Archaeo-Physics, LLC - geophysical survey and subsurface mapping

Case Study

Tell Ahmar (Til Barsib)

Neo-Assyrian Urban Center, Northern Syria

Tell Ahmar urban zone
Urban Zone


city wall and monumental architecture
City Wall & Monumental Architecture

Tell Ahmar isolated farmstead
Isolated Farmstead


City wall resistance image with magnetic overlay
City Wall Resistance Data With Magnetic Overlay

Tell Ahmar composite magnetic survey results
Download Composite Magnetic Map as .PDF File

During the Summers of 2000 and 2001, Archaeo-Physics conducted magnetic field gradient and electrical resistance surveys at Tell Ahmar, in northern Syria. Although the site contains multiple components, from Neolithic to Roman, the Neo-Assyrian occupation was the most extensive. A modern village now stands on the site.

The objectives of the investigation were to locate and identify subsurface architectural or archaeological features associated with the Assyrian occupation of the site, and to reveal as much of the city plan as possible, particularly in non-elite areas, which had been largely unexplored.

Nearly 40 hectares of the site were surveyed with magnetic gradiometers. Several hectares were also surveyed with an electrical resistance meter. These two methods proved to be successful and complementary to each other. Numerous archaeological features have been identified based on geophysical anomalies, as well as large areas containing high densities of features and probably complex stratigraphy. Features composed of mud brick, basalt and limestone appear to be identifiable in the geophysical data, as well as other anomalies that may be caused by organically enriched soils, cobble pavements and ditches.

Based on the results of this survey, certain conclusions can be tentatively drawn regarding types of features and settlement patterns. Three fairly distinct zones of occupation are posited based on the geophysical data:

· An inner urban zone which surrounds the tell, and perhaps extends along the river. This zone is characterized by high population density, and many closely spaced buildings.

· An exterior urban zone, and the city wall. This zone is characterized by the wall itself, and within it, low population densities and monumental architecture.

· A sparsely settled, probably agricultural, zone outside the city wall. This zone is characterized by widely scattered one or two room buildings, often with associated walls or other long, linear features. These are thought to represent isolated farmsteads.

The Geophysical Investigation was under the direction of John M. Russell (Massachusetts College of Art). The Archaeological expedition at Tell Ahmar was under the direction Dr. Guy Bunnens (University of Liege, Belgium).

The geophysical investigation was sponsored by:

  • Selz Foundation
  • Institute for Aegean Prehistory
  • National Geographic Society
  • Davis Educational Foundation
  • Raymond and Beverly Sackler
  • Curtiss T. and Mary G. Brennan Foundation
  • Linda Noe Laine Foundation
  • Adelard A. and Valeda Lea Roy Foundation
  • Norman Solhkhah
  • Massachusetts College of Art

Tell Ahmar geophysical survey crew

Tell Ahmar Survey Crew

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