Interaction with and impact upon ecological landscapes is a major research focus of KRASP, including mid- and long-term effects of such landscape modification. While debate continues as to what extent noticeable environmental changes should be attributed to human activities rather than having been the result of progressive climatic deterioration during the Holocene (ca 9.500 BC- present), a turning point is clearly represented by the Neolithisation of the Konya Plain around 8500-7500 BC.
Research at Çatalhöyük in particular has highlighted a progressive reduction in biodiversity (i.e. the number of plant and animal species present in an ecosystem) during the 1000-year period that the site was inhabited. This was probably the result of the expansion of agricultural fields and pastures, which reduced the available space for wild plants and animals to flourish, in part by creating competition between domesticated and wild species.
In addition, irrigation systems most likely created long-lasting changes in the hydrography of the Plain: they would have deviated the course of the main rivers, drained marshes, and brought water to the steppe, therefore altering the delicate riverine ecosystems in and around the Çarşamba and May deltas. The onset of irrigation is a core concern for KRASP, yet the identification of the earliest canal systems is uniquely challenging. Currently we are relying on indirect evidence, in particular through our investigations of the steppe landscapes of the Plain. This is the driest part of KRASP’s study area, with a present-day average rainfall of 240mm/year –thus below the minimum for rain-fed agriculture (figure 1). Today, farming and settlement in this region rely entirely on irrigation.
The results of our field survey show that prehistoric (ca 9000-2500 BCE) sites are confined to the alluvial soils within the Çarşamba-May delta complex and at the piedmonts of the Taurus and Boz Mountains. The centre of the plain, occupied by dry steppe, was probably frequented for foraging, hunting and animal husbandry, but was not permanently occupied in this period. Around the mid-third millennium BCE, a string of newly-founded sites appears at the western end of the steppe, possibly indicating the construction of an irrigation channel. Otherwise, sedentary (farming) settlement in the steppe begins only during the Late Iron Age (ca 500 BCE, figure 2). While more data and analysis are needed, we are raising the possibility that unprecedented settlement in these marginal landscapes may have been associated with a coordinated (state-led) effort to irrigate the plain with an irrigation system beyond the fertile delta of the Çarşamba river.