Environment and collapse: Eastern Anatolian obsidians at Urkesh (Tell Mozan, Syria) and the third-millennium Mesopotamian urban crisis

Ellery Frahm, Joshua M. Feinberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The Early to Middle Bronze Age transition in Northern Mesopotamia has received great attention for the apparent concurrence of aridification, deurbanisation, and the end of the Akkadian empire around 2200 BCE. Our understanding of the " crisis" has been almost exclusively shaped by ceramics, demography, and subsistence. Exchange and the associated social networks have been largely neglected. Here we report our sourcing results for 97 obsidian artefacts from Urkesh, a large urban settlement inhabited throughout the crisis. Before the crisis, six obsidian sources located in Eastern Anatolia are represented among the artefacts. Such a diversity of Eastern Anatolian obsidians at one site is hitherto unknown in Mesopotamia. It implies Urkesh was a cosmopolitan city with diverse visitors or visitors with diverse itineraries. During this crisis, however, obsidians came from only two of the closest sources. Two to three centuries passed before varied obsidians reappeared. Even when an obsidian source reappears, the raw material seems to have come from a different collection spot. We discuss the likely exchange mechanisms and related social networks responsible for the arrival of obsidians at Urkesh and how they might have changed in response to climatic perturbations and regional government collapse.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1866-1878
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Giorgio Buccellati and Marilyn Kelly-Buccellati are the directors of the Urkesh excavations under the auspices of the International Institute for Mesopotamian Area Studies (IIMAS). Export of the Tell Mozan artefacts was approved by the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, the Ministry of Culture, Syrian Arab Republic. EMPA was conducted with a JEOL 8900 SuperProbe in the Department of Earth Sciences' Electron Microprobe Laboratory at the University of Minnesota. Our magnetic analyses were conducted at the Institute for Rock Magnetism at the University of Minnesota, and we are grateful for the research assistance of Charissa Johnson (supported by the University of Minnesota's Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program and a Sigma Xi award) and Amy Hillis (supported by the National Science Foundation's Research Experience for Undergraduates program). Thermo Fisher is thanked for the loan of the NITON handheld pXRF instrument. Michael Glascock is thanked for NAA and XRF data that aided in accuracy assessment of the EMPA data and calibration of the pXRF data. Most of the Anatolian geological specimens were originally collected by George “Rip” Rapp, University of Minnesota and the late Tuncay Ercan, Directorate of Mineral Research and Exploration of Turkey. Additional specimens came from the collections of M. James Blackman, Robert L. Smith, and James F. Luhr. This research was supported by the Department of Archaeology of the University of Sheffield , the Departments of Earth Sciences and Anthropology of the University of Minnesota , and Marie Curie Network FP7-PEOPLE-2010-ITN : New Archaeological Research Network for Integrating Approaches to Ancient Material Studies (NARNIA) . Two anonymous reviewers and the editor are thanked for their comments that improved the clarity of this paper. Appendix A


  • Bronze Age
  • Climate change
  • Deurbanisation
  • Exchange
  • Northern Mesopotamia
  • Obsidian
  • Social networks
  • Third-millennium urban crisis


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