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Map of SyriaTell es-Sweyhat

The Tell es-Sweyhat Project is an archaeological expedition carrying out excavations at Tell es-Sweyhat, a large mounded site located on the left (east) bank of the Euphrates, ca. 65 km downriver from Jerablus (ancient Carchemish) on the Syrian/Turkish border. The project also involves survey of the surrounding region and excavations at other sites in the area.
Tell es-Sweyhat was excavated for three seasons in the mid-1970's and preliminary reports were published in the journal Levant. The University of Pennsylvania Museum resumed excavations after twenty-five years in 1989 (see Project History).

Tell es-Sweyhat stands in the center of a plain formed by a broad crescent-shaped embayment in the Euphrates-Balikh uplands. Today, the plain borders the northern end of the impound lake (Lake Assad) behind the hydroelectric dam at Tabqa. Prior to the construction of the dam, the site would have been ca. 3 km from the river.
The Tell es-Sweyhat plain has a mean annual precipitation of 200-300 mm and relatively high interannual variability of 25 to 35 percent (de Brichambautand Wallen 1963: 9-10). These factors place it at the southern limit of the semi-arid "transitional zone" between the desert steppe (Arabic badiyah) and the better-watered lands of northern and western Syria (Lewis 1987:1-2). The plain comprises some 4800 ha of arable land (Wilkinson, pers. comm.) and, in terms of the Syrian government's classificication of agricultural land, it falls in Zone 3, where one or two barley harvests are expected every three years (cited in al-Ashram 1990: 167-68). As such yield expectations suggest, dry farming, although possible, is nevertheless precarious and pastoralism would probably have been a critical part of the subsistence economy in the past as it is today. Indeed, some combination of small-scale, non-intensive agriculture and pastoralism could be argued to be the most viable long-term subsistence strategy in such a marginal environment (Lewis 1987). Tell es-Sweyhat is composed of three distinct morphological zones (numbered on the right).

  • (1) A central high mound is 5-6 ha in area and 15 m high.

  • (2) A lower tell surrounding the high mound. It is enclosed by a low rise orembankment that approximates a rectangle 700 by 600 m (Holland 1976: 36).The lower town is ca. 30 ha in area.

  • (3) An area to the south of the lower town (hereafter referred to as lowertown south) ca. 10 ha in area. Though not visible on the ground, low-level aerial photographs of the site show a dark line--perhaps a rampart or wall--that encloses the area and abuts the south side of the outer embankment.


Tell es-Sweyhat was occupied from the beginning of the third millennium B.C. It was initially a relatively small village localized in the area of the central mound (Wilkinson nd. b). The settlement may have encompassed an area of 15 ha by the mid-third millennium and had tripled in size to become an urban, state center (or an urban node in a larger polity) by the end of the third millennium. The original settlement became a fortified center or citadel and a substantial outer (lower) town emerged around it. The entire site was enclosed by a wall at that time. Wilkinson's survey data (n.d. b) suggest that the late third millennium represents a peak period of settlement not just at Tell es-Sweyhat, but on the plain around it, with at least one major site (Tell Juaf) located on the floodplain and a number of sites (e. g., Nefileh and Tell Othman) in the embayment. Wilkinson has identified traces of roadways linking the sites in the embayment and leading into and out of the embayment (1993:549-51), as well as a zone of intensively cultivated lands around Tell es-Sweyhat and possibly around Nefileh (1976: 68-70; 1982: 328-30). Tell es-Sweyhat collapsed probably early in the second millennium, but the site continued to be occupied in an Early Bronze-Middle Bronze transitional period. With its population decreased markedly, the settlement retracted to the area of the central mound. Tell es-Sweyhat was abandoned certainly no later than 1800, since no Middle Bronze IIB ceramics (cf.Dornemann 1992) have been recovered in excavations or on the surface. Tell es-Sweyhat's "collapse" coincides with the reoccupation of sites such as Tell Mardikh and Tell Leilan and parallels the contraction or collapse of settlement in the Birecik-Carchemish areas (Algaze et al. 1994: 14-17). Tell es-Sweyhat was reoccupied a thousand years after its collapse in the Hellenistic and late Roman periods.


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