Spatial and temporal variation in Mesopotamian agricultural practices in the Khabur basin, Syrian Jazira

Joy McCorriston, Sanford Weisberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


While archaeologists have long recognized the value of regional analysis to define economic systems, relatively few archaeological data sets-principally settlement patterns, ceramics and lithics-have been used to assess regional-scale spatial variation and temporal change. As with other archaeological data sets, resolution of archaeobotanical data at a regional scale poses some formidable challenges. A new approach in the Near East uses archaeobotanical remains from multiple sites. The data have been drawn from midden assemblages that exhibit high variability between assemblages, requiring the use of random effects logistic regression models that can accommodate high variability. Our approach detects changes over time and over geographical region and tests the statistical significance of these changes. Results show a significant rise in crop-processing wastes, most probably from a specialized focus on barley processing at settlement and storage sites during the 3rd millennium BC (Ninevite 5 and Early Jazira Periods). This shift to a greater representation of barley-processing by-products represented in middens can most probably be linked with an emerging specialization in pastoral production and re-settlement in arid regions of the northern Mesopotamian steppe in the 3rd millennium BC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-498
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Archaeological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
McCorriston is particularly grateful to students whose careful efforts fundamentally contributed to this study—Susan Pennington, Corbin Sanft, Daniel Trudeau, Heidi Ekstrom, Jill Karels, Nicollet Lyon, Karen D’Ascenzo, Lisa Lundeen, Caitlyn Howell, Jeanhee Chung, Timothy Henrich, Josh Hawkins, Lynne Newton, David Tennessen, and Allison Widmark. She also thanks the University of Minnesota for support through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, a McKnight Land-Grant Professorship, and a Summer Faculty Research Fellowship. The National Science Foundation partially funded this research through research grants to Frank Hole and an interdisciplinary Research and Training Grant (Paleorecords of Global Change, Margaret Davis, PI). McCorriston particularly appreciates the stimulating intellectual discussions and encouragement of her colleagues engaged in parallel research in the Khabur, most especially Frank Hole and Melinda Zeder. She also thanks the Syrian Department of Antiquities and the excavators—Frank Hole, Michel Fortin, Glenn Schwartz, Ingolf Thuesen, Peter Pfälzner, Muntaha Saghieh, and Antoine Suleiman for facilitating archaeobotanical recovery. We are grateful to three anonymous reviewers who with Frank Hole and Susan Colledge gave careful attention to potential improvements in this manuscript; final responsibility rests with us. And not least, Sukran jezilan ala al-asdiq’a as-suriyin lil mudda al sa’ida fi balad-hum.


  • Archaeobotany
  • Bronze age
  • Early agriculture
  • Middens
  • Northern Mesopotamia
  • Random-effects logistic regression
  • Regional analysis


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