Blanc SHS 3 - Sciences humaines et sociales : Cultures, arts, civilisations

Holocene palaeoenvironments and settlements patterns in Western Syria. – PaléoSyr

Holocene palaeoenvironments and settlement patterns in Western Syria and Lebanon

We aim at crossing palaeoclimatic and palaeoenvironmental data from the Levant Levantine data with our knowledge of land use, populations and land development during the Holocene, within a coherent and homogeneous bioclimatic context.

To study the man-environment co-evolution in the Middle Eastern Mediterranean bioclimatic and human context during the Holocene

This program has three objectives, within the frame of studying the man-environment co-evolution in the Middle Eastern Mediterranean bioclimatic and human context during the Holocene: <br />- To refine the sequence of climatic change in the Levant, as a milestone to reach a level of regional resolution similar to that obtained in the northwestern Mediterranean area <br />- To estimate, at a regional scale, the various environmental contexts which hosted most of the important human revolutions (neolithization, urbanization, state control) <br />- To identify the social responses of human populations to climate variability in the Levant, and to decipher the impact of climatic change on the natural landscape and on the development of human activities and their direct environment. Such an issue will be achieved by applying non- deterministic interpretations (which look for direct relations of causes and effects), which rather consider relationships between systems in co-evolution to be modeled. <br />After 20 years of punctual paleoenvironnemental studies site by site which allowed to build a general frame in the Near East, we want to build a thorough set of coordinated studies, integrated at the macro-regional level, on a transect ranging from the Levantine coast to the Syrian «desert«. The choice of key sites basically relies on the configuration of the Mediterranean system with comparable environmental settings to the North and in the South, only modified by the mountains.

The project foresees to explore five geographic areas :
- The coastal area directly opens to influences of the Mediterranean Sea;
- The Orontes Valley taking part of the Fertile Crescent, a rift valley flanked by two mountain ranges, subjected to the foehn effects, and already marked by an arid climate;
- The «arid margins« of the Fertile Crescent, a transitional area between the steppe and the desert with herbs, subjected to a deteriorated Mediterranean climate;
- The paleolakes of Damascus, as end members from the endorheic drainage basin to the east, on the slopes of the Anti-Lebanon;
- Southern Syria, including the upper part of the catchment area of the Yarmuk to the east as the main tributary of the Jordan river, and small endorheic basins to the north that separate this region from the arid margins.
Due to the dramatic situation in Syria, the coring campaign and sampling expeditions have been postponed and transferred in Lebanon, and more particularly in the Beqaa valley.

The study of sediment cores includes sedimentological / mineralogical, paleobotanical (pollen grains, phytoliths, diatoms, macro-remains), microfauna analyses, and dating (based on AMS 14C, OSL and palaeomagnetism)
The analysis of land use includes habitat remains and landscape features.
Once the data will be acquired and statistically treated, and further validated, models of human/environment interactions will be developed.
This work, performed at different spatial and time scales, aims to (1) to refine our regional knowledge of such interactions, (2) combine data from different regions within a relevant geo-historical context, (3) model the «social climate« systems for periods of environmental crisis due to rapid climatic change (4) model environmental change as a consequence of human impact, and characterize important shifts in environmental conditions

N.B. The progress of the project has been seriously perturbated due to the war that prevails in Syria since the spring of 2011.
Consequently, one year has been devoted to the harmonization of working protocols.
The archaeological database, which today focuses on western Syria and Lebanon,is now operational: 5570 sites and 11000 archaeological sites have been registered to date. The target (6000 sites and 20 000 archaeological units) can then be achieved. The GIS includes unprecedented layers of environmental information (bioclimatic zoning, morpho-pedological zoning) built within the project in addition to usual environment layers. New cooperations were established with (1) the University of Durham (UK) in order to produce an universal data base extended , from the Mediterranean to northern Iraq, (2) the Institute of International and Development Studies (Geneva) project, for «the exploitation of the waters of the Orontes«, as to share new data dealing with modern and past water resources and explore the link of change in water resource management with human settlements (3) the University Saint Joseph and the CSIC Barcelona in collaboration with the Lebanese Bekaa in order to share datasets new paleoenvironmental data.
Environmental studies began with the analysis of plant remains (65 samples) dating from the thirteenth century BC from a well at Ugarit Ras Shamra. The palynological study of the Tell Sukas II core is under progress and will be combined with the analysis of other macro- and microfossils (ostracods, possibly phytoliths and diatoms). The study of a core retrieved at 'Ayn al-Zarqa, already well advanced, will benefit from a new series of C14 dating in order to refine the current age model. The analysis of cores from the Lebanese Bekaa has started in June 2013.

TWe aim to design a map of Levantine «ecogeographical« units. The creation of a preliminary global model of environmental variability will also be undertaken, taking into account atmospheric, terrestrial and anthropogenic end members which are implied during environmental change (probability maps adapted from the impact of human activities), and defining a first comprehensive model of variation in environmental conditions including the definition of atmospheric, land and human agents involved in the change (potential maps modified by the introduction of human development).
To develop protocols for comparing land use in different eco-geographical units.
To extend the existing databases to the whole Near East: this will be achieved by proposing a browser that should allow the connection with existing main databases.

BRAEMER F., GEYER B., DAVTIAN G., in press, «Man/environment interactions in the Bronze Age Levant: Climaticcrisis or fluctuations, Chronology and settlement patterns in the ThirdMillenniumSyrianarid steppe area villages «, in actes du colloque de Rome (Dec. 2013) : «The sevenplagues. Catastrophes and destructions in Palestine and Egyptduring the pre-classicalperiod. Volcaniceruptions, earthquakes, floods, wars, famines and epidemics in the archaeological record and in Biblical and ancientEgyptian sources: an innovativeapproach«, ROSAPAT.
GEYER B., MATOÏAN V., HERVEUX L., in press, Premières observations réaliséessur le puits 3150 du chantier “Grand-rue” (RasShamra, Syrie), in V. Matoïan et M. al-Maqdisi (éds), Études ougaritiques III, RSO XXI, Éd. Peeters.

Since about 10.000 years in Syria (one of the neolithisation’s cradle in the Middle East), the Man exploits the natural environment, transforms it, submits himself to it, adapts himself to it. He is confronted with strong constraints, of which the aridity. The development of the human societies and their settlement patterns are strongly correlated to the environment and to its evolutions and transformations. If the Mesopotamia begins to be well enough studied, western Syria is not. The project will operate a study of the core drilled in sedimentary archives on the coast, the internal plains and the margins of the Fertile Crescent and, on the other hand, the collection of archaeological and geoarcheological data supplied by the excavations and surveys realized to this day.

This program fixes three objectives to study the man-environment co-evolution in the Middle Eastern Mediterranean bioclimatic and human context during the Holocene:
- Refine our knowledge of the climatic variability to reach a level of regional resolution similar to that obtained in the western north Mediterranean area
- Estimate, on a regional scale, the diverse environmental contexts which were the first place of all the big human revolutions (neolithisation, urbanization, state control)
- Identify the social answers brought by the human groups to the constraint of the climatic variations and their consequences on the natural landscape and, the human developments impact on the environment, by exceeding the determinist interpretations which look for direct relations of causes with effects, to envisage them within the framework of systems in co-evolution which it is necessary to model.

After 20 years of punctual paleoenvironnemental studies which built a general frame executive for the Near East, we want to realize a series of coordinated and coherent studies, integrated into the macro-regional level, on a transect going from the Levantine coast to the Syrian "desert". The field choices takes into account the depth of the Mediterranean system with, in the North and in the South, comparable systems, but modified by the topography of mountains.

The main land use and settlement patterns studies in the Middle East were centred on historico-geographical areas defined at the beginning of the XXth century: Mesopotamia and the "biblical" Levant, then a "continental" system and a Mediterranean one. The archaeology of the last fifteen years (beginning of Ebla’s excavations in 1963) and of to day makes "appearing" the domain of the steppe of central Syria: cultures redefined with components enriched by new data (agro-pastoral specialization, hydraulic developments).
Our macro-regional vision associated to the long Holocene times represents a major qualitative and quantitative step in the integration of environmental and anthropological data. A comparable study was led on the Anatolian plateau. A parallel project in the southern Levant (Jordan, Palestine) is in progress by a German team with which we shall collaborate. These studies will end in an important renewal of the history of the coevolution Man - Environment on the whole oriental Mediterranean Sea.

Project coordinator


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.



Help of the ANR 320,000 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: - 36 Months

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