The area under investigation was the region around Aleppo, with a ray of about 30-35 kilometres. It is defined by the Turkish border to the north, by the Nahr edh-Dhahab valley – i.e. the western part of the Jabbul plain – to the east, by the Matah/al-Madkh region – the marshy area where the Nahr al-Quwayq disappears – to the south and by the river ʻAfrin valley and the Jebel Simʻan to the west and the north-west.
The project was divided in a historical-philological part and in an archaeological part. All textual materials, especially of historical-geographical interest, have been gathered and analysed in order to identify – whenever possible – the ancient name/s of the archaeological sites and their change in toponymy during different ages. The purpose of the historical study based on the ancient sources was to better understand the role of the large Syrian city as a regional capital and as a religious reference point for succeeding cultures, from the early Syrians to the Amorites to the Luwians and the Aramaeans. Concerning the archaeological aspect, one of the most important goals of the project was to determine how the density and the patterning of settlement changed through time. In parallel, the geoarchaeological investigation aimed at reconstructing the spatial environment and assessing human adaptation to natural conditions in the region of Aleppo.
The studied area has been the object of some previous survey projects, but no systematic survey of the Aleppo region has hitherto been performed. The result of this was that we had historical-geographical, geoarchaeological and archaeological information on the region only by specific “points”. In particular there was no general picture of the area for the four most interesting historical phases in which it was the focus of settlement:
- the Early Bronze Age, i.e. the period of the flourishing of Ebla;
- the “Yamkhad period” (Middle Bronze II) which is much more known from the textual evidences than from the archaeological materials;
- the Late Bronze-Early Iron Age transition period, which however is archaeologically known in more detail than the previous ones;
- the period of Neo-Assyrian domination and its Neo-Babylonian appendix which presents specific archaeological problems relevant to the definition of the ceramic horizons involved.
Therefore the data from previous surveys required important integrations so as to gain a full picture of the studied area, while at the same time proving extremely useful as benchmarks for the data obtained during our research.
To obtain a general vision of the settlement patterns within the chosen region, the possible archaeological sites were identified on the CORONA images (September 30th, 1969), on Google Earth – which is developed from high resolution satellite images, very useful to recognize the ways of access to the sites, other topographic features and to chart the agricultural exploitation of the territory –, and on the topographic maps (scale 1:50000).
The most relevant preliminary result was probably the fact that the environs of Aleppo prove to be characterized by a series of empty and full spaces for settlement, or, from another point of view, by lines of dense anthropic presence and total absence of sites in pre-Hellenistic Antiquity. This pattern responds primarily to three convenience requirements: proximity of water sources, availability of resources, strategic position. The region under investigation looked very promising for the exploration of second rank, smaller, possibly rural sites in the hinterland of Aleppo, an aspect of Bronze Age and Iron Age settlement structure often neglected by research.