The possible use of ancient tower tombs as watchtowers in Syro-Mesopotamia
Keywords: Archaeology, Remote Sensing, GIS, Topography, Spatial Information, Cultural Heritage, World Heritage Sites
Abstract. Traditionally polygonal tower tombs dating from the Greco-Roman era, especially found in the area of Syro-Mesopotamia, have only been treated as funerary structures without discussion of their other possible purposes. In this paper we wish to inquire whether they had other functions as well. The most famous examples of these types of tombs are situated in Palmyra in Syria. They are built of limestone, follow a square layout, and some exceed the height of 20 m. Similar structures are found in the Euphrates valley of Syria. The Finnish project SYGIS that worked in the neighbourhood of the Euphrates and Palmyra during the previous decade studied some of the structures in the region. As far as the tower tombs are concerned, our research suggests that new structural, topographical and spatial aspects can be raised, and GIS (Geographic Information Systems) can be applied for analysing their properties for visibility. The tendency to locate tower tombs along roads and the entrance areas of a city as well as at a mountain edge seems to indicate that the tombs may have had observational functions serving as watch towers. The aspects of the location in terrains are emphasized in the present study, and digital terrain models were utilized using SRTM DEM (Digital Elevation Model) data for carrying out viewshed analyses in order to survey the observational qualities of the towers in Palmyra, on Halabiya, on Jebel Bishri in Syria and Hatra in Iraq.