“Things like reeds, fish, shellfish, birds and turtles – the things that make up wetlands – were thought of as unimportant and so were largely ignored,” she said. “But at the very least, marsh resources were the ‘third leg’ of a triad that also included conventional agriculture and grazing livestock across desert rangelands. The rise of multiple cities around 3000 B.C. was due in part to their proximity to the rich marshes – and I would argue that their long-term survivability was utterly dependant on them.”
Pournelle’s work was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s High Risk Research in Physical Anthropology and Archaeology Program. During the trip, Pournelle and her team visited 17 field locations in southern Iraq and received permission to open a collaborative, three -year geo-archaeology effort with faculty from the universities of Baghdad (geology) and Basrah (geology and marine sciences) and the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage.
“Our mission was to meet with the local representatives, site curators, guards and others, and ask, ‘What are the needs? And what are the attitudes toward Americans resuming work?’ ” said Pournelle, a former Army officer and civilian development advisor who said she started looking for signs of progress in Iraq about 18 months ago. “The political landscape of Iraq has been largely remade since the 1980s. We need to build new working relationships.”
What she found was an openness toward researchers desiring to study the area and learn about its past and present. For example, at Basra University at the head of the Persian Gulf, faculty members have reached out to the English-speaking world, looking for opportunities to collaborate across multiple departments. Pournelle said the University of South Carolina’s School of Earth, Ocean and the Environment is pursuing multi-disciplinary research projects and opportunities in Iraq.