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Multi-Country Fellowships at 25: Agricultural Sustainability in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean

This essay is Part Two in a series commemorating the 25th anniversary of CAORC's Multi-Country Research Fellowship Program.

Read Part One: Explaining Countries’ Differential Success in Combating HIV/AIDS, by Rachel Sullivan Robinson

Read Part Three: Incense Production in Ancient Southern Arabia, by Joy McCorriston

Read Part Four: Fighting Malaria in the Mediterranean, by Marcus Hall

Read Part Five: Colonial Political Economy of Trans-Frontier Trade through Peshawar, by Shah Mahmoud Hanifi

Long-Term Agricultural Sustainability in the Ancient Eastern Mediterranean

John Marston

John M. Marston, 2010-11 Fellow

Assistant Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology, Boston University

With the support of a CAORC Multi-Country Fellowship, I began a regional research program exploring how the large-scale changes in political economy associated with the rise and collapse of ancient empires affected agricultural sustainability within individual communities, focusing on several ancient cities across the eastern Mediterranean world between c. 800 BCE and 200 CE.

Room excavated at Kerkenes

Room excavated at Kerkenes in 2011, with grid used to locate botanical sample collection points in place

Support from CAORC enabled two seasons of archaeological excavation at the ancient city of Kerkenes in central Turkey and at the Roman city of Karanis in Egypt. At Kerkenes, the largest prehistoric city in Turkey and an imperial foundation of the kingdom of Phrygia, I devised a systematic collection system for taking soil samples from which I extracted archaeological plant remains, including seeds of agricultural products. This allowed me to begin to assess what plants were grown at the site and what agricultural strategies were used to farm those crops, and to compare those with my ongoing research at the site of Gordion, the capital of Phrygia. Coupled with parallel research efforts in Egypt and Israel, these new datasets provide a unique long-term perspective on the regionally variable environmental impacts of the growth and collapse of empires.

The CAORC Fellowship was a catalyst for my subsequent career. It was the first post-doctoral grant I received and it helped me gain a tenure-track faculty position, which I then began with a rich body of data on which to draw for multiple articles and a book, and produced dozens of botanical samples that I was able to study in the laboratory with students.

structure excavated at Kerkenes

View of structure excavated at Kerkenes in 2011, with possible kitchen room in foreground

Most directly, this award enabled the publication of the Kerkenes botanical remains in an article titled “Agricultural adaptation to highland climate in Iron Age Anatolia” (Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 2016) and contributed to a successful NSF grant proposal that has funded three years of excavation at Kerkenes. Subsequent to the CAORC award, I have received two additional grants to study the intersection of empire and environment in Turkey and written several articles that draw, in part, on the findings from Kerkenes.

One of these grants came from the American Research Institute in Turkey (ARIT), which hosted me during my CAORC fellowship. At the ARIT hostel in Ankara, during my CAORC fellowship, I first met Melissa Rosenzweig, a scholar with interests in empire and environment similar to my own and with whom I am now editing a special journal issue “Archaeologies of empire and environment” for the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology. My CAORC Multi-Country Fellowship has continued to benefit my career even eight years after first receiving the award.

Asu Selen Özcan

Learn more about CAORC Fellowships.

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