necklace found in Mladec Caves, one candidate for the world's oldest village

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 ***]

Places like this include places where people gathered and made art. Murujuga, also known by the modern name Burrup Peninsula, in northwestern Australia, is home to some of the world’s oldest and most endangered petroglyphs. Some of the more than one million images are more than 40,000 years old. Some of the oldest known paintings in the world are in Cave of El Castillo in in the north of Spain. Thought to be more than 40,000 years old, many of the images are stencils of ancient hands made by artists blowing paint from their mouths. [Source: National Geographic]

Good Websites Archaeology News Report ; : ; Archaeology in Europe ; Archaeology magazine ; HeritageDaily; Livescience

Mladec Caves, the World’s Oldest “Village”?

Mladeč Caves

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.”

Dolní Věstonice

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.

Re-creation of a Dolní Vestonice burial

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.

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. |+|

Kostienki, a site almost as old as Dolni Vestonice

“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]

13,000-year-old footprint from British Columbia

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.

Catal Huyuk, the World’s Oldest Town

Catalhoyuk room

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.

Ain Ghazal

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.

Ain Ghazal statue

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 in China

Jiahu location

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, \^/]

“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. \^/

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.

House on the Damscus wall

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.

Erbil Citadel

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]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, British Columbia footprints, Scientific American

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia , 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 May 2024

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