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While today's scientists and policy makers seek answers to hot button issues such as climate change and sustainability, other researchers seek answers by studying how earlier civilizations coped with the major environmental challenges of their age. One of these researchers is Brian Peasnall, who recently spent his fifth summer since 2002 in the Diyarbakir region of southeastern Turkey.
A University of Delaware assistant professor of anthropology and geography, and a native of Atascadero, Calif., Peasnall teaches in UD's Associate in Arts Program in Georgetown.
Peasnall is project director of the Diyabakir Small Streams Archeological Survey, which has been working in a region near the city of Batman, located about 460 miles southeast of the nation's capital of Ankara.
"One of several important aspects of this survey is to model decision making as it relates to settlement and land-use patterns during the Bronze and Iron ages," Peasnall noted. "The survey's findings also may help to inform the development of modern public policy regarding the environment and official responses to climate change."
The Upper Tigris Drainage Basin consists of several stream valleys draining the highlands of the eastern Taurus Mountains.
The area experienced considerable climatic instability resulting in long-term drought conditions during the early to middle Bronze Age periods, (3000-1550 BC), Peasnall said.
"This was a dynamic period that involved the emergence and collapse of social, political and economic systems," Peasnall said. "Because the Upper Tigris Basin contains many Bronze and Early Iron Age sites, scholars consider it ideal for exploring hypotheses about the impact of the significant climatic changes that occurred during those periods."
The combination of recovered cultural data along with relevant environmental data will provide important insights into past environmental changes, how people responded to those changes and the consequences of those responses, Peasnall said.
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The survey team spent five days per week locating and documenting findings, capped by two days of laboratory research at the expedition house in Batman.
Daytime temperatures in the summer averages above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, yet nights are cool enough to bring out the blankets.
"I got up at 4:30 a.m. to put the coffee on for the team. After coffee, we loaded our van and were on our way by 5:30 a.m.," Peasnall said. "It can get brutally hot, so we wanted to get a start in the field as the sun is just getting high enough to see by, but when it is not as hot as later in the day."
As the fieldwork revolves around locating sites and gathering cultural materials, the survey team has learned that the best approach is to ask local farmers and shepherds for possible site locations.
"They are intimately familiar with the land, so it makes sense to start with them," Peasnall said. "I generally bring along a sample of the types of things we are looking for, such as pottery shards and chipped stones, and we ask if they have come across any of these objects."
While the occasional spectacular find may yield figurines, beads, coins or bronze pins, the most helpful objects are pottery fragments and chipped stone from the production of tools, Peasnall said.
Site locations are recorded via handheld Global Positional System units, along with environmental data including soil types, hydrology and vegetation cover in the vicinity.
At the expedition house
"During the two days each week spent at the expedition house in Batman, researchers clean and process finds from the week in the field," Peasnall said. "This information is entered into a Geographical Information System that allows researchers to construct a model detailing demographic and land-use trends throughout antiquity, as well as the environmental factors that may have influenced the decisions behind these land-use patterns."
To date, the survey team has recorded 146 sites, ranging in time from the Neolithic to the Ottoman periods.
Besides being somewhat less demanding than the research in the field, the days spent at Batman gives team members a chance to visit other projects, or to visit some of the tourist sites in the region, Peasnall said.
Hospitality is a very important cultural value here, and this is true not only in terms of giving it but also accepting it, Peasnall said. "It would be very rude to just focus on our work and not spend some time over a glass of tea or even a meal with the villagers we meet while in the field, or with friends and colleagues back in Batman."
Peasnall, who graduated magna cum laude from Temple University in 1986 with a major in linguistics and a minor in classical culture, received his master's and doctoral degrees in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1993 and 2000, respectively.
Survey team members this summer also included Peasnall's son, Sean, a student at Drexel University; Regina Fiacco, a senior in the UD College of Arts and Sciences; Sukriye Akin, a student at Cumhuriyet University in Sivas, Turkey; and James Richard Bacon, faculty coordinator of the UD Academic Center, Associate in Arts Program, Georgetown.
Other team members incude Guner Coskunsu of Yeditepe University, Istanbul; Atilgan Kaya of the Sivas Museum in Turkey; and team driver Huseyin Cuze.