Peopling the Desert

Image: Copyright Toby Savage

site in the sandFunded by the Leverhulme Trust with support from the Geoeye Foundation this is a satellite remote sensing project to map and model the archaeology of the Zuwila-Murzuq-Barjuj depression in southern Fazzan, Libya. Systematic analysis of a group of satellite and aerial photos has revealed the spectacular standing remains of 100s of qsur (or castles), settlements, cemeteries and field systems that date from the Garamantian to the early modern period.  In the Wadi al-Ajal, where most of the research on the Garamantes has been done (see the Fazzan Project and Desert Migrations Project), continued oasis agriculture masks earlier settlements. While we have established that settlements were densely distributed in the landscape there, the detail is blurred and site morphology is not always clear. Because agriculture has actually contracted quite dramatically in the Murzuq region in modern times, it contains some of the best-preserved examples of abandoned village settlements of Garamantian and Islamic date.

The exceptional quality of the imagery allows us the opportunity to trace large contiguous blocks of the landscape in considerable detail. This in turn provides the basis for modelling the changing demography of the region and understanding the reasons behind a succession of regional centres in different periods.

Image: Copyright Toby Savage

fort viewFieldwork in January 2011 was highly successful and included ground survey of 80 sites that were previously unknown archaeologically including large walled settlements, early islamic villages and dense cairn cemeteries. Remarkably, imported Roman ceramics from the first few centuries AD were found on many of the sites. Samples were taken from the walls of a number of sites and these will hopefully provide evidence of how early oasis agriculture dates in this region.



Personnel in Leicester

The Project is directed by Professor David Mattingly

Dr Martin Sterry is a Research Associate on this Project


Sterry, M., and Mattingly, D.J. Forthcoming. DMPXIII: Reconnaissance Survey of Archaeological Sites in the Murzuq Area. Libyan Studies 42.

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