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Sustainability-economic analysis of an ancient infrastructure project for irrigation agriculture: The Habur canal in Assyria, 13th century BC.


Project period: January 2012 – June 2013


Project description:

Along the lower Habur River, the biggest tributary of the Euphrates River, an ancient canal of 200 kilometers length and eight to ten meters width has been uncovered. This canal allowed for irrigation in a semi-arid region in which agriculture could not be sustained from natural rainfall alone, as precipitation was too low and highly uncertain. The canal was built during the middle Assyrian period at the beginning of the 13th century BC, and has been in use for over one thousand years. With regard to both its territorial and temporal extension, the Habur canal is one of the biggest infrastructure projects of the ancient world. The construction of the canal provided significant and permanent positive effects to the area’s environment, its economy and the society of the Assyrian empire. It therefore represents a historically proven example for sustainable development.Until today, the construction and maintenance of the Habur canal has exclusively been examined from the point of view of archeology and ancient studies. The WASSYR consortium will employ highly innovative scientific approaches in order to analyze this ancient large-scale infrastructure project. We are using modern approaches from sustainability economics and new economic geography to put the aspect of sustainability in focus. Apart from a better understanding of the historical Habur canal we also expect qualitative results that can be transferred to today’s challenges in environment and sustainability, especially with irrigation infrastructure projects of modern agriculture and other large-scale projects to managing environmental risk, e.g. Geoengineering. 


Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. S. Baumgärtner, Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Department of Sustainability Sciences and Department of Economics


Scientific partners:

The project alliance “Water for Assyria” (WASSYR) consists of the following scientific partner institutions:

  • Free University of Berlin (Prof. Dr. H. Kühne – Ancient Near Eastern Archeology,
  • Prof. Dr. Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum – Ancient Oriental Studies),
  • Leuphana University Lüneburg (Prof. Dr. S. Baumgärtner – Sustainability Economics),
  • Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences Campus Suderburg (Prof. Dr. K. Röttcher – Hydraulic Engineering and Water Management),
  • University of Kiel (Prof. Dr. M. Quaas – Economic Geography),
  • DGAM – Antiquity Administration Management of Syria, Damascus (Director Dr. Salam al-Kuntar).


Funding: This research project is financially supported by the Leuphana University of Lüneburg.


Contact: Prof. Dr. Stefan Baumgärtner, Anna Magdalena Biehler


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