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The University of Southampton
ArchaeologyPart of Humanities

Research project: The Oued Loukkos Survey

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The Oued Loukkos Survey (OLS) is a joint research project between Institut National des Sciences de L’Archéologie et du Patrimoine (Morocco), Université Mohamed V-Agdal (Morocco), and the University of Southampton (UK).

The Oued Loukkos is one of the longest tidal rivers that penetrate the Atlantic shoreline of northern Morocco, forming a navigable corridor of contact between the region’s rich agricultural hinterland and the sea. In the late 8th century BC, Phoenician merchants established a trading station on top of a large plateau that overlooks the present river basin. This site, Lixus, developed a permanent character with monumental architecture during the 5th-1st centuries BC. During the Roman period, in the 1st-3rd centuries AD, Lixus expanded further to include an amphitheatre, baths, and fish-salting factories; sustained but contracted occupation ensued in the Late Roman period (4th-7th centuries AD). Limited settlement, with several mosques, continued into the Umayyad and Idrissid Dynasties (8th-11th centuries AD), and Lixus likely facilitated river-borne trade between emerging European seafaring states and inland Islamic dynastic capitals controlling Saharan caravan routes. However, after the 11th century, Lixus was largely abandoned, with the modern city of Larache eventually emerging on the Atlantic coast to the west.

Although Lixus has been the subject of periodic archaeological excavations, the evidence for its raison d’être – as a port connecting a navigable river through a rich agricultural region to the Atlantic Ocean – has been only generally proposed, assuming the present location and length of the river channel. The very possible evolution of the Oued Loukkos and Atlantic coast over nearly three millennia, and the subsequent positive and negative effects of this evolution on the settlement of Lixus, has not been investigated. With this background, the OLS was initiated in 2009 with three major aims:

  1. To define the Loukkos’ evolution and morphology from the Phoenician to early Islamic periods (8th century BC to 11th century AD);
  2. Within this re-established environment, to identify the location, character, and chronology of any past waterfront structures;
  3. In light of extensive natural processes and man-made development projects impacting the region, document and analyse, as rapidly as possible, the environmental and cultural history of the Oued Loukkos as it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Fieldwork strategy:

Archaeological survey

This methodology includes walk-over survey along the Oued Loukkos banks, where major roadwork projects are being conducted to the north and west of Lixus, and building projects are taking place on private property and on the site itself. Identified exposed archaeological material has been geo-referenced. Remote-sensing survey has been conducted using a Fluke 1625 GEO Earth Ground Tester (resistivity) and a Bartington Grad601 gradiometer, in order to identify buried features in targeted zones between Lixus and the Oued Loukkos.

Geological survey

This methodology includes sediment sampling in the river and hand‐auger coring at points along the river banks and in the Loukkos estuary. The analysed sediments and radio-carbon dated organic material from these form the basis of a geo‐archaeological assessment for reconstructing the history of the riverine environment in the vicinity of the site of Lixus.

Hydrographical survey

This methodology includes remote‐sensing with an Ocean Server Iver2 AUV (depth sounder, side‐scan and multi‐beam sonar) and an Echosounder 320 BP (sediment profiler), in addition to underwater video. The resulting data form the first high-resolution bathymetric map of the river, and make it possible to detect natural and man-made features present on the riverbed or partially buried beneath sediment as well as to map the relative changes in the Loukkos’ course.

Fieldwork Directors:

Dr. Athena Trakadas, University of Southampton, UK/University of Southern Denmark, Denmark

Dr. Nadia Mhammdi, Université Mohamed V – Rabat, Morocco

Dr. Lloyd Huff, Emeritus, University of New Hampshire, USA

Conducting the echo-sounder survey in the Oued Loukkos
Conducting the echo-sounder survey in the Oued Loukkos
Testing the ballasting of the Ocean Server Iver2 AUV in Larache
Testing the ballasting of the Ocean Server Iver2 AUV in Larache
Taking cores in the river basin, north-west of Lixus
Taking cores in the river basin, north-west of Lixus
 Conducting the gradiometer survey between the Oued Loukkos and Lixus
Conducting the gradiometer survey between the Oued Loukkos and Lixus

Related research groups

Centre for Maritime Archaeology
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