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Low rainfall and very limited arable land mean there are few settlements of any size along this corridor. Near the modern border between Syria and Iraq, the valley broadens out, but rainfall is still too low for rain-fed cultivation, and settlement remains sparse up to the Euphrates bend. Cultivation is confined to the alluvial banks of the Euphrates and occasional wadis where fields and orchards flourish. E. Assyria was the dominant power in the Near East. E. when he moved the Assyrian capital to Nineveh.

At the same time the French had secured a monopoly on archaeological work in Persia, where they 36 ANCIENT MESOPOTAMIA Ruins of the great Sumerian city of Ur. Excavations here by Leonard Woolley revealed the early development of urban life in ancient Sumer, cradle of civilization. (Nik Wheeler/Corbis) excavated the great city of Susa, capital of Elam, the neighbor and great rival of Babylonia. Starting in 1884, over a period of many years they removed vast quantities of soil and recovered a huge amount of interesting material, including many important Mesopotamian inscriptions and works of art looted during Elam’s wars—but because of their crude excavation techniques, they recovered very little information about the context of their pre-Persian finds.

Prolonged irrigation had another significantly detrimental effect—salinization. Small amounts of salts carried down by the rivers from the sedimentary rocks of the north have over the millennia accumulated in the groundwater of southern Mesopotamia. , when the volume of water in the rivers is reduced. Intensive irrigation raises the water table, bringing this saline water close to the surface, where it is drawn up by capillary action, causing salts to accumulate in the subsoil and on the surface where water spread for irrigation also contains salts.

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