Roads and Seafaring

Communication routes: eastern Mediterranean and the Taurus mountains

The extensive diffusion of Cappadocian obsidian both within Central Anatolia and further away towards Mesopotamia and north-eastern Mediterranean littorals and Cyprus sheds light on the large geographical and cultural regional interaction involved. This sought-after raw material and its products break through the so far landlocked vision of regional divisions by linking geographical and cultural areas beyond environments usually considered as natural borders.

The reasons for these regional divisions are many. Excavations have been mainly focused on large archaeological sites located on plains, neglecting potential marginal areas such as hilly lands; Also over time changes in topography due to alluvial deposits and the advance of the sea conceal archaeological evidences. Open waters, instead of being considered as communication vectors, are at best seen as maritime roads from one land to another. Accordingly, we deemed it necessary to embark on some research aimed at identifying potential interaction dynamics by defining geographical characteristics which favour regional interaction. Our first area of investigation is the Taurus Mountains separating the central Anatolian plateau from the Mediterranean Sea. The second deals with the north-eastern Mediterranean area in an attempt to define the topographical evolution of the Cilician and Amuq shore lines during the Holocene. We will also look at the maritime and meteorological conditions contributing to coastal and open waters seafaring.

Communication axes between the Anatolian plateau and the Mediterranean littoral

Certainly impressive, the massifs composing the Taurus range also present a variety of geological formations which challenge the vision of a bold and uniform barrier raised between the sea and the plateau. On its western side, the massifs is perpendicular to the shoreline, thus offering corridors from the Lakes Region, and open on to rather large alluvial plains before they reach the sea, the largest of which is the Antalya one. However, the central Taurus develops its arc parallel to the coast east of the Antalya Bay as far as Silifke, ending abruptly in the Mediterranean, then, as it develops to the north-east, it enclose the western side of Cilicia. Corridors which penetrate the Central Taurus are rare and the high slopes of the Bolkar Mountains restrict natural paths between south-central Anatolia and the Mediterranean. Going eastwards, the Eastern Taurus offers narrow alluvial valleys cutting through the massifs, giving several options which connect to Cilicia and to eastern Central Anatolia and the Euphrates valley. 

The first step of our research about connecting routes across the Taurus consists of a thorough mapping of the entire region, thus extending the GIS mapping so far achieved in Cappadocia (Obsidian Use Project) to the Taurus and Cilicia. The second step is to take into account the archaeological evidence available. However, apart from a few surveys, the Yumuktepe excavation and the old Tarsus Gözlükule deep sounding, the number of identified prehistoric sites is very small when consider the large area covered by Cilicia and the potential connecting roads across the Taurus. Accordingly, we have broadened the archaeological references to include the Bronze Age. In fact, both old and current surveys and archaeological investigation, focused on the Amuq-Cilicia area and the Central and Eastern Taurus, were and are concentrated on the Hittite and Assyrian problematic.  Consequently, the archaeological map of Bronze Age settlements is, if not exact, indicative of the general pattern of regional settlement. Furthermore, a number of surveys which focused on Bronze Age sites mention earlier archaeological material going back to the Chalcolithic period. In the specific environment where high mountains prevail at the expense of sustainable and accessible ecosystems, the late archaeological evidence isof prime importance as it may help to identify earlier trends which adapt the geological constraints.


The coastal domains and seafaring possibilities

If, after a decade, the Anatolian Aegean coast has come under the scrutiny of Neolithic archaeological research, the Mediterranean littoral is still far from being sufficiently documented. Yet, the blame is not to be put down to archaeological research, but to the steep relief which characterises the Bolkan Mountains as they slope down to the sea and the deep alluvial sedimentation encountered in the Cilician plain, so that evidence of Neolithic sites are ether  washed away or buried under alluvial deposits. From the available geological, oceanic and atmospheric researches, it is possible to develop a model of the Neolithic littoral geography taking into account natural factors such as fresh water availability, coastal sounding lines, and geographical protection against prevailing seaward winds, protected coves and inlets which would allow seasonal coastal seafaring.

Even if in oceanographic research fields some question marks concerning local and seasonal variations of sea currents remain, the general water circulation framework in the eastern Mediterranean Basin (or Levantine Basin) is well understood. Actual seasonal variations (cyclogenese) inducing gyres and vortex effects due to the combination of wind direction, water surface temperature, coastal orography as well as large mountainous islands (especially Cyprus) are sufficiently analyzed to use them in an early Holocene context. To do so, variation in sea level and changes of coastal lines need to be considered. Furthermore, the long climatic development after the Late Dryas, with its effects both on the increase of temperature and sea water as a result of the reopening of the Black Sea channel, have sparked off new sets of parameters influencing Mediterranean water circulation, especially in the Marmara and the Aegean Seas. However, the Eastern Basin, with its dead end along the Levantine coast, is less affected by these changes; the general circulation pattern is driven by the main Atlantic Water current, a factor largely present after the Dryas, as it powers up to the Holocene climatic optimum.

The logical next stage of the work is to develop a GIS framework which combines both the archaeological data and the coastal-maritime data. Such a framework will serve as a dynamic map supporting obsidian diffusion from the Mesolithic to the Chalcolithic, as well as new studies on pottery technology within the Anatolian plateau and the north-eastern Mediterranean area.