Roman periods. Tell Qarqur was continuously occupied for about 10,000 years, from the Neolithic through the medieval period.
Casana and a team of students sought to demonstrate, by digging, the formation of the tell through the ages and to develop a digital map of the site. In general, tells form gradually in a place where people live in mud brick houses and build on top of the remains of fallen structures.
Tell Qarqur is an unusual formation of two tells, and the satellite imagery suggested other settlement in the area. From the satellite photos, it was possible to see an area much like a halo of disturbed ground around the tells. Digging in the halo area revealed a Neolithic settlement about 100 feet from the north tell.
Using satellite imagery allows Casana to see the tell in relation to other features of the surrounding landscape. Casana and Jack Cothren, assistant professor in geology, have converted the satellite images to three-dimensional images. These images show subtle changes in the land that would not be observable from ground level or by conventional satellite imagery. For example, slightly raised areas—probably from up-cast earth from digging or from levees—outline the ancient canal systems that flowed through the valley.