Unbraiding the Rivers of Southern Mesopotamia. Network Analysis of the Historic Geography of the Ur III State

Sebastian Borkowski (University of Bern)

Saturday, 7 October 2023 | 2:30–3:00 pm


In the arid climate of Southern Mesopotamia, the fluvial networks of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers were crucial to the continuation of settlements and the economic exploitation of their surroundings. While alterations in the river system resulting from natural and anthropogenic causes are evidenced by changes in settlement patterns and written records, maps conventionally portray the ancient river courses as static features.

In recent years, the «Rivers of Mesopotamia» (RIMES) project headed by Susanne Rutishauser at the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Bern, has compiled available data and information for a more diachronic and dynamic reconstruction of the historic geography of the Mesopotamian alluvial plain. In a case study on the late 3rd millennium BC, the so-called Ur III period (2112–2004 BC), the RIMES project aimed at cross-referencing paleo-channels, archaeological sites, and geographic information in written sources to establish their contemporality.

The paper outlines the methodology emploeyed to integrate the heterogeneous sources within the web-based research environment nodegoat (https://nodegoat.net). Within this framework, Ur III administrative texts are analysed using network graphs and network metrics. The preliminary outcomes of this distant reading approach are discussed in the context of the Ur III state’s administrative geography.

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