Conceptual rendering of an ancient city, viewed from above, with flood waters covering fields and the area between buildings.

A conceptual rendering of a flooded city in Lower Mesopotamia, created with OpenAI's DALL-E

The Politics of Flood and Flow in Early Dynastic Lagash:

New Evidence for the Environmental Collapse of a Mesopotamian City

Reed Goodman

ISAW Visiting Assistant Professor

This lecture will take place in person at ISAW.

Registration is required at THIS LINK.

New research in southern Iraq at the ancient city of Lagash, modern Tell al-Hiba, indicates that systemic flooding contributed to the site's demise at the end of Sumer's Early Dynastic period, circa 2,350 BCE. We know from contemporary sources that the "Lagash-Umma Border Conflict," comprising the earliest record in both text and image of organized violence, involved a territorial dispute between the rival city-states of Lagash and Umma over water in the Gu'edena, the ecologically rich "edge" of the Lower Mesopotamian floodplain. Archaeology has also provided important information on the region and period. This is especially true for the city of Lagash, the titular head and one-time capital of the larger Lagash City State polity, which included the other urban centers of Girsu and Nina. Under Vaughn Crawford and Donald Hansen, a joint Metropolitan Museum / New York University project excavated temple precincts and a royal workshop at Lagash over six seasons between 1968 and 1990. Current excavations under the aegis of the Lagash Archaeological Project, directed by Dr. Holly Pittman of the University of Pennsylvania, began in 2019.

In this talk, I will briefly discuss the settlement's environmental, historical and broader geopolitical context, including its development into one of the largest cities in Mesopotamia. Based on archaeological and textual evidence, I will focus on the puzzling nature of the site's abandonment during the reign of Urukagina, the last ruler of Lagash's first royal dynasty. In particular, I will introduce recent paleoenvironmental findings of an unchecked flood within the city itself, allowing me to suggest that Lugalzagesi's infamous raid on Lagash's most powerful institutions ushered in a period of rampant waterlogging at and around the site. Together, these data help us better understand Lagash's continued demographic decline and reinforce the stakes of peer-polity interaction under escalating hydro-politics during the 3rd millennium BCE. Finally, I will widen the geospatial lens, reviewing new geoarchaeological data from the broader region that link increasingly expansive, volatile, and ultimately less durable kingdoms to changes in Sumer's deltaic landscape, marking an urban decline that never recovered.

Reed Goodman is a geoarchaeologist and Visiting Assistant Professor at NYU's Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. He is also the Assistant Director of the Lagash Archaeological Project, a multinational collaboration involving excavation and survey at the ancient Mesopotamian city of Lagash, Tell al-Hiba, located in Iraq's Dhi Qar Governate. By combining the study of more traditional archaeological datasets with the analysis of sedimentary deposits from supply-dominated continental margins, such as deltas, Reed's research reconstructs human-climate-landscape interactions to evaluate the impact of environmental changes on past communities.

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