World's first city uncovered in Syria

A team of American and Syrian archaeologists discovered a prehistoric city in Syria and believe it influenced the foundations of urban life in the Middle East.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Before the wheel and before there was writing, there lay* this urban center in the Middle East. The prehistoric city showed evidence its people traded volcanic glass, engaged in agriculture, and created copper processing.

Enter the newly discovered town of Tell Zeidan, which hasn't been excavated in nearly 6,000 years. The city dates back to between 6000 B.C. and 4000 B.C., which is the time right before the first true city centers emerged in the Mesopotamia area. And its located at the center of major trade routes that followed the Euphrates River valley.

In fact, the Ubaid people not only lived in cities, they had power and class divisions within their society. The archaeologists found artifacts such as the strainer-sprouted pitcher and a stone stamp seal of a deer that suggest the elite members of society lived a life of luxury.

To get some of the raw materials, the Ubaid people had to travel up to 250 miles to collect them. This must have been difficult without the wheel! And this was way before domesticated donkeys, so the people had to carry the material on their backs.

Some objects revealed that the Ubaid people developed copper processing. And the archaeologists found kilns that proved that the Ubaid made a ton of pottery. The researchers loved finding the steal stamps, as it was evidence that the pre-historic culture valued owning things. Minor disclaimer: They had to stamp their belongings because writing didn't exist back then.

And more surprising, the same seal was found 185 miles away. This meant that the owner ruled over great distances and the objects were symbols of status, shared amongst other social elites. One archaeologist who led the dig, Gil Stein, the director of the Oriental Institute, concluded the evidence at the site showed that the political leaders essentially had enough power to transform a traditionally, isolated village lifestyle into a society that relied on trading luxurious products.

Indeed, this was a critical time for the development of urban life. The Ubaid people used widespread irrigation and agriculture. And yes, they had powerful, political leaders. Also, the divide between rich and poor people played a role in forming the foundation of urban life as we know it.

Credit: Gil Stein, Oriental Institute, University of Chicago

Video Credit: Dena Headlee and Lisa Raffensperger, National Science Foundation

Author's note: Assiduous readers will see that, following the suggestion of my grammatical adviser, Charlie Petit, I have changed "laid" to "lay". Those of you who are reading this because you hoped to get "laid" will be disappointed.

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This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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