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The Plaza mystery

January 03, 2012 – Lorenzo Crescioli

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Thoughts about the Plaza

Thoughts about the Plaza

     The Near-eastern archaeology is full of very long occupation examples regarding specific public contexts (trovare confronti). It is not unusual that public areas with political-religious function inside the urban contexts (esempi) could have been used for very long period, even millennia. Sometimes these areas were abandoned and then reoccupied. But these long occupations, of course, leave information inside the context: deposits, accumulations, objects, sherds, in two words what the modern archaeologists find as "archaeological records".
     The Urkesh Plaza case looks to me unusual and very interesting. The Plaza is a large open space in front of the high temple terrace. The complex was built, as the archaeological evidence shows, during the EDIII in a period of large reassessment for the city of Urkesh. The function of the Plaza can be listed as follow: open area on which to walk and to enter the large staircase leading to the top of the terrace and the temple. At the same time the Plaza served to highlight the monumentality of the terrace, certainly visible from a big distance, especially from the South. The third portion of this large architectural complex was formed by the Tupkish Palace, built to the west of it during Akkadian period.
      The Plaza was paved not when the terrace complex was built, but in a second moment, slightly after. It is interesting and we think it happened when the base of the Revetment wall was in danger for water erosion. In fact the water was probably the worst initial problem. Since the Plaza was not paved at the beginning and the water was going into it because it formed a sort of depression, it was probably very difficult to walk in the plaza for the mud and the water, especially during rainy seasons. This is the reason why the plaza was then, in a second moment, paved. It was paved with a very beautiful pebble pavement, but still a pebble pavement, nothing compared to the slabstone pavement of the courtyard of Tupkish Palace. In J1 right on top of this pavement we find Mittani accumulations. Nothing strange if the city of Urkesh was abandoned and then reoccupied, or if the area was not used for the period in between EDIII and Mittani. The point is that we do know the city was inhabited during Akkadian period (construction of the large Tupkish Palace), during Khabur period (see Areas A15 and A16 with craftsman's workshops and burials), but the Plaza does not show almost any trace of this occupation. If we had dug only in the plaza we would say that during Akkadian and Khabur period the city was abandoned. The only way we can imagine to think about is, given the importance of the area, it was kept clean. The problem is that it is an open space with a very irregular pavement, so it seems impossible that any trace was left, also because the rain was strong (as the sandstorm) and natural accumulation should fill it at least a little. It seems impossible that when the surface was dirt they could clean it without damage the pavement itself. On the opposite when the city during Mittani period started to lose its importance the Plaza started to fill up so quickly that probably in few century almost four meters of deposits were formed. It seems to me difficult to imagine that this kind of filling action could not be happened before, (because i don't see any strong difference, even we can assume some kind of blockage to the southern edge of the Plaza during Mittani period). Another possible explanation is that the water erosion could remove part of the natural accumulations, but since the Plaza look like a shallow depressions it does not make any real sense. Moreover the water erosion should leave natural sandy deposits that we didn't find, and if it is strong it could damage the pavement itself. More over we know from texts found in the Mari archive, that Urkesh during Khabur period was a city under Mari control. The political situations was not very peaceful and there were many riots against the ruler of the city. So how could they manage to keep the Plaza clean without a strong ruling power.
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