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THE MARSH ARABS - HISTORY

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Bianca
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« on: August 14, 2007, 01:00:29 pm »

                                         


 
Sennacherib, persuing Merodach-Baladan:
"He fled like a bird to the swampland. I sent my warriors into the midst of the swamps … and they searched for five days'. But the King of Babylon could not be found. (703 BC)

 



All the lands were sea...
Gilimma bound reeds upon the face of the waters,
He formed soil and poured it out beside the reeds.
He filled in a dike by the side of the sea,
He made a swamp, he formed a marsh
and he brought it into existence,
Reeds he formed, trees he created.





Sumerian creation myth

At that moment, on that day, and under that sun...
from the mouth of the waters running underground,
fresh waters ran out of the ground for her.
The waters rose up from it into her great basins.
Her city drank water aplenty from them.
Dilmun drank water aplenty from them.
Her pools of salt water indeed became pools of fresh water.
Her fields, glebe and furrows indeed produced grain for her.
Her city indeed became an emporium on the quay for the Land.
Dilmun indeed became an emporium on the quay for the Land.
At that moment, on that day, and under that sun,
so it indeed happened.





Enki and Ninhursanga c. 2500 BC

Shuruppak, a city that you surely know,
situated on the banks of the Euphrates,
that city was very old, and there were gods inside it.
The hearts of the Great Gods moved them to inflict the Flood.
Their Father Anu uttered the oath of secrecy,
Valiant Enlil was their Adviser,
Ninurta was their Chamberlain,
Ennugi was their Minister of Canals.
Ea [Enki], the Clever Prince, was under oath with them
so he repeated their talk to the reed house:
'Reed house, reed house! Wall, wall!
O man of Shuruppak, son of Ubartutu:
Tear down the house and build a boat!
Abandon wealth and seek living beings!
Spurn possessions and keep alive living beings!
Make all living beings go up into the boat.
The boat which you are to build,
its dimensions must measure equal to each other:
its length must correspond to its width.
Roof it over like the Apsu.
I understood and spoke to my lord, Ea:
'My lord, thus is the command which you have uttered
I will heed and will do it.


The Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet XI): The Story of the Flood
c. 700 BC but based on the much older myths of Ziusudra and Atrahasis.
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« Reply #1 on: August 14, 2007, 01:13:26 pm »

                                                 
The Story of Atrahasis
Atrahasis I: Creation of Humans

This story as we have it comes from an early Babylonian version of about 1700 BC, but it certainly dates back to Sumerian times. It combines familiar Sumerian motifs of the creation of mankind and the subsequent flood. On one of the Sumerian king-lists, Atrahasis is listed as king of Shuruppak in the years before the flood. The name Atrahasis means "Extra-wise,"and is thus, as Stepanie Dalley points out, quite similar in meaning to that of Prometheus ("Forethinker"), father of the Greek flood hero Deucalion (2). The story begins way before Atrahasis appears on the scene, however. It starts out with the gods digging ditches. Men have not been thought of yet, so the gods had to do the work:

The gods had to dig out the canals
Had to clear channels, the lifelines of the land,
The gods dug out the Tigris river bed
And then they dug out the Euphrates. (Dalley 9)
After 3,600 years of this work, the gods finally begin to complain. They decide to go on strike, burning their tools and surrounding the chief god Enlil's "dwelling" (his temple). Enlil's vizier Nusku gets Enlil out of bed and alerts him to the angry mob outside. Enlil is scared. (His face is described as being "sallow as a tamarisk.") The vizier Nusku advises Enlil to summon the other great gods, especially Anu (sky-god) and Enki (the clever god of the fresh waters). Anu advises Enlil to ascertain who is the ringleader of the rebellion. They send Nusku out to ask the mob of gods who is their leader. The mob answers, "Every single one of us gods has declared war!" (Dalley 12).
Since the upper-class gods now see that the work of the lower-class gods "was too hard," they decide to sacrifice one of the rebels for the good of all. They will take one god, kill him, and make mankind by mixing the god's flesh and blood with clay:

Belit-ili the womb-goddess is present,
Let the womb-goddess create offspring,
And let man bear the load of the gods! (Dalley 14-15)
After Enki instructs them on purification rituals for the first, seventh and fifteenth of every month, the gods slaughter Geshtu-e, "a god who had intelligence" (his name means "ear" or "wisdom") and form mankind from his blood and some clay. After the birth goddess mixes the clay, all the gods troop by and spit on it. Then Enki and the womb-goddess take the clay into "the room of fate," where
The womb-goddesses were assembled
He [Enki] trod the clay in her presence;
She kept reciting an incantation,
For Enki, staying in her presence, made her recite it.
When she had finished her incantation,
She pinched off fourteen pieces of clay,
And set seven pieces on the right,
Seven on the left.
Between them she put down a mud brick. (Dalley 16)
The creation of man seems to be described here as being analogous or similar to the process of making bricks: tread (knead) the clay and then pinch off pieces that will become bricks. Here, the seven pieces on the right become males and the seven pieces on the left become females. The brick between the two may be a symbol of the fetus, for when the little pieces of clay are ready to be "born," their birth is described like this:

When the tenth month came,
She [birth-goddess] slipped in a staff and opened the womb.
Just as you put a wooden spatula into a beehive-shaped brick oven to remove the bricks (like getting the pizza out when it's done), the womb-goddess or midwife uses a staff to check to see if the womb has dilated enough for birth. After the seven men and seven women are born, the birth-goddess gives rules for celebrations at birth: they should last for nine days during which a mud brick should be put down. After nine days, the husband and wife could resume conjugal relations.

Atrahasis
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« Reply #2 on: August 14, 2007, 01:21:23 pm »








Atrahasis II: Disease, Famine, and Flood

The gods' solution to their difficulties works well: men make new picks and spades and dig bigger canals to feed both themselves and the gods. But after 1200 years the population has increased so much that Enlil has trouble sleeping:

The country was as noisy as a bellowing bull
The God grew restless at their racket,
Enlil had to listen to their noise.
He addressed the great gods,
'The noise of mankind has become too much,
I am losing sleep over their racket.
Give the order that surrupu-disease shall break out.' (Dalley 18)
The plague breaks out, but the wise Atrahasis appeals to his god Enki for help. Enki advises Atrahasis to have the people stop praying to their personal gods and to start praying and offering sacrifices the plague god, Namtar. Namtar is so shamed by this show of attention that he wipes "away his hand" and the plague ends.
After another 1200 years, mankind has again multiplied to the point where they are violating Enlil's noise ordinances. This time Enlil decides on a drought to reduce their numbers, and gets Adad, the thunder-rain god, to hold back the rains. Again Atrahasis appeals to Enki, and again he advises concentrating worship on the one god responsible. Adad is also embarrassed, and releases his rain. (The text does not explain how Atrahasis has been able to live for 1200 years, but many legendary Sumerian kings had incredibly long lives.)

Another 1200 years goes by and the noise becomes tremendous. This time, Enlil wants to make sure that no one god can weaken his/her resolve, so he declares "a general embargo of all nature's gifts. Anu and Adad were to guard heaven, Enlil the earth, and Enki the waters, to see that no means of nourishment reach the human race" (Jacobsen 119). In addition, Enlil decrees infertility: "Let the womb be too tight to let the baby out" (Dalley 25). Things get pretty bad:

When the second year arrived
They had depleted the storehouse.
When the third year arrived
The people's looks were changed by starvation.
When the fourth year arrived
Their upstanding bearing bowed,
Their well-set shoulders slouched,
The people went out in public hunched over.
When the fifth year arrived,
A daughter would eye her mother coming in;
A mother would not even open her door to her daughter. . . .
When the sixth year arrived
They served up a daughter for a meal,
Served up a son for food. (Dalley 25-26)
Though the tablets are broken and the text is fragmentary here, it seems that Enki foils the complete starvation plan by letting loose large quantities of fish to feed the starving people. Enlil is furious with Enki for breaking ranks with the rest of the gods and going against a plan that all had agreed to. Determined to wipe out mankind, Enlil decides on two things: Enki will create a flood to wipe them out and he will be forced to swear an oath not to interfere with the destruction. Enki resists creating the flood ("Why should I use my power against my people? . . . / This is Enlil's kind of work!"[Dalley 29]), but apparently he does take the oath.
After another break, the text resumes with Enki addressing Atrahasis (still alive after all these years!) to warn him of the impending flood. Actually, Enki speaks to the walls of Atrahasis' reed hut so as not break the letter of his oath:

Wall, listen constantly to me!
Reed hut, make sure you attend to all my words!
Dismantle the house, build a boat, . . .
Roof it like the Apsu
So the sun cannot see inside it!
Make upper decks and lower decks,
The tackle must be very strong,
The bitumen [a kind of tar] strong . . . (Dalley 29-30)
Atrahasis gathers the elders of Shuruppak and makes up an excuse to leave town: he says that Enki and Enlil are angry with each other and that Enki has commanded him to go down to the water's edge. Which he does, and there he builds his boat and fills it with every type of animal (the text is fragmentary here) and his family. Adad begins to thunder, and sick with impending doom ("his heart was breaking and he was vomiting bile"), Atrahasis seals up the door of the boat with bitumen (Dalley 31). The storm and flood turn out to be more than the gods bargained for:
Like a wild ass screaming the winds howled
The darkness was total, there was no sun. . . .
As for Nintu the Great Mistress,
Her lips became encrusted with rime.
The great gods, the Annuna,
Stayed parched and famished.
The goddess watched and wept . . . (Dalley 31-32)
The great mother goddess complains bitterly about Enlil and Anu's shortcomings as decision-makers, and she weeps for the dead humans who "clog the river like dragonflies." Also, "she longed for beer (in vain)." Now it is the gods' turn to go hungry: "like sheep, they could only fill their windpipes with bleating. / Thirsty as they were, their lips / Discharged only the rime of famine" (Dalley 33). After seven days and nights of rain, the flood subsides, and Atrahasis disembarks and offers a sacrifice. The hungry gods smell the fragrance and gather "like flies over the offering." In a mutilated passage, the great goddess swears by the flies in her necklace that she will remember the flood. Enlil spots the boat and is furious, knowing that only Enki could have been clever enough to come up with this new trick. Enki admits that he warned Atrahasis, "in defiance" of Enlil: "I made sure life was preserved" (Dalley 34). The text is fragmentary at this point, but apparently Enki persuades Enlil to adopt a more humane plan for dealing with the population and noise problem. Enki and the womb-goddess Nintu decide that henceforth one-third of the women will not give birth successfully: a pasittu demon will "snatch the baby from its mother's lap" (Dalley 35). They also create several classes of temple women who are not allowed to have children.
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« Reply #3 on: August 14, 2007, 01:23:21 pm »

                             




The swamps are full of huge reeds, bordered with tamarisk jungles, and in its lower reaches, where the water stretches out into great marshes, the river is cloggedwith a growth of agrostis.

To obtain a correct idea of this-region it must be borne in mind also that the course of the river and the features of the country on both banks are subject to constant fluctuation. The Hindieh canal and the main stream, the ancient Sura, rejoin one another at Samawa. Down to this point, the bed of the Euphrates being higher than that of the Tigris, the canals run from the former to the latter, but below this the situation is reversed.

At Nasrieh the Shattel-Hal, at one time the bed of the Tigris, and still navigable during the greater part vf the year, joins the Euphrates. From this point downward, and to some extent above this as far as Samawa, the river forms a seccession of weedy lagoons of the most hopeless character, the Paludes Chaldaici of antiquity, el Batihlt of the Arabs. Along this part of its course the river is apt to be choked with reeds and, except where bordered by lines of palm trees, the channel loses itself in lakes and swamps.

The inhabitants of this region are wild and inhospitable and utterly beyond the control of the Turkish authorities, and navigation of the river between Korna and Suk-esh-Sheiukh is unsafe owing to the attacks of armed pirates.

Encyclopædia Britannica
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« Reply #4 on: August 14, 2007, 01:25:23 pm »

               
                  Photo taken by Gertrude Bell in 1916

...the extensive marshes which cover the southern part of the Tigris-Euphrates delta also form a special district, widely different from the rest of Mesopotamia. With their myriads of shallow lakes, their narrow waterways winding through dense thickets of reeds, their fauna of water-buffalos, wild boars and wild birds, their mosquitos and their stifling heat, they constitute one of the most strange, forbidding and fascinating regions of the world. Although they may have varied in extent and configuration, anicient monuments and texts prove that they have always existed, and indeed, the Ma'dan, or marsh-Arabs, appear to have preserved to some extent the way of life of the early Sumerians established on the fringe of the swamps more than five thousand years ago.
               
                  Photo taken by Gertrude Bell in 1916

From an archaeological point of view, the Iraqi marshes are still largely terra incognita. Reports from travellers suggest that traces of ancient settlements are exceedingly rare, probably because they consisted of reed-hut villages similar to those of today, which have completely disappeared or lie buried beneath several feet of mud and water. It is hoped, however, that modern methods - such as the use of helecopters - will eventually open to exploration a region which is by no means lacking in historical interest.
Georges Roux, Ancient Iraq, 1964. Reprinted in 1992






         

.....Memories of that first visit to the Marshes have never left me...Firelight on a half-turned face, the crying of geese, duck flying in to feed, a boy's voice singing somewhere in the dark, canoes moving in procession down a waterway, the setting sun seen crimson through the smoke of burning reedbeds, narrow waterways that wound still deeper into the Marshes...

The Marsh Arabs, Photo By Wilfred Thesiger,1964
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« Reply #5 on: August 14, 2007, 01:27:11 pm »



Now the Shamiyah is the garden of Mesopotamia, the pleasure ground, if you like. I had almost forgotten how lovely it is in winter. The willows and Euphrates poplars which edge the bank of river and canal are gold and golden green, and as a background forests of palms, all about 15 years old, i.e. at the most charming moment of their life before they become leggy. (It's curious to reflect that the palm acquires the physical peculiarities of a Backfisch with age.) It was dark when we reached our camp, which was pitched in open ground half way between the trees of two canals and about 2 miles from the river. Major Norbury is the most lavishly hospitable creature and the camp was luxurious - every comfort, carpets, baths, oil-stoves, excellent meals. Next morning when I woke and stepped out of my tent into the bright sun and saw all the trees and things I wondered how anyone could live in Baghdad, or anywhere but the Shamiyah.
                                       
                                        Photo taken by Gertrude Bell in 1916

But I must tell you the camp was pitched quite near the little village which is the headquarters of the principal shaikh of the district, Ibadi al Husain - I knew him before, of course. So after dinner he invited us to his mudhif, his guest house. Now a mudhif you can't picture till you've seen it. It's made of reeds, reed mats spread over reed bundles arching over and meeting at the top so that the whole is a huge, perfectly regular and exquisitely constructed yellow tunnel 50 yards long. In the middle is the coffee hearth, with great logs of willow burning. On either side of the hearth, against the reed walls of the mudhif, a row of brocade-covered cushions for us to sit on, the Arabs flanking us and the coffee-maker crouched over his pots. The whole lighted by the fire and a couple of small lamps, and the end of the mudhif fading away into a golden gloom. Glorious.

So there we sat and drank coffee and talked for an hour.

We spent next day in camp, Major N. and another man shooting - there's a mass of game - while Captain Mann and Wigan and I took horses from Ibadi and with the latter's brother rode down to the Hor, the marsh, half lake, into which all canals empty themselves. It's a rice country and they have had this year a bumper crop. The yellow reed villages lay fat and comfortable in the winter sun, banked up with rice straw. The great golden heaps of rice were not all housed or shipped away but lay on the harvest floors. Did I say glorious before? I'm afraid I did. When we reached the Hor we got into tiny sajahs, the local canoe-like boat, and rowed out by passageways through the reeds to the open water. There were thousands of duck and teal and other water birds. The osprey breeds here. The water was covered with the dying leaves of a small water lily on which buffaloes were peacefully browsing, standing belly-deep in the Hor. Of all incongruous diets for a buffalo, water lilies are certainly the most preposterous.
                 
                   Photo by Gertrude Bell
We rode home and lunched with Ibadi in his mudhif. The lunch wasn't ready till past 3 by which time we were hungry but we couldn't make so much as an impression on the mountains of food provided. All the tribe must have been fed that day from what was left. As a concession I was allowed a spoon for my rice - I do drop it about so. The others eat with their fingers.


Gertrude Bell in a letter to her father dated 4th January, 1920
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« Reply #6 on: August 14, 2007, 01:28:27 pm »

           
            Photo Taken by Gertrude Bell

Telegrams and reports come in from the provinces all saying that Sir Percy's action [his brutal suppression of the 1920 revolt] is universally approved. Sharp action has been taken in Diwaniyah and Shamiyah to establish law and order, and after bombing raids by air all the extremist tribal leaders have made submission - except 'Abdul Wahid who has no tribal following and will probably give way in the the next day or two. In fact it has been decisively proved that we were right and the King wrong when we said that firm action with the extremists would bring them instantly to heel. Sir Percy's greatest triumph has been with the two dangerous 'alims of Kadhimain, Saiyid Muhammad Sadr and Shaikh Muhammad Mahdi al Khalisi. He sent them word that he was ever careful to safeguard the honour of religious dignitaries and that to save him from the painful duty of exiling them by force, he advised them to travel to Persia (they are Persian subjects.) They left on the night of the 29th.


Gertrude Bell in a letter to her father dated 31st August, 1922
(this quote I originally spotted over at Juan Cole's excellent site: Informed Comment)
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« Reply #7 on: August 14, 2007, 01:29:39 pm »

               
                Photo by Thesiger

The Zair [one who has made the pilgrimage to the tomb of the eighth Imam at Meshed in Iran in Shi'a Islam] fetched the tea things and sat beside the fire, washing the glasses, saucers and spoons in an enamelled bowl. The tea was in a screw of paper and the sugar in a small tin. While the Zair and Sadam discussed the levy of reeds which Falih had demanded for his father's new mudhif [guest house], the Zair's son arrived back. He unloaded the hashish [animal fodder], feeding some of it to the buffaloes and then piling the rest just inside the house. He looked about twenty, was bare-headed, his short hair cut in a pudding-bowl style, and was naked except for a cloak wrapped around his waist. Leaning his fishing spear in a corner, he put on a shirt before joining us.

"I will go to Bu Mughaifat and see Sahain tomorrow," Sadam said. "He must produce two more boatloads of reeds from his village."

"Yes, by God, Sadam, so far we have produced it all," the Zair exclaimed.

"Sahain's people always get out of everything," his son added. "It is the same with the Feraigat. All they can do is to make trouble."

That evening, back at Sadam's mudhif, I stood watching the sun go down behind reedbeds that stretched to the world's end. High overhead, banks of cirrus cloud, blown to tattered streams, ranged from ebony to flaming gold and the colour of old ivory, against a background of vermilion and orange, violet, mauve, and palest green. From all around, as if the Marshes breathed, came the massed voices of frogs, an all-pervading pulse of sound, so sustained that the mind ceased to take note of it. More than any other, even the crying of geese in winter, this was the sound of the Marshes. A dog barked; a buffalo grunted with a noise surprisingly like a camel's; a man called out a long, and to me, unintelligible message; a pause, and someone answered. More buffaloes swam across the open water towards the village, only their heads showing and each leaving a wake. Among the houses columns of dense smoke spread upwards from small fires, lit to keep the mosquitoes away from the herds. A boy, late back from the reedbeds, paddled down a waterway, a path of shining gold leading from the setting sun. He sang softly as he came towards me, the notes lingering in the air.

Sadam called and I went inside.

The Marsh Arabs, Wilfred Thesiger,1964
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« Reply #8 on: August 14, 2007, 01:31:33 pm »

           
             Photo by Thesinger

I lived in the Marshes of Southern Iraq from the end of 1951 until June 1958...I spent these years in the Marshes because I enjoyed being there...Soon the Marshes will probably be drained; when this happens, a way of life that has lasted for thousands of years will disappear."

The Marsh Arabs, Wilfred Thesiger,1964
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« Reply #9 on: August 14, 2007, 01:33:58 pm »





In 1968, archaeologists digging at the mound of al-Hiba in Iraq were struck by the fact that the people living in the surrounding area depended on many of the same resources, and seemed to use them in the same way, as the people who had lived there in the 3rd millennium BC. So while archaeological excavations continued, they initiated an ethnographic study of the modern villages around the mound. The ethnoarchaeology project was carried out under my direction and lasted twenty years. Its goal was to cast light on the use of locally available raw materials, and on the function and manufacturing technology of the same or similar artifacts in antiquity. The materials we focused on were mud or clay, reeds, wood, cattle, and sheep. We eventually added bitumen–a natural tarlike hydrocarbon–to the list because it appeared so often in conjunction with wood, reeds, and mud in the villages, as well as in the archaeological record. There was abundant evidence that many of the details of village life had parallels in the archaeological record. We hoped that knowing how people in the present day made and used the objects they needed for survival could help us make sense of the isolated bits of archaeological evidence and weave them into a coherent tapestry of ancient life.

The 2-mile-long mound of al-Hiba was in antiquity the ancient city-state of Lagash (see map on p. 3). It stood on the edge of a permanent marsh bordering a tributary of the Tigris, in southern Iraq, and lay about 75 kilometers north of Ur. Like Ur, Lagash was a major Sumerian city. It reached its greatest size in the Early Dynastic III period (2600-2350 BC), at the same time as the Royal Cemetery of Ur was in use. At that time Lagash was the capital of the Sumerian empire and probably the largest early Sumerian city.


The early years of the project were marked by the on-going removal of the sheikhs (local hereditary leaders) by the central government of Iraq. As a result of the inevitable disruption in the management of the farmlands, these were times of unbelievable poverty for the people of al-Hiba. With the draining of the marshlands initiated in 1992, many thousands of marshland residents moved deeper into the swamps or fled to Iran. The way of life that we documented, and that I describe briefly here, no longer exists in the area around al-Hiba.
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« Reply #10 on: August 14, 2007, 01:35:13 pm »


CARVED GYPSUM TROUGH FROM URUK. Two lambs exit a reed structure identical to the present-day mudhif on this ceremonial trough from the site of Uruk in southern Iraq. Neither the leaves or plumes have been removed from the reeds which are tied together to form the arch. As a result, the crossed-over, leathered reeds create a decorative pattern along the length of the roof, a style most often seen in modern animal shelters built by the Mi'dan. Dating to ca. 3000 BC, the trough documents the extraordinary length of time such arched reed buildings have been in use.
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« Reply #11 on: August 14, 2007, 01:39:25 pm »


"Fire in a reed house cannot be extinguished!"


Gilgamesh and Huwawa 
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« Reply #12 on: August 14, 2007, 01:42:22 pm »

Photo by Thesiger
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« Reply #13 on: August 14, 2007, 09:26:07 pm »








Marsh Arabs Part II



Continued from Part I of this article


In 1968, archaeologists digging at the mound of al-Hiba in Iraq were struck by the fact that the people living in the surrounding area depended on many of the same resources, and seemed to use them in the same way, as the people who had lived there in the 3rd millennium BC. So while archaeological excavations continued, they initiated an ethnographic study of the modern villages around the mound. The ethnoarchaeology project was carried out under my direction and lasted twenty years. Its goal was to cast light on the use of locally available raw materials, and on the function and manufacturing technology of the same or similar artifacts in antiquity. The materials we focused on were mud or clay, reeds, wood, cattle, and sheep. We eventually added bitumen–a natural tarlike hydrocarbon–to the list because it appeared so often in conjunction with wood, reeds, and mud in the villages, as well as in the archaeological record. There was abundant evidence that many of the details of village life had parallels in the archaeological record. We hoped that knowing how people in the present day made and used the objects they needed for survival could help us make sense of the isolated bits of archaeological evidence and weave them into a coherent tapestry of ancient life.

The 2-mile-long mound of al-Hiba was in antiquity the ancient city-state of Lagash (see map on p. 3). It stood on the edge of a permanent marsh bordering a tributary of the Tigris, in southern Iraq, and lay about 75 kilometers north of Ur. Like Ur, Lagash was a major Sumerian city. It reached its greatest size in the Early Dynastic III period (2600-2350 BC), at the same time as the Royal Cemetery of Ur was in use. At that time Lagash was the capital of the Sumerian empire and probably the largest early Sumerian city.


The early years of the project were marked by the on-going removal of the sheikhs (local hereditary leaders) by the central government of Iraq. As a result of the inevitable disruption in the management of the farmlands, these were times of unbelievable poverty for the people of al-Hiba. With the draining of the marshlands initiated in 1992, many thousands of marshland residents moved deeper into the swamps or fled to Iran. The way of life that we documented, and that I describe briefl y here, no longer exists in the area around al-Hiba.
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« Reply #14 on: August 14, 2007, 09:27:35 pm »

                   

Growing Hardship.  The marshes provided ample refuge for rebellious tribes increasingly at odds with outside authorities, from British colonial rulers to Saddam Hussein's Republican Guards. One day during Ochsenschlager's first year at the excavation site, the crew heard faraway drum sounds, a warning from a neighboring tribe of the approach of outsiders.

"The entire group of local men who worked for us dropped what they were doing, picked up their guns and cloaks and disappeared into the marshes," he said. Men who were drawn to cities for work often returned to the marshes after running into trouble with the government

Threats from outside were starting to take a toll by the time of Ochsenschlager's first encounter with the Ma'adan in 1968. The government was in the midst of a campaign to get rid of sheiks, eroding traditional leadership. Traders were increasingly demanding money for some commodities and refusing barter.

Dam and irrigation projects executed in the 1970s cut the annual flow of water in the Euphrates by more than one-third. That began the depletion of the marshes, reducing permanent wetlands and spring floods that had carried nutrient-laden sediments.

The coup de grace came after the 1991 Gulf War, when Shiite Muslims in the south rose up against Saddam. After their defeat, the regime's soldiers burned and bombed marsh villages, while its engineers completed massive dikes and canals to divert the entire flow of the Euphrates away from the marshes.

Satellites beamed ghastly images of the unfolding ecological catastrophe. By 2000, marshes that had covered nearly 4,000 square miles – comparable to Florida's Everglades – had almost disappeared.
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