Spoke-like dirt paths extend as far as five kilometers from several ancient Mesopotamian cities that have been excavated in what’s now northeastern Syria. Although often regarded as transportation features unique to these more than 5,000-year-old sites, new evidence reveals similar radial paths in western Syria and southwestern Iran that date to as recently as 1,200 years ago.
Archaeologist Jesse Casana of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville made these discoveries by analyzing declassified, Cold War–era satellite images that show Middle Eastern landscapes before intensive farming erased all traces of ancient dirt roads. Some researchers think that Mesopotamia’s radial routes were created by herding sheep and goats to and from grazing lands through narrow strips that separated cultivated fields next to city centers.
That same path-breaking process occurred over the next four millennia at cities across the Middle East, Casana proposes February 13 in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.