Next GIAP Seminar: “Sustainable Hydraulic Landscapes in southern Iraq”

March 20th 12h CET

Sustainable hydraulic landscapes in southern Iraq

Dr. Jaafar Jotheri
University of Al-Qadisiyah

Dr. Louise Rayne
University of Newcastle

Access the webinar here
Open event. No registration required. Hosted in Microsoft Teams (no Microsoft/Teams account needed).


In the arid environment of southern Iraq, irrigation is necessary to facilitate cultivation. Dense networks of intersecting and overlying canal systems have created a complex hydraulic landscape. In this seminar, we discuss how the landscape has developed in the long term, the factors which determined or limited its longevity and sustainability, and the tools we can use to study it. 

An important criticism of water history research is the lack of scientific dating of features which are often dated by association with nearby settlements and monuments. Recent research including our projects focused around the site of Eridu has combined remote sensing analysis with field-based study to obtain samples for scientific dating. For example at Eridu we obtained C14 dates from our excavations of channels beginning in the 5th-4th Millenium, revealing the earliest stages of irrigation. Later dates encompassed the 3nd Millenium. In the 2nd millennium, the systems were abandoned, in this case due to a shift in the location of the Euphrates river. 

Our research At Basra has focused on later water systems which were also abandoned. A large area of linear ridges has been linked to historical sources which suggests that these were the result of salt-clearing from the fields in the Early Islamic period, possibly a factor in the Zanj rebellion. Scientific dating by means of OSL as part of our work has found that these features are contemporaneous with this period. If these are hydraulic features as we expect, then their sustainability may have been limited due to salinity which ultimately led to their abandonment. 

This pattern of water systems vulnerable to environmental hazards continues into the recent past and the present. A series of springs along the western edge of cultivation in Iraq has been surveyed in detail by Jotheri and his team. These have been developed since the Sasanian period and continued to feed canal systems but are now at risk due to climate change and pressures on water resources. We are now beginning a programme of monitoring and remote sensing analysis to record threats to the sustainability of this threatened hydraulic landscape. 


Remote sensing, southern Iraq, Eridu, Basra, water management, hydraulic landscapes

About Dr. Jotheri: 

Dr Jaafar Jotheri is an Iraqi landscape archaeologist from the land of Babylonian who obtained his PhD in 2016 in Geoarchaeology from Durham University, UK and is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Archaeology, University of Al-Qadisiyah, Iraq, teaching and supervising undergraduate and postgraduate students. He has over 20 years of experience conducting archaeological excavations and surveys in Iraq, focusing on the landscape of ancient Iraq and the ancient rivers, marshes, canals and irrigation systems. In this regard, he authored several articles which impacted archaeological perspective of ancient Iraq including: “Recognition criteria for canals and rivers in the Mesopotamian floodplain”, “Dating Ancient Canal Systems Using Radiocarbon Dating And Archaeological Evidence At Tello/Girsu, Southern Mesopotamia, Iraq”, “Landscape Archaeology of Southern Mesopotamia: Identifying Features in the Dried Marshes” and several others. He is one of the active and enthusiastic Iraqi scholars who cooperated and worked with several international universities and institutions in conducting archaeological and heritage projects in Iraq. He completed his one year research leave at Durham University in September 2023

About Dr. Rayne: 

Dr Louise Rayne is an Academic Track Fellow at Newcastle University. She is a specialist in remote sensing, GIS (Geographic Information Systems), water management and sustainability in the past. She studied both Archaeology and Geography for her PhD at Durham University. Her current research is focused on understanding the resilience of oases in North Africa and the Middle East, building up evidence to support a long-term perspective of water management history including using satellite imagery to map canal systems. She has also recently worked on using spaceborne data for monitoring risks and threats to cultural heritage. She is co-convenor of RSPSoc (Remote sensing and Photogrammetry Society) Archaeology group.

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