WORLD’S OLDEST VILLAGES, TOWNS AND CITIES
It is likely that we will never know for sure what is the oldest city, oldest town or oldest village. It is probable that none of the settlements now regarded as holding these honors are in fact what they claim to be. There may be some as yet discovered site out there that is the true holder of the title. The evidence now available suggests 7000 B.C. as a likely date for the beginning of cities, which were the size of a modern mid-size or even small towns. The oldest known "villages" have been dated to around 30,000 years ago. The problem here is defining what a village is. [Source: Internet Archive, from UNT]
The growing of crops on a regular basis is believed to have given birth to the first long-lasting settlements. Historians refer to these settlements as Neolithic farming villages. Neolithic villages appeared in Europe, India, Egypt, China, and Mesoamerica. The oldest and biggest ones found thus far are located primarily in Southwest Asia (the Near East, or Middle East). The roots of farming began in the areas of present day Turkey and Mesopotamia about 10,000 years ago. Two of the earliest settlements are Çatal Hüyük and Jericho.
The settlement of Jarmo, east of Kirkūk in the foothills of the Zagros mountains in northeastern Iraq, dates to about 7090 B.C. It is located at the northeastern limit of the regions where ancient towns are said to have begun region," while Tepe Yahya in east central Iran (dated before 5000 B.C.) lies at the eastern limit. To the south and southeast, the limits are defined by the Arabian Desert, and the deserts of Sinai and Suez. The cities named above, except for Jericho, were abandoned before city living became common in the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.
Professor Philippe Della Casa from the Institute for Archaeology at the University of Zurich has said for a settlement to qualify as a “town”, certain criteria must be met, including “centralized administration, complex planning and architecture, structured social organisation and specialised crafts”. Many places that clain to be the world’s oldest village “belong to temporary camp sites, not to sedentary settlements”.[Source: Bill Harby, swissinfo, March 18, 2018 ***]
Categories with related articles in this website: First Villages, Early Agriculture and Bronze, Copper and Late Stone Age Humans (33 articles) factsanddetails.com; Modern Humans 400,000-20,000 Years Ago (35 articles) factsanddetails.com; Mesopotamian History and Religion (35 articles) factsanddetails.com; Mesopotamian Culture and Life (38 articles) factsanddetails.com
Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans elibrary.sd71.bc.ca/subject_resources ; Prehistoric Art witcombe.sbc.edu/ARTHprehistoric ; Evolution of Modern Humans anthro.palomar.edu ; Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica britannica.com/; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication geochembio.com; Food Timeline, History of Food foodtimeline.org ; Food and History teacheroz.com/food ;Iceman Photscan iceman.eurac.edu/ ; Otzi Official Site iceman.it
Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons: online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory
Mladec Caves, the World’s Oldest “Village”?
The Mladeč Caves is the Czech Republic is regarded by some as the world’s oldest “village.” Bones found there, dated to 31,000 years before present, are claimed to be the oldest human bones that clearly represent a human settlement in Europe. Located 10 kilometres from Hanácké Benátky, which is not far from the Morava river, the town of Litovel and the protected nature landscape area of Litovelské Pomoraví, the caves comprise a complex, multi-floor labyrinth of fissure passages, caves and domes inside the calcit hill Třesín. Some of the underground spaces are richly decorated. [Source: CzechTourism, Wikipedia]
The Mladeč Caves are located at an elevation of 343 meters (1,125 feet). The humans that lived there were early modern men (Cro-Magnon) of the Upper Paleolithic period and Aurignacian culture. The site was discovered by Josef Szombathy and excavated in 1881-1882 and 1903-1922. It is currently managed by the Cave Administration of the Czech Republic Highlights include "Nature’s Temple" and the "Virgin Cave" but the caves associated with early humans are not open to the public. [Source: Wikipedia +]
The limestones in Mladeč Karst belong geologically to one of the belts of the Devonian rocks in the Central Moravian part of the Bohemian Massif (the Konice-Mladeč Devonian). The caves consist primarily of horizontal and very broken labyrinth of corridors, domes and high chimneys with remarkable modelling of walls and ceilings, and stalactites and stalagmites. There are numerous block cave-ins, with some steep corridors which extend even below the level of the underground water. +
They archaeological remains found in Mladec caves represent the oldest, largest and most northern settlements yet found of early modern man (Cro-Magnon man) in Europe. These people lived here 31,000 years ago. The large number of bones from Stone Age human skeletons, Pleistocene vertebrates along with a large a number of fireplaces and stone instruments means that a fairly large number of people used the cave, making it an early settlement or “village.”
Szombathy recorded his visits and excavations to the cave in his diary, the sole source of information on the early excavations at the site. The first human fossil, the skull of Mladeč 1, was discovered during the first excavation in 1881. Other fossils discovered during this excavation include Mladeč 2, Mladeč 3, Mladeč 7, Mladeč 12-20 and Mladeč 27.] Mladeč 8, Mladeč 9 and Mladeč 10 were discovered during a second excavation in 1882. Later excavations revealed more human skulls and bones. In the early 20th century, large amounts of sediment were removed from the caves without the guidance of archaeologists, destroying a great deal of valuable potential information on the cave. Many of the discoveries at Mladeč have been lost or destroyed over time, due to unauthorized looting and excavations, disappearances into private collections, and the large destruction of artefacts stored at Mikulov Castle, which was set on fire by the Germans at the end of World War II. Ironically, the anthropological collection from the Moravské zemské muzeum, which included a large collection of fossil artefacts from Mladeč, had been moved to Mikulov Castle during the war for safekeeping purposes. Out of the 60 human fossils from Mladeč stored at Mikulov Castle, only 5 could be recovered following the fire. +
Forty bone points have been discovered at Mladec Caves but only a few stone artefacts were found. The bone points at Mladeč have been found at other Central European sites in an Aurignacian context. None of the bone points from Mladeč have a split base. Rather they have a massive base. These artefacts are referred to as Mladeč-type bone points or bone projectiles. When found at other sites with split base bone points occurring in a separate layer, the layer with Mladeč-type bone points is always found above the layer with split base bone points. The Mladeč-type bone points appear in an Aurignacian context after 40,000 BP. +
Other artefacts include 22 perforated mammalian teeth, likely used as pendants. Perforated animal teeth used as pendants are frequently found at Aurignacian sites. The perforated teeth from Mladeč came from wolves, bears, and uncommonly, beavers and moose. The few stone tools can clearly be ascribed as Aurignacian. The remains of carbonized rope were discovered in 1882 by Szombathy. In 1981, archaeologists discovered ochre-colored marks on some of the walls at Mladeč. A total of 632 bones from large mammals have been discovered at Mladeč. These come primarily from bovids (primarily steppe bison, but a few from aurochs), bears (primarily Ursus deningeri, but a few from Ursus spelaeus), reindeer, horses and wolves. +
More than 100 human fossil fragments were discovered at Mladeč. Researchers failed to extract usable DNA from the Mladeč human fossils for the purposes of aDNA analysis. However, two (out of twelve) of the Mladeč specimens, Mladeč 2 and Mladeč 25c, yielded a limited amount of mtDNA, which did not contain Neanderthal mtDNA sequences. Direct AMS dating of the human fossils from Mladeč yielded uncalibrated dates of around 31,190 BP for Mladeč 1, 31,320 BP for Mladeč 2, 30,680 BP for Mladeč 8 and 26,330 BP for Mladeč 25c.
Dolní Věstonice is another candidate for the world’s oldest “village” based on its age and the large amount artisanship and activity that went on there. An Upper Paleolithic archaeological site near the village of Dolní Věstonice, Moravia in the Czech Republic,on the base of 549-meter-high Děvín Mountain, it thrived 26,000 years ago based on radiocarbon dating of objects and remains found there. The site is unique and special because of the large number of prehistoric artifacts (especially art), dating from the Gravettian period (roughly 27,000 to 20,000 B.C.) Found there. The artifacts include includes carved representations of men, women, and animals, along with personal ornaments, human burials and enigmatic engravings. [Source: Wikipedia]
The stone-age men at Dolni Vestonice and Pavlov sites in the Czech Republic had textiles, ceramics, cords, mats, and baskets. Evidence of these things are impressions left on clay chips recovered from clay floors hardened by a fire. The impressions of textiles indicate that these people may have made wall hangings, cloth, bags, blankets, mats, rugs and other similar items.
Ancient men at Dolni Vestonice and Pavlov in the Czech republic ate a lot of meat. They cooked stews and gruel in pits lined with hide and heated with hot rocks. In October 2004, team of European and Israeli archaeologists announced unearthed the oldest known clay fireplaces made by humans at a dig in southern Greece have. The hearths, excavated from the Klisoura Cave, in the northwest Peloponnesus, are at least 23,000 to 34,000 years old and were probably used for cooking by prehistoric residents of the area, according to the archaeology journal Antiquity. The study said that remnants of wood ash and plant cells had also been found in the hearths. The discovery, experts say, helps explain the transition from the oldest known hearths, made of stone, to clay structures like the ones at Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic. [Source: Anthee Carassava, New York Times]
Most scholars argue that Dolni Vestonice is too small and too rudimentary to qualify as a village or town. In any case a number of important discoveries related to early man have been found there.
Dolni Vestonice Discoveries
Some of earliest known ceramics were found at Dolni Vestonice and Pavlove, hill sites in the Czech Republic that were the home of prehistoric seasonal camps. Thousands of fragments of human figures, as well as the kilns that produced them have been found in sites in Moravia in what is now Russia the Czech Republic. Some have been dated to be 26,000 years old. The figurines were made from moistened loess, a fine sediment, and fired at high temperatures. Predating the first known ceramic vessels by 10,000 years, the figurines, some scientists believe, were produced and exploded on purpose based on the fact that most of the sculptures have been found in pieces.
Dolni Vestonice is the site of the earliest known potter’s kiln. Carved and molded images of animals, women, strange engravings, personal ornaments, and decorated graves have been found scattered over several acres at the site. In the main hut, where the people ate and slept, two items were found: a goddess figurine made of fired clay and a small and cautiously carved portrait made from mammoth ivory of a woman whose face was drooped on one side. The goddess figurine is the oldest known baked clay figurine. On top of its head are holes which may have held grasses or herbs. The potter scratched two slits that stretched from the eyes to the chest which were thought to be the life-giving tears of the mother goddess. [Source: mnsu.edu/emuseum/archaeology/sites/europe/dolni_vestonice]
Some of the sculpture may represent the first example of portraiture (representation of an actual person). One such figure, carved in mammoth ivory, is roughly three inches high. The subject appears to be a young man with heavy bone structure, thick, long hair reaching past his shoulders, and possibly the traces of a beard. Particle spectrometry analysis dated it to be around 29,000 years old. [Source: Wikipedia]
The remains of a kiln was found on an encampment in a small, dry-hut, whose door faced towards the east. Scattered around the oven were many fragments of fired clay. Remains of clay animals, some stabbed as if hunted, and other pieces of blackened pottery still bear the fingerprints of the potter.
Dolni Vestonice was located on a swamp at the confluence of two rivers near the Moravian mountains near present-day the village of Dolni Vestonice. In 1986, the remains of three teenagers were discovered in a common grave dated to be around 27,650 years old. Two of the skeletons belonged to heavily built males while the third was judged to be a female based on its slender proportions. Archaeologists who examined her skeletal remains found evidence of a stroke or other illness which left her painfully crippled and her face deformed. The two males had died healthy, but remains of a thick wooden pole thrust through the hip of one of them suggests a violent death.
The female skeleton was ritualistically placed beneath a pair of mammoth scapulae, one leaning against the other. The bones and the earth surrounding it contained traces of red ocher, a flint spearhead had been placed near the skull and one hand held the body of a fox. This evidence indicates that this was the burial site of a shaman. This is regarded as the oldest evidence of female shamans.
50,000-Year-Old Human Settlements in the Australian Interior
In 2016, a team of archaeologists in Australia announced they had found extensive remains of a sophisticated human community living 50,000 years ago. The remains — which included a range of tools, decorative pigments, and animal bones — were found in a rock shelter in the Flinders Ranges in Australia’s arid southern interior.[Source: Annalee Newitz, ars technica, November 3, 2016 |+|]
Annalee Newitz wrote in ars technica: “Dubbed the Warratyi site, the rock shelter sits above a landscape criss-crossed with deep gorges that would have flowed with water when Paleolithic humans lived here. From extensive excavations conducted last year, the archaeologists estimate that people occupied Warratyi on and off for 40,000 years, finally abandoning the site just 10,000 years ago. |+|
“By analyzing layers of earth in the shelter, the scientists were able to construct a timeline of settlement in the space. They used carbon dating on nuggets of hearth charcoal and eggshells to discover that the shelter was first occupied about 50,000 years ago. They also used a dating technique called optically simulated luminescence (OSL) on buried grains of quartz. This technique determines when those quartz grains last saw sunlight and heat. Both techniques returned similar dates, adding to the researchers' confidence in their findings. |+|
“This makes Warratyi the oldest evidence of human occupation in the arid Australian interior, long believed too hostile for ancient people who had few tools. But these findings make it clear that the ancestors of Australia's indigenous people were, in fact, seasoned explorers who could survive in difficult conditions. The earliest signs of habitation, older than 38,000 years, showed a human culture that was sophisticated for its time. The people of Warratyi had a wide range of tools, ranging from tiny handheld blades to bone awls. They had two colors of pigment, white and red, for use in art, body decoration, and possibly adhesive. They were accomplished hunters and gatherers, using many kinds of blades to butcher animals and cut plant stalks. Thousands of discarded bones and eggshell shards were buried at Warratyi, representing 17 different species. |+|
“Two of those species, D. optatum (a massive creature the size of a rhino) and G. newtoni (an enormous flightless bird) are extinct megafauna. Neither would have naturally found its way into the cave, so their bones and eggshells must have been brought there by humans. This proves that humans hunted, ate, and interacted with Australia's megafauna for a considerable time, over a considerable range, before the beasts died out. These findings also provide solid evidence for what archaeologists have long suspected, which is that humans in Australia had an impact on the lives (and extinctions) of megafauna across the continent. |+|
“What's truly incredible about Warratyi is the story it tells about how humans first populated Australia. We're still certain that the early human explorers island-hopped from southern Asia to Australia in reed boats. But archaeologists have long believed that these people settled the continent's coastal regions for thousands of years before broaching the deadly interior. Now the coastal hypothesis has been disproven. The discovery of the Warratyi rock shelter, write the scientists in Nature, "suggests that, following their arrival in Australia, people dispersed more rapidly across the continent than previously thought. The location of Warratyi could imply a more direct north–south route for pioneering human settlers rather than an exclusive coastal route."
“The scientists add that people lived in the shelter sporadically, never settling down there for a long period of time. "Human occupation was repeated but ephemeral in nature, indicating that Aboriginal people may have used Warratyi both as a refuge at a time when the surrounding lowlands and open plains were too arid to exploit and as a temporary campsite when environmental conditions became more stable regionally."
The authors conclude: “Archaeological sites with evidence of modern human colonization, unique cultural innovation, and interaction with now-extinct megafauna are rare in southern Asia and Australia. Sites preserving 50,000-year-old records of human occupation are rarer still. In addition to these landmark discoveries, Warratyi rock shelter reveals evidence for the development of modern human behavior in Australia and Asia. Important technological innovations and early symbolic behavior reveal that a dynamic, adaptive Aboriginal culture existed in arid Australia within only a few millennia of settlement on the continent. Ancient people adapted to Australia's harshest environment shortly after arriving on its shores. Warratyi was a resting point for groups who traveled widely, created art, and manufactured tools for everything from cutting to sewing. The Aborginals who settled the Adnyamathanha lands were basically high-tech explorers of the Paleolithic world. [Source: Nature, 2016. DOI: 10.1038/nature20125]
14,000-Year-Old “Village” Found in British Columbia
In 2017, a doctoral student from the University of Victoria, announced that she had found evidence of a 14,000-year-old settlement on Triquet Island on British Columbia's Central Coast. Leanna Garfield wrote in Business Insider: “For hundreds — perhaps thousands — of years, generations of the Heiltsuk Nation, an indigenous group in British Columbia, have passed down the oral histories of where they came from. The nation claims that its ancestors fled for survival to a coastal area in Canada that never froze during the Ice Age. A new excavation on Triquet Island, on British Columbia's Central Coast, has now backed up that claim, according to local news outlet CBC. [Source: Leanna Garfield, Business Insider, September 5, 2017 -]
“Archaeologist Alisha Gauvreau, a doctoral student from the University of Victoria and a scholar with the research institute Hakai, led a team that excavated the site in late 2016. They discovered several artifacts from what appears to be an ancient village, including carved wooden tools and bits of charcoal, in a thin horizontal layer of soil, called paleosol. The team sent the charcoal flakes to a lab for carbon dating and found that the pieces date back between 13,613 to 14,086 years ago, thousands of years before Egypt built its pyramids. -
“The artifacts are some of the oldest found in North America. In 1977, Washington State University archaeologists excavated a spear tip and mastodon rib bone (an extinct species related to elephants) near Washington's Olympic Peninsula. After CT scans in 2011, the fossils pushed estimates of the earliest human habitation on the West Coast back by 800 years (to about 13,800 years before present day). -
“The latest discovery will help archaeologists understand with more detail how more North American civilizations like the Heiltsuk Nation began. One popular theory is that the first native North Americans ventured from Asia over an ice-free, Alaskan land bridge to what is now western and central Canada during the Ice Age. Another theory, which the University of Victoria's research supports, is that they were sea mammal hunters and travelled by boat. In a 2016 paper Gauvreau said other oral histories could be further legitimized through archaeological digs. "This find is very important because it reaffirms a lot of the history that our people have been talking about for thousands of years," William Housty, a member of Heiltsuk Nation, told CBC News.” -
Jericho — the Biblical city of Joshua, trumpets and falling walls — is regarded by some as the oldest city in the world. Established around 7,500 B.C. in an arid valley 600 feet below sea level in Palestine near the Dead Sea., ancient Jericho was home to 2000 to 3000 people that survived on plants that thrived in a fertile area around an oasis. Strains of wheat and barley and obsidian tools have been discovered that came from elsewhere. Ancient Jericho had an elaborate system of walls, towers and moats. The circular wall that surrounded the settlement had a circumference of about 200 meters and was four meters high. The wall in turn was surrounded by a 30-foot-wide, 10-foot-deep moat. The technology used to build them was virtually the same as those used in medieval castles. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]
Located near a permanent spring a few miles west of the Jordan River and excavated by Kathleen Kenyon, Jericho is certainly one of the world’s oldest fortified settlement but whether it qualifies as a city is a matter of some debate. There are indications of settlement after 9000 B.C.. This settlement grew to city-like status by 7000 B.C. The archaeological site is situated in the plain of the Jordan Valley two kilometers northwest of modern Jericho city. It is a large artificial mound, rising 21 meters high and covering an area of about one acre.
In 7000 B.C., Jericho encompassed of about eight to ten acres and was home to estimated two to three thousand people. It was inhabited by people who depended on collecting wild seeds for food. It is appears that they did not plant seeds, but harvested wild grains using scythes with flint edges and straight bone handles and used stone mortars with handles for grinding them. Some people lived in caves, while others occupied primitive villages with round huts made from sun-dried bricks. They buried their dead with jewelry in graves made out of rock.
The early inhabitants of Jericho dug out canals to bring water from nearby sources to where they lived and perhaps to irrigate land with wild plants they harvested for food. They constructed huge two-meter-thick walls around their villages. Inside the main fortified settlement was a circular stone tower, nine meters in diameter, and ten meters high, built for protection and requiring thousands of man hours to build. The people of ancient Jericho practiced the domestication of animals, and weaving mats, as well as animal hunting, and perhaps, agriculture. They used spears and flint-capped arrows. They also used hatchets to cut tree branches. Some inhabitants expanded from their settlements in search of new homes outside their boundaries.
Jericho’s first inhabitants, a people called the Natufians, practiced barley cultivation. Pre-Biblical Jericho had an elaborate system of walls, towers and moats by 7,500 B.C. . Thirty-foot-high stone observation tower required thousands of man hours to build. The original walls of Jericho appear to have been built for flood control rather defensive purposes. Another surprising thing about Jericho is that no pottery or baked clay bricks have been found. The excavations go quite deep. By 3000 B.C. the Jericho Valley was a major wine-producing area.
The Archeological Museum of Jordan has a stunning collection of 9,000-year-old sculptured heads from Jericho. Consisting of on an actual skull with plaster skin and sea shell eyes, each head is different. Some archeologists claim they were sealed "spirit" traps," designed to keep the soul from wandering around. Jericho.
History of Tell es-Sultan (Ancient Jericho)
According to UNESCO: “Tell es-Sultan, the ancient city of Jericho, is the lowest (258 m below sea level) and the oldest town on earth. It grew up around a perennial spring, Ain es-Sultan, in an area of fertile alluvial soil which attracted hunter-gatherer groups to settle down, and to start a process of plant and animal domestication. Archaeological excavations carried out in the mid-20th century evidenced 23 layers of ancient civilizations at the site. The earliest remains date back to the Natufian period, 10th-8th millennia BC. By the 8th millennium B.C. Jericho became a big fortified town surrounded by a stone wall supported by a massive round tower. These are the earliest urban fortifications known in the world, later several times replaced. Their early date took the history of urbanity and domestication back several millennia at the time of their discovery in the 1950s. The Neolithic population ofJerichodeveloped a complex society where house construction, crafts, such as weaving and matting, and mythological and social conception of burial and religion were practiced. The Neolithic houses were built with dried mud bricks: the initial round shape of their construction developed into the rectangular form. [Source: UNESCO ==]
“During the Early Bronze Age, Tell es-Sultan was a fortified town and one of the most flourishing Canaanite City-States in Palestine. It lasted more than a thousand years before being demolished by nomadic groups in the last centuries of the second millennium BC. Afterwards, the site was rebuilt again at the beginning of the Middle Bronze Age, and surrounded by a mud brick wall that lasted until 1580 BC, when it was violently destroyed by fire. However,Jerichowas probably scantily re-occupied in the late Bronze Age, since few remains of this period were found. Throughout the Iron Ages, Tell es-Sultan was re-occupied again, especially in the 7th century BC, a phase which lasted until the end of Iron Age II (586 BC). Thereafter, the tell was no longer occupied, although Byzantine remains were found on its eastern side close to the spring of Ain es-Sultan. The surrounding area, however, today’s Jerichoand environs, was continuously occupied in a fluctuating history over the last two and a half millennia. ==
“Numerous religious events and beliefs are associated with the site and area. For example, the spring of Ain es-Sultan is biblically called Elisha’s spring, in which the prophet (Elisha) made the water atJerichohealthy. Luke narrates that Jesus visitedJerichomore than once; on one such occasion (19:1.4), “Jesus enteredJerichoand was passing through it. Now a man named Zacchaeus was trying to get a look at Jesus, but being a short man he could not see over the crowd. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him”. High above the site, perched on the cliff facing the west, is the monastery of the Mount of Temptation, traditionally built at or close to the place where Jesus, fasting for 40 days after his baptism, was offered by Satan the kingdom of the world in exchange for his homage. ==
“The archaeological methodology applied to make these discoveries is also regionally significant. It involved the use at Tell es-Sultan of techniques associated with the English archaeologist, Mortimer Wheeler, developed by him in the 1930s and passed on to his associates and students such as Kathleen Kenyon. She followed his precepts at Tell es-Sultan with large, deep, horizontal trenches designed to expose stratigraphy rather than merely find ‘remains’ or objects. Thus the wall and tower, and indeed the evidence of domestication, were found in a secure cultural and chronological context. The well-preserved trenches remain as witnesses to the development of archaeological research methods inPalestine. Visitors can still see some of the layers in which lies the history of the tell. ==
Catal Huyuk, the World’s Oldest Town
Çatalhöyük (30 miles southeast of Konya in Turkey) is widely accepted as being the world's oldest village or town. Established around 7500 B.C. , it covered 32 acres and was home to between 3000 to 8000 people. Because of the way of the houses are packed so closely together it is hard to dispute it as being anything other than a village or town. [Sources: Ian Hodder, Natural History magazine, June 2006; Michael Batler, Smithsonian magazine, May 2005; Orrin Shane and Mine Kucuk, Archaeology magazine, March/April 1998]
Catalhoyuk was occupied for about 1,700 years, between 9,400 and 7,700 years ago, which is fairly long when you consider that New York City was founded not much more than 300 years ago. The 3000 to 8000 people that lived in Catalhoyuk at a given time were farmers and herders of cattle. They venerated bulls and worshiped a mother goddess; they produced paintings of hunting scenes and shaped object from obsidian quarried hundred of miles to the north, indicating long distance trade.
Çatalhöyük (pronounced Chah-tel-hew-yook) means “fork mound” in Turkish, a reference to a fork in the footpath before the main mound at the site. Clustered in a honeycomb-like maze, it consists of two mounds on either side of an ancient channel of the Carsamba River on the fertile Konya Plain. The largest mound, 33.5-acre Çatalhöyük East, was occupied between 7400 and 5000 B.C. but there are older undated levels below it. The smaller mound, Çatalhöyük West, was occupied between 5000 and 4,700 B.C. In addition to being very old Catalhoyuk is remarkably well-preserved. Around it today are melon fields and wheat fields. In 7500 B.C. there were marshes nearby that may have been flooded for two or three months a year. At that time agricultural fields were some distance from the town.
Catal Huyuk and the city of Hacilar which lay even further to the west lie at the westernmost limits of the region that produced the Neolithic revolution and first cities and agricultural communities. Catal Huyuk, produced many kinds of local goods (suggesting division of labor) and goods from elsewhere (suggesting trade). There is also evidence of an irrigation system previously thought to have originated in Mesopotamia over a thousand years later.
At Çatal Hüyük people lived in simple mud brick houses built so close to one another that there were few streets. To get to their homes people walked on rooftops and enter through the ceiling. Their diet consisted of at least twelve products such as fruits, nuts, and three kinds of wheat. People grew their own food and kept it in storerooms in their homes. They also domesticated animals, especially cattle, which produced meat, milk and hides. As a result of this food production, people often had more food than they needed so they created food surpluses. This allowed people to do things other than farming. Some people became artisans. These workers made jewelry and weapons to trade with neighboring peoples. The people of this area also built shrines and temples containing figures of gods and goddesses. This shows that religion itself was growing in Neolithic civilizations. [Source: Internet Archive, from UNT]
The inhabitants of Catalhoyuk lived in mud-brick and timber houses built around courtyards. The village had no streets or alleyways. Houses were packed so close together people entered their houses through their roofs and often went from place to place via the roofs, which were made of wood and reeds plastered with mud and often reached by ladders and stairways.
A typical Catalhoyuk house was 29-by-20-feet and contained a 20-by-20-foot room and a smaller chamber divided into two subrooms. The floors were plastered and platforms were built in the large room. Many dwellings contained a burial platform under which people (presumably family members) were buried. One of the small rooms had an oven which was used make meals with lentils and grain.
It is believed each building was occupied by a family with five to ten members. Hodder believes the main room was “the locus of family living, cooking, eating, craft activities, and sleeping." The side rooms were used mainly “for storage and food preparation." Few houses share walls — even ones right next to each other. Each house was built of bricks of distinct composition or shape.
Each house seemed to have its own hearth (set away from the walls) , domed oven (set into the walls), obsidian caches, storage rooms, and work rooms. Depressions for holding pots and other small stores were built below the floor. The bins in the houses suggest they all had similar storage capacity for agricultural produce.
The interior walls were made of mud brick covered by plaster, often multiple layers of it, on which sometimes murals were painted. Benches and platforms were constructed with plaster. Many of these were constructed of multiple layers of plaster, with base coat and thinner overlying finished coats. The walls were windowless and tended to be about 40 centimeters thick and 2.8 to 3.2 meters high. But even without windows the rooms could be quite bright in the middle of the day when light shined down from overhead through the roof-top door and reflected off the plaster walls.
Furnishings in the main room included reed matting, three platforms, a plastered tomb post, an oven and stairs to the roof. Storage bins were situated in one small square-shaped room. In a longer adjacent room were an oven and a food basin. Arched doorways connected the rooms. They only way out of the house was via the stairway to the roof. It is believed the stairs were made of logs with steps notched into them.
Ain Ghazal, an archeological site in Amman, Jordan was one of the largest population centers in the Middle East (three times larger than Jericho) from 7200 to 5000 B.C., a period in human history when sem-nomadic hunters and gathers were adapting to farming and animals herding and organizing themselves into cities. Ain Ghazal means
Ain Ghazal covers about 30 acres. The people were farmers and hunters and gatherers. They used stone tools and weapons and made clay figures and vessels. They lived in multi-room houses with stone walls and timber roof beams and cooking hearths. Plaster with decorations covered the walls and floors. They are meat and milk products from goats, grew wheat barely, lentils, peas and chickpeas, hunted wild cattle, boar and gazelles and gathered wild plants, almonds, figs and pistachios.
Mysterious human figures unearthed at Ain Ghazal, are among the oldest human statues ever found. Made of lime plaster and dating back to 7000 B.C., the figures were about 3½ feet tall and have bitumen accented eyes and look like aliens from outerspace. Scholars believe they played a ceremonial role and may have been images of gods or heros.
The figures were discovered 1985 by the driver of a bulldozers clearing the way for a road. The statues were made of delicate materials — so delicate they whole site was unearthed and shipped to a Smithsonian laboratory where the figures it took ten years to assemble the figures.
The figures come in two types: full figures and busts. Both types were made by forming plaster over a skeleton made of bundles of reed wrapped in twine. Facial features were probably made by hand with simple tools made of bone, wood or stone. The plaster technology that was used was fairly advanced and required heating limestone to temperatures if 600̊ to 900̊C
Archeologists working in Ain Ghazal found what they say may be the world's oldest known game. The game board, a limestone slab, has two sets of circular depressions and bears a striking resemblance to games played in the Middle East today with counting stones. The slab was found in a house, and because it seemed to serve no utilitarian or ceremonial function archeologists concluded it most likely was a game board. [National Geographic Geographica, February 1990].
The settlement of Jarmo, east of Kirkūk in the foothills of the Zagros mountains in northeastern Iraq, dates to about 7090 B.C. Also called Qalat Jarmo, contains approximately a dozen layers of architectural building and renovation. One of the world’s first village-farming communities, it has yielded evidence of domesticated wheats and barley and of the dog and goat domestication, suggesting a settled agricultural way of life.. Other artifacts found at Jarmo include flint sickle blades, milling stones, and—later—pottery, hint at the technological innovations made in response to the new way of food production. The original occupation of the site is estimated to have occurred at about 7000 B.C.. [Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica]
Jarmo lies at an altitude of 800 meter above sea-level in a belt of oak and pistachio woodlands. Excavations have revealed that Jarmo was an agricultural community dating back to 7090 B.C.. The site was originally discovered by the Iraqi Directorate of Antiquities in 1940, and was excavated in 1948, 1950–51 and 1954–55 by to archaeologist Robert Braidwood from the University of Chicago Oriental Institute, who researched the origins of the Neolithic Revolution. Braidwood was the first to use a multidisciplinary approach in an attempt to refine the research methods and clarify the origin of the domestication of plants and animals. His team included a geologist, a palaeo-botanist, Hans an expert in pottery and radio-carbon dating, and a zoologist, Charles Reed, as well as a number of archaeologists. The interdisciplinary method was subsequently used in all serious field work in archaeology. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Excavations at Jarmo revealed a small village, covering an area of 12,000 to 16,000 square meters. The oldest of the twelve levels was dated (by carbon-14) to 7090 B.C., the most recent, for, to 4950 B.C., with the high point likely to have been between 6,200 and 5,800 B.C. The small village from the 6,200 and 5,800 B.C. period was clearly a permanent settlement. It consisted of 25 houses, with adobe walls and sun-dried mud roofs, which rested on stone foundations, with a simple floor plan dug from the earth. These dwellings were frequently repaired or rebuilt. In all, about 150 people lived in the village. In the earlier phases there is a preponderance of objects made from stone, silex- using older styles- and obsidian. The use of this latter material, obtained from the area of Lake Van, 320 kilometers miles away, suggests that some form of organized trade already existed, as does the presence of ornamental shells from the Persian Gulf. In the oldest level baskets have been found, waterproofed with pitch, which is readily available in the area. +
Evidence of agricultural activity includes the presence of stone sickles, cutters, bowls and other objects, for harvesting, preparing and storing food, and also by receptacles of engraved marble. In the later phases instruments made of bone, particularly perforating tools, buttons and spoons, have been found. Further research has shown that the villagers of Jarmo grew wheat of two types, emmer and einkorn, a type of primitive barley and lentils (it is common to record the domestication of grains, less so of pulses). Their diet, and that of their animals, also included species of wild plant, peas, acorns, carob seeds, pistachios and wild wheat. Snail shells are also abundant. There is evidence that they had domesticated goats, sheep and dogs. On the higher levels of the site pigs have been found, together with the first evidence of pottery. +
Jarmo is one of the oldest sites at which pottery has been found, appearing in the most recent levels of excavation, which dates it to the 7th millennium B.C.. This pottery is handmade, of simple design and with thick sides, and treated with a vegetable solvent. There are clay figures, zoomorphic or anthropomorphic, including figures of pregnant women which are taken to be fertility goddesses, similar to the Mother Goddess of later Neolithic cultures in the same region.+
Chur in Switzerland, the World’s Oldest Town?
In 1998, construction workers excavating a parking lot in Chur, Switzerland, on the Rhine River near Liechtenstein, uncovered archaeological artifacts dating back to about 11,000 B.C. Chur is often described as “the oldest city in Switzerland.” If the artifacts are in fact evidence of a “village” or “city,” Chur would be 2,000 years older than Jericho. In Neuchâtel — at nearly the opposite, western end of Switzerland the country — archaeologists have found artifacts dating to about 13,000 B.C., some 2000 years older than those in Chur. [Source: Bill Harby, swissinfo, March 18, 2018 ***]
Switzerland is the home of other early historical milestones. Among the world's oldest examples of art are two Paleolithic harpoons, at least 60,000 years old, decorated with geometric figures discovered at Veyrier near Geneva. One of the oldest wheels ever found is a 4000-year old-wooden disc discovered at an archeological sight near Zurich. The wheel now can be seen in the Zurich Museum. Not many older wheels have been found. Wood usually rots to dust within a century or so, The Bernisches Historisches Museum is Bern houses a 4000-year-old ax with a jade blade and an antler socket and handle. The ax was made by people from the stick ax culture. The oldest known opium cultivators were the Neuchâtel shorline culture — people who lived around a Swiss lake in the forth millennium B.C. Traces of opium have been excavated from archeological sites there.
Bill Harby wrote in swissinfo, “It’s true that “Chur has certainly yielded some of the oldest archaeological finds in Switzerland”, says Professor Philippe Della Casa from the Institute for Archaeology at the University of Zurich. But they “belong to temporary camp sites, not to sedentary settlements”. To be called a “town”, certain criteria must be met, says Della Casa, including “centralized administration, complex planning and architecture, structured social organisation and specialised crafts”. By these criteria, “Chur is certainly not the ‘oldest town’ in Switzerland, since towns as such do not emerge before the Celtic Iron Age, the mid-first millennium B.C.”. ***
“Similarly, the earliest Neuchâtel shoreline artifacts are from “nomad camps of hunter-gatherers”, says Marc-Antoine Kaeser, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Neuchâtel and Director of Laténiumexternal link. Laténium is Switzerland’s largest archaeological museum. It stands by Lake Neuchâtel near where the oldest artifacts were found. In the archaeology park just outside the museum’s doors stand replicas of Neolithic lake dweller houses from 3810 B.C.. Inside, Laténium’s exhibits trace 500 centuries, beginning with the Neanderthals. ***
“Kaeser says the oldest permanent Neolithic settlements so far identified in Switzerland were in the Rhone valley and in the town of Bellinzona on the south side of the Alps. But “a real continuous occupation can only be attested from the Roman times on”. Professor Della Casa suggests we look to Zurich, Bern, Geneva or Baselexternal link as our oldest towns. “All these sites had fortified Celtic settlements in the second half of the first millenium B.C.,” he says. ***
“Thomas Reitmaier concurs with this timeline. Director of the Archaeological Service for canton Graubünden, Reitmaier’s office is in Chur. “This is quite tricky,” he says, but “generally the emergence of the earliest proto-urban and urban centres north of the Alps are dated to the first Millenium B.C.”. Therefore he adds it’s “difficult to determine the oldest Swiss town.” ***
What about Chur? “It seems clear: there are first late-Paleolithic Period (about 12,000 B.C.) remains of some camps, and some first settlements from the Neolithic Period (4,500 B.C.) onwards, till the Roman occupation and the founding of a rather small vicus [an ancient Roman settlement]”. But Reitmaier says “we should talk about the town of Chur from the medieval period at the earliest,” noting that the town walls weren’t constructed until the 13th century.
Jiahu Culture of China
Jiahu is a rich but little known archeological site located near the village of Jiahu near the Yellow River in Henan Province in central China. About equidistant between Xian and Nanjing, the site was occupied from 9,000 to 7,700 years ago and then from 2,000 year ago to the present. In addition to yielding the world's oldest wine and some of the oldest rice and earliest playable musical instruments, it may have also yielded the earliest examples of Chinese writing.
Laura Anne Tedesco of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “The archaeological site of Jiahu in the Yellow River basin of Henan Province, central China, is remarkable for the cultural and artistic remains uncovered there. These remains, such as houses, kilns, pottery, turquoise carvings, tools made from stone and bone—and most remarkably—bone flutes, are evidence of a flourishing and complex society as early as the Neolithic period, when Jiahu was first occupied. [Source: Tedesco, Laura Anne."Jiahu (ca. 7000–5700 B.C.)", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org \^/]
“Fragments of thirty flutes were discovered in the burials at Jiahu and six of these represent the earliest examples of playable musical instruments ever found. The flutes were carved from the wing bone of the red-crowned crane, with five to eight holes capable of producing varied sounds in a nearly accurate octave. The intended use of the flutes for the Neolithic musician is unknown, but it is speculated that they functioned in rituals and special ceremonies. Chinese myths known from nearly 6,000 years after the flutes were made tell of the cosmological importance of music and the association of flute playing and cranes. The sound of the flutes is alleged to lure cranes to a waiting hunter. Whether the same association between flutes and cranes existed for the Neolithic inhabitants at Jiahu is not known, but the remains there may provide clues to the underpinnings of later cultural traditions in central China. \^/
“Pictograms, signs carved on tortoiseshells, were also uncovered at Jiahu. In later Chinese culture dating to around 3500 B.C., shells were used as a form of divination. They were subjected to intense heat and the cracks that formed were read as omens. The cracks were then carved as permanent marks on the surface of the shell. The evidence of shell pictograms from Jiahu may indicate that this tradition, or a related one, has much deeper roots than previously considered." \^/
Zhang Juzhong and Cui Qilong, two Chinese archeologists involved in the excavations at Jiahu, wrote in “A Companion to Chinese Archaeology”: “Due to its early date and rich findings, the Jiahu site provides important information about the development of many aspects of Chinese culture. Since the findings from Jiahu were published, the academic community has been very interested in the bone flutes, objects with inscribed symbols, and the fermented rice beverage documented there. These important discoveries prove that the Jiahu culture played an important role in the development of Chinese civilization." [Source: “The Jiahu Site in the Huai River Area” by Zhang Juzhong and Cui Qilong, A Companion to Chinese Archaeology, edited by Anne P. Underhill, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2013 thirdworld.nl ~|~]
Jiahu Settlement Organization and Houses
Zhang Juzhong and Cui Qilong wrote in “A Companion to Chinese Archaeology”: “The excavation area of the Jiahu site can be divided into five areas from west to east. In each area, we found trash pits, burials, storage pits, and pottery kilns. Research on these remains shows that there is a distinct difference between the early climatic phase and the two later climatic phases (middle and late) defined above. So I will refer to just two phases of social development at the Jiahu site in the remainder of this chapter, as early and late. As discussed below, in the early phase, living areas and burial areas were mixed together, although the distribution shows some houses in groups. It seems that there was no clear layout, suggesting rather random placement of constructions and other features. From the layout of the middle–late phase, we can feel the pulse of development. The village has a more orderly appearance, given what looks like a planned layout for houses and burials. Also, the burial area was separated from the living area, a separation that became clearer over time, from the middle to late phase, as if people followed standard rules. [Source: “The Jiahu Site in the Huai River Area” by Zhang Juzhong and Cui Qilong, A Companion to Chinese Archaeology, edited by Anne P. Underhill, Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 2013 thirdworld.nl ~|~]
“Excavation of the residential areas showed that there are three kinds of houses at Jiahu: semi-subterranean ( bandixue), surface-level, and pile'dwellings (stilt-style ganlanshi). Most of the houses have single rooms and are semisubterranean. There also are a few structures with more than one room. ~|~
“The early phase layout was relatively simple with few living and burial areas, although each of the five areas mentioned above were used. Only the second area in the west had a more complete arrangement with a greater density of remains. We discovered seven houses (six semi-subterranean, one stilt style), surrounded by 26 burials, 30 trash pits and two pottery kilns. There was an increase in the quantity of structures in this area from the early phase to the late phase. The biggest house of the second group in the western area, F17, is 24 square meters in size. It was originally a single space and became a building with multiple rooms after several extensions. The house is located in the center of the cluster. All of the other houses in the group face the center. The arrangement was rather disordered and displayed a lack of unity. The pattern is a distinct contrast to the careful spatial arrangements at the sites of Jiangzhai, Banpo, Yuanjunmiao, and Dahecun in the Yangshao period. ~|~
“More burials were distributed between the houses in this area, especially around F17. On the one hand, the reason for the large number of burials may be that this structure was a center of the houses in the area. On the other hand, F17 was extended over time from one single room to four. It represents a larger capacity and a longer period of use than at the surrounding houses. The deceased in the neighboring burials were probably the residents of that house. At this time, therefore, burial and living areas were located in the same areas. Separate, public burial grounds had not been developed. We discovered large amounts of pottery sherds, tools, and animal and plant remains in the deposits under those houses. These remains probably were refuse from the structures and help us understand their functions. Most of the structures have associated broken pottery vessels used for cooking and eating, except for F38, the stilt-style structure. We can interpret them, therefore, as dwellings. There are no remains inside structure F38 or in the deposits below it to indicate a dwelling. The two big houses, F5 and F17, contain a larger number and more types of pottery vessels. Tools used in production of goods also were discovered there. This also reveals a functional difference between big and small structures during the early phase. It appears that production activities were carried out in the big houses. The houses around F17 probably formed a group in the village. ~|~
“Do the five spatial groups for the early phase represent five families or five clans? Forty-two burials were discovered in the first phase. They are more dispersed and all located in the western area of the site. On the basis of this pattern, they can be divided into two groups: Group A contains 26 burials and Group B contains 16 burials. The distance between the two groups is about 6–13 meters. These two groups of burials and houses could belong to two families who lived on the site at the same time. It is also possible that the two families formed a clan community. ~|~
“Two pottery kilns ( yao..) from the early phase were discovered at Jiahu, and they were located on either side of the village. Both kilns (Y1 and Y2) are located around the houses of the second spatial group in the western area. It is apparent that a special area for pottery-making had not developed and that production was at the household level.” ~|~
Damascus, the World’s Oldest Continuously Occupied City?
Damascus — currently the capital and largest city in Syria — is widely regarded as world's oldest continually-inhabited city (there is evidence of human habitation as far back as 5000 B.C.). It bases this claim perhaps on the fact that modern Damascus is large thriving city whereas Jericho, which is older and also claims to be the world’s oldest city, is located about two kilometers away from modern Jericho, a run-down town surrounded by refugee camps. Excavations at Tell Ramad on the outskirts of Damascus have demonstrated that the general area was inhabited as early as 9000 BC. However, it is not documented as an important city until the arrival of the Aramaeans in the 13th century B.C.
Situated at an elevation of about 375 meters, Damascus sits on the barren inland side of the Anti-Lebanon mountains on a fertile plain watered by irrigation canals running from the Barada River where olives, grapes, oranges, citron, pomegranates, figs, pears and other fruits have been grown. Devout Muslims believe that Damascus occupies the site of the Garden of Eden, and tradition holds that when the Prophet Mohammad looked upon the city he refused to enter it, not wishing to anticipate paradise. The first great Muslim dynasty, the Umuyyads, were based here.
Damascus was established as a city around green oasis, called Al-Ghutah, on the Barada River around 2500 B.C. and has been occupied by Arameans, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Nabateans, Greeks, Romans, Syrian Christians, Byzantines, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottoman Turks, Frenchmen and Syrians. It was conquered by David, Alexander the Great, and Tamlerlane. Saladin is buried here.
Damascus was described by the ancient Egyptians 4000 year ago and was powerful enough to resist the Assyrians. It is so old it was mentioned in Genesis (Jerusalem doesn’t appear until the Book of Joshua). Abraham was trying to get to Damascus when he began his journey from Mesopotamia to the Holy Land; St. Paul had his religious experience on the road to the city; and Muslims pilgrims on their way to Mecca during the Hajj, gathered here for the long, final caravan trek (later a train trip) across the desert to the Holy Islamic city.
Damascus became a great city under the Aramaeans The Aramaeans had settled in Greater Syria at approximately the end of the thirteenth century B.C., the same time at which the Jews, or Israelites, migrated to the area. The Aramaeans settled in the Mesopotamian-Syrian corridor to the north and established the kingdom of Aram, biblical Syria. As overland merchants, they opened trade to Southwest Asia, and their capital Damascus became a city of immense wealth and influence. At Aleppo they built a huge fortress, still standing. The Aramaeans simplified the Phoenician alphabet and carried their language, Aramaic, to their chief areas of commerce. Aramaic displaced Hebrew in Greater Syria as the vernacular (Jesus spoke Aramaic), and it became the language of commerce throughout the Middle East and the official language of the Persian Empire. [Source: Library of Congress *]
The plethora of city-states in Greater Syria could not withstand the repeated attacks from the north by the powerful Assyrian Empire, which under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar finally overwhelmed them in the eighth century B.C.. Assyrian aggressors were replaced by the conquering Babylonians in the seventh century B.C., and the then mighty Persian Empire in the sixth century B.C.. Under Persian aegis, Syria had a measure of self-rule, as it was to have under a succession of foreign rulers from that time until independence in the twentieth century. When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in 333 B.C., local political powers — which probably would have continued to contest for control of Greater Syria — were effectively shattered, and the area came into the strong cultural orbit of Western ideas and institutions.*
No one sure how the city got its name. Some scholars say Damascus was named after Damaskos, the son of the Greek God Hermes. Others attribute the name to the myth of Askos or that of Damas, the god who accompanied Dionysian and offered him a skene (skin) (thus the name "Damaskene"). Other still say it was named after Damakina, the wife of the water god, or was derived from the word for "The Watered Land."
Erbil, the World’s Oldest Continuously Occupied City?
Erbil in Iraq, some claim, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, occupied for more than 6,000 years, making it about a thousand years older than Damascus, which is usually considered the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Erbil has a high ''tell,'' an archaeological marvel consisting of layered towns that were built one on top of the other over thousands of years. Modern Erbil is the capital of Iraq’s autonomous province of Kurdistan. Home to 1.3 million people, mostly of Kurds, it is boomtown economy thanks to Kurdistan’s oil wealth.
In ancient times Erbil was known Arbela. It’s strategic location between the great Mesopotamian cities to the west and south, and the Zagros Mountains to the east, placed it at the heart of the ancient Near East’s most important cities and empires. The first mention of Arbela is found on clay tablets dating to about 2300 B.C. but what allow’s the city to make its claim as the world’s oldest are the layers that lay underneath those thought to date to 2300 B.C.
Andrew Lawler wrote in Archaeology magazine: “The 100-foot-high, oval-shaped citadel of Erbil towers high above the northern Mesopotamian plain, within sight of the Zagros Mountains that lead to the Iranian plateau. The massive mound, with its vertiginous man-made slope, built up by its inhabitants over at least the last 6,000 years, is the heart of what may be the world’s oldest continuously occupied settlement. At various times over its long history, the city has been a pilgrimage site dedicated to a great goddess, a prosperous trading center, a town on the frontier of several empires, and a rebel stronghold. [Source:Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, September-October 2014]
“Yet despite its place as one of the ancient Near East’s most significant cities, Erbil’s past has been largely hidden. A dense concentration of nineteenth- and twentieth-century houses stands atop the mound, and these have long prevented archaeologists from exploring the city’s older layers. As a consequence, almost everything known about the metropolis—called Arbela in antiquity—has been cobbled together from a handful of ancient texts and artifacts unearthed at other sites. “We know Arbela existed, but without excavating the site, all else is a hypothesis,” says University of Cambridge archaeologist John MacGinnis.
A team from Sapienza University of Rome recently used ground-penetrating radar to examine what lies under the center of the citadel, and found intriguing evidence of two structures buried some 50 feet below the surface. “This is the rubble of large stone buildings,” says Novacek, who believes this material may sit in late Assyrian levels, and could prove to be remnants of the electrum-coated temple. However, excavating a 50-foot-deep trench in the center of a high mound poses immense engineering and safety challenges, says Cambridge’s MacGinnis, who is advising the Iraqi-led team. Thus, instead of focusing on the center of the citadel and the possible remains of the temple, the excavators started work last year on the citadel’s north rim with an eye to exposing the ancient fortification walls. At the time, an abandoned early-twentieth-century house had recently collapsed, giving researchers a chance to remove and see beneath the most recent layers. Thus far, 15 feet of debris has been cleared away and investigators have uncovered mudbrick and baked brick architecture, medieval pottery, and a sturdy wall that may rest on top of the original Assyrian fortifications. Next the team will tackle two other small areas nearby before returning to the citadel to attempt the much trickier task of delving into the mound’s central interior. [Source: Andrew Lawler, Archaeology, September-October 2014]
“The earlier fortifications include a 60-foot-thick wall that likely had a defensive slope and a moat. The city’s formidable construction, says Novacek, resembles that found at Nineveh and Assur, and places it “unambiguously among Mesopotamian mega-cities.” The layout differs from that in other Assyrian cities, where the walls were rectangular, with a citadel as part of the protective fortifications. Arbela, however, had an irregular round wall entirely enclosing both the citadel and the lower town. That design is more typical of ancient southern Mesopotamian cities such as Ur and Uruk—a hint, Novacek says, of Erbil’s ancient urban heritage. “This conjecture desperately needs empirical verification,” he cautions. Yet, if it can be proven, ancient Arbela might rank among the earliest urban areas and challenge the idea that urbanism began solely in southern Mesopotamia.
“Other researchers are looking further afield, outside the city limits. A team led by Harvard University’s Jason Ur began to survey the area around Erbil in 2012. “It’s one of the last broad alluvial plains in northern Mesopotamia to remain uninvestigated by modern survey techniques,” says Ur, who also made use of old spy satellite photographs to identify ancient villages and towns that could then be explored. Examining 77 square miles, the team mapped 214 archaeological sites dating as far back as 8,000 years. One surprise was that settlements from between 3500 and 3000 B.C. contain ceramics that appear more closely related to southern Mesopotamian types than to those of the north. Ur says this may mean that the plain, rather than being peripheral to the urban expansion that took place in cities such as Ur and Uruk, was related in some direct way to the great cities of the south. This evidence further boosts Novacek’s theory that Arbela was, in fact, an early urban center.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, British Columbia footprints, Scientific American
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2018