Tell al-Nasriyah and its surroundings. The Middle Orontes Valley through time

This grant for the publication of the final monograph of the Syrian-French Archaeological Expedition of the Orontes conducted at Tell al-Nasriyah from August 2007 to April 2011. This project involved Syrian, Lebanese and European archaeologists and specialists.

Nasriyah is located at 18 km to the north-west of Hama, on the right bank of the Orontes, where it meets its Sarout tributary (Fig.1). It is one of the very rare sites of the Levant to be situated so close to the river with special fluvial equipments, as a stronghold located in the ‘bayonet’-like river course and as a load breaking point upstream of the impassable Cheyzar gorge.

The first aim of the project was to focus on the question of the so-called “quadrangular sites”, which are typical of the east side of the Orontes river from the Middle Bronze Age onwards. The DGAM of Damascus allowed us to work on a micro-region including two very close quadrangular sites, Tell al-Nasriyah (over 70 ha, Fig.2) on the river bank itself, and Tell Massin (5 ha) on the plateau just 10 km away (Fig.1). Through this small geographic area, it was possible to explore the cultures of the Middle Orontes Valley in their natural and anthropic environment: urbanization, geopolitical interactions, economic and cultural dynamics in the Bronze and Iron Ages.

A chapter is devoted to this micro-region, the study of which gave excellent results, chiefly in Tell Massin. The excavations focused exclusively on Nasriyah acropolis and lower town (7 fields). They made it possible to sketch out the extension of the site during the various phases of its occupation. The publication will distinguish the living and the dead. It will present the proto-syrian “circular city” of the Early Bronze Age IV (ca 2500-2000); the huge amorrite “quadrangular city” of the Middle Bronze Age (ca 2000-1600 BC), with monumental urban developments on the fortifications and on the Orontes side as well as a big favissa (Fig.3); the Aramaic city of the Iron Age II (ca 950-720 BC) with domestic and monumental architecture and a significant quantity of material remains (Figs.4&5); and lastly a small mediaeval village from the Seldjuk period. As for the dead, the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age cremation cemetery and the huge burial complex with tumuli dated from the Bronze Ages to the east of the main gate and drastically cut by bulldozers (Fig.6) will complete the monograph.

This publication will offer a historical and archaeological synthesis presenting both Tell al-Nasriyah itself and the micro-region that includes it, taking into account natural phenomena (earthquakes) as well as anthropic damages (destructions and fires). The final chapter broadens the debate and includes Tell al-Nasriyah in its regional and interregional environments in a diachronic perspective: it focuses on its role in connection with other main sites of Central Western Syria and beyond, at first Hama, which is an excellent touchstone for Nasriyah, and conversely.

Finally, the creation of a website will provide to the specialists as well as to a more general public all significant data, analyses and syntheses.

The publication project is directed by Mme. Dominique Parayre (University of Lille – Emeritus).

Fig.1. Map showing the location of Tell al-Nasriyah in western Syria (credit: Sauvage)

Fig.2. Satellite photography of Tell al-Nasriyah in 2010 (Google Earth)
Parayre Fig. 3
Fig.3. Field H, favissa, head of a masculine terracotta figurine (Credit: Naessens)
Parayre Fig.4
Fig.4. Field D aerial view of the monumental building on the acropolis dated from Iron Age II (credit: Naessens)
Fig.5. Field F, residential building Phoenician amphora in a pithos (credit: Gernez/ Prouin)
Parayre Fig.6
Fig.6. Zour al-Nasriyah panoramic view of huge burial complex with two tumuli dated from EB and MB periods (credit: Naessens)