Skip to main content

Modern Geospatial Practices for Ancient Movement Praxis

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GeoMOP (Modern Geospatial Practices for Ancient Movement Praxis)

Berichtszeitraum: 2018-01-22 bis 2020-01-21

Ancient roads cross-culturally reflect motivations and needs behind social, economic, political and religious relations of past societies. Everyday actions of past individuals must have had contributed to the formation of roads. And, in return roads must have had sustained individual (and societal) connectivity. Therefore, considered not only as the container of action but also the action itself, the road has much more to say on the ancient movement praxis. A better understanding of movement praxis opens up new research avenues in archaeology.
GeoMOP investigates a specific road network in Upper Mesopotamia which was mainly used during the Bronze Age. The project methodology axiomatizes that variations in the volumes of ancient movement resulted in quantifiable differences in soil compaction, which in return variably changed soil composition and structure. GeoMOP explores these differences via satellite remote sensing, coupled with Agent-Based Modelling (ABM). ABM helps us to build agents (e.g. herd animals, carts) and provide a computational platform for running different movement scenarios.

The project is built around three main objectives:
Objective 1: is to map the road system in its entirety across Upper Mesopotamia.
Objective 2: is to determine prime physical characteristics of soils (e.g. soil productivity, moisture capacity) over documented roads as proxy variables for ancient traffic levels.
Objective 3: is to build an ABM to translate soil physical characteristics into numbers of moving agents generating traffic; namely human, animal, and wheeled agents.

The project revealed that ancient traffic is a more complex phenomenon than researchers usually anticipate. The academic literature generally focuses on a single aspect of movement phenomenon and map roads as static entities. However, as the MSC project revealed, the agents of the traffic, environmental factors, geology and geomorphology, and the economic systems all together contribute to how people moved in the landscape. The project also supported the idea that road formation does not necessarily require intricate planning and in fact, paths can be formed based on basic decision rules of moving agents. Once there is an emergent spatial consensus between agents, it is a matter of time these paths form. The environmental component of road formation and use is rarely discussed in academic circles. Therefore, the project contributes to the scholarship with its emphasis on climatic simulation using agent-based modelling. Finally, while studies on modern movement practices have the opportunity to collect in-situ data and conduct experiments, research on ancient movement lacks such tools and methodologies. Therefore, scholars rely on historical accounts or idealized space-based models (e.g. Space Syntax) based on strict assumptions. The GeoMOP amalgamated static road network mapping with remote sensing data analysis and agent-based modelling.
Objective 1 was accomplished after an intensive mapping phase in the project, mainly using the CORONA imagery. The imagery was acquired from the ‘CORONA Atlas of the Middle East’ ( Mapping also included other satellite sensors in order to assess their capacities to reveal unique linear features. Using different sensor data from different periods also helped the fellow to explore potential taphonomic processes which might have affected the results of the project.

Objective 2 was accomplished using data from European Satellite Agency’s Copernicus Programme (mainly Sentinel 1 and 2 systems), but also NASA’s Landsat missions. Other proprietary datasets were acquired from ESA’s data request portal through project submissions. The project also used German DLR’s TanDEM-X data which was obtained through another independent research proposal submission. All these datasets were investigated visually and computationally. In return, numerous proxy variables were built for the determination of traffic levels of the past.

Objective 3 was accomplished during the secondment period of the project at Durham University. After following the training on ABM, numerous traffic scenarios were tested using a NetLOGO model.

The work was performed over eight work packages: WP1: Mapping Hollow Ways and EBA Settlement Pattern, WP2: Determination of primary physical characteristics of soils, WP3: Sensor fusion, WP4: Agent-based model, WP5; Integration of ABM & GIS and Synthesis of Results, WP6: Development of WEBGIS and Online ABM, WP7: Training Activities, and WP8: Outreach Activities

The project has been widely disseminated in a series of outreach activities.
• A conference was organized on 7-8 November 2019 at the University of Florence with the title “Archaeologies of Roads”. The conference attracted a total of 39 articles delivered with more than 70 authors. The participants were coming from numerous countries, including but not limited to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, China, USA, UK, and Australia.
• The proceedings of the conference will be published open-access. The wide range of paper submissions includes case studies from Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean, East Asia, Central Asia, and South America. The papers also span a broad timeframe, from prehistoric to modern times. Due to this temporal depth, the hope is that the edited volume also will gain interest among historians. Finally, since roads are contemporary phenomena, geographers will likely find this volume equally valuable.
• The GeoMOP produced three significant submissions. Since the project resulted in a series of rich datasets, it is anticipated that at least two more journal articles will be submitted. Also, the MSC fellow participated in six international conferences.
From an academic perspective, the study challenges fixed representations of ancient roads and add the most necessary module to the landscapes of movement; the travelling agent and the methodology is applicable for other periods and archaeological spaces. Therefore, it is testable, replicable, and open to improvements. The project also produces a unique and rich dataset without a field-work component. Thus, the proposed work is timely, considering the ongoing inaccessibility to the region due to military unrest.

While GeoMOP is an archaeological project, it has direct implications for modern-day as well. Herd animals are significant agents of landscape transformation. Their repetitive movement may result in track formation while also reducing or eliminating vegetation growth along those tracks. Herds can also drastically alter the geomorphology of a region so that new hydro-landscapes are born out of their movement. To balance the negative and positive impacts, the management of herding practices is a concern across the globe. The methodology proposed in the project is replicable. Using the workflow of the project, policymakers and state officers can quantitatively evaluate the impact of herd animals and heavy machinery over agricultural soils.
The Geospatial Modeller for Producing Spectral Indices
The User Interface of the Agent Based Model
"The Conference Flyer of the ""Archaeologies of Roads"""