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The early state and its chora. Towns, villages and landscape at Ebla in Syria during the 3rd Millennium BC. Royal archives, visual and material culture, remote sensing and artificial neural networks

Final Report Summary - EBLA CHORA (The early state and its chora. Towns, villages and landscape at Ebla in Syria during the 3rd Millennium BC. Royal archives, visual and material culture, remote sensing and artificial neural networks)

The availability of archaeological and textual evidence, very abundant as regards quantity, and of an outstanding quality, makes Ebla a special case in the studies for an integrated and global historical reconstruction of a town and its chora. The evidence hitherto recovered is of the greatest importance for the reconstruction of the territory and its peculiarities, as well as of the natural and cultural background of a first-ranking city for political importance at the time of the so-called “Second Urbanization” of the ancient Near East. This exceptional situation is the result of the evidence recovered during systematic archaeological investigations, which have been conducted for nearly fifty years at Tell Mardikh. In fact, Ebla has provided one of the widest and most complete evidence, both written, symbolic and material, among the sites from its time in the Near East. On the other hand, as the archaeological remains of Royal Palace G suggest and the texts of the Royal Archives fully document, Ebla was an actor of primary importance not only in the Syrian region, but on the whole Syro-Mesopotamian stage around 2300 BC, and it played a very important role in that historical phase that culminated with Sargon of Akkad imposing his hegemony over the entire area.
The case of Ebla in northern Syria is certainly one of the most favourable ones for enhancing our understanding of mechanisms of functioning of the early state. The discovery, in 1975, of royal archives consisting of 17.000 cuneiform tablets dating to c. 2300 BC has supplied the scientific community with an invaluable mass of documents dealing with all aspects of state organization. These tablets inform us about the political, diplomatic and military affairs of the Eblaite state, as well as on the economic and social fabric of this early state formation. Further, considerable progresses during the past decade have been made at Ebla in seriating material culture assemblages, in interpreting the rich evidence retrieved for ancient visual communication and in exposing the urban structure. The study of the administrative texts, of the royal palace with different sectors devoted to official and economic activities, the excavation in the lower town of a productive complex, of two massive temples and of other buildings now give us a detailed picture of the economic organization of this capital.
A unique opportunity to test theories and models about the rise and structure of the early state by expanding the level of analysis to the landscape around Ebla was envisaged within the Ebla Chora Project (ECP), with P. Matthiae (Sapienza Università di Roma) as Principal Investigator and N. Marchetti (Alma Mater Studiorum - Università di Bologna) as a Beneficiary responsible for landscape studies. In fact, early states from the mid-3rd millennium BC did not yet create a long-distance integration of surpluses and an inter-city dependance of the economic bases: it was their chora which continued to supply their basic food resources and there were intense exchanges at intra chora level.
In 2010 an archaeological surface survey was carried out in the ECP area, coupled with geomorphological and vegetational researches, as well as remote sensing. Other surveys were carried out in the ECP in 1964 and in the 1970s, overall supplementing a very significant amount of data. The increase in the number of sites towards the steppe area seems a significant theme for EB IVA urbanization. If, on the one side, a 220 km long wall starting at the south-eastern limit of the ECP area may act as a visible landmark of the interaction -and separation- of agriculturalists and pastoralists, on the other the mountain pass towards the Jabbul lake and the middle Euphrates was also another reason for an eastward expansion of a state with a strong commercial vocation. Geomorphologically, variations in the Matkh lake levels offer several hints for paleoclimatical issues affecting settlement patterns, while a comparison between ancient (textual) and modern (vegetational) cultivars indicate a long-term agricultural stability for the area. As a matter of fact the over 2000 paleobotanic and over 1000 zooarchaeological samples from EBA layers excavated at Ebla represent an invaluable source of information, which when coupled with the ongoing analysis of the cuneiform texts dealing with the agricultural supplies from the villages in the countryside offer now an entirely new context for lexical studies, as well as the reconstruction of the economy of the city, being in many cases complementary kinds of information. Further, the achieved completion of archaeological studies on the vast quantity of materials collected and archeometric analyses on material culture has been one of the main tasks of our research.