The Birth of Cities in Ancient West Asia

Chapter

Abstract

In what amounts to the blink of an eye in the history of humanity, we have become city dwellers. At the start of human existence, everyone moved; all human groups were hunters and foragers who moved seasonally, following the annual cycles of plants and animals. This pattern prevailed for millions of years. In West Asia, groups began staying in one place for some or all of the year only about 15,000 years ago. By 5000 years ago, cities had appeared. Today, the majority of humans on earth live in urban settlements. It was the most dramatic and rapid transition in human history. Where did it start, and how did it happen?

Keywords

Satellite Imagery Archaeological Survey Ancient City Aster Image Early City 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgements

I am indebted to the Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums in Damascus for permission to carry out research and Brak and Khirbat al-Fakhar/Hamoukar. The Tell Brak Suburban Survey was co-directed by Philip Karsgaard, with survey assistants Fahid Juma’a and Shilan Ramadan, and benefited from the advice and support of Joan and David Oates, Geoff Emberling, Henry Wright, Eric Rupley and Carlo Colantoni. Funding for the Suburban Survey was provided by the British Academy, the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research (University of Cambridge), the University of Michigan and Harvard University. CORONA imagery is reproduced courtesy of the United States Geological Survey.

Further Reading

There are few works on urban origins intended for the general reader. Recent reviews of the transition to urbanism in ancient West Asia include Algaze (2008, 2013), Pollock (1999), and Ur (2012).

References

  1. Adams, R.M. 1966. The evolution of urban society. Chicago/New York: Aldine.Google Scholar
  2. Adams, R.M. 1981. Heartland of cities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. Al Quntar, S., L. Khalidi, and J.A. Ur. 2011. Proto-urbanism in the late 5th millennium BC: Survey and excavations at Khirbat al-Fakhar/Hamoukar, Northeast Syria. Paléorient 37: 151–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Algaze, G. 2008. Ancient Mesopotamia at the dawn of civilization. Chicago/London: University of Chicago.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Algaze, G. 2013. The end of prehistory and the Uruk period. In The Sumerian world, ed. H. Crawford, 68–94. Oxford/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Aurenche, O. 1981. La maison orientale, l’architecture du Proche-Orient ancien des origines au milieu du quatième millénaire. Paris: Paul Geuthner.Google Scholar
  7. Bintliff, J. 1999. Settlement and territory. In Companion encyclopedia of archaeology, vol. 1, ed. G. Barker, 505–544. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Childe, V.G. 1950. The urban revolution. Town Planning Review 21: 3–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cowgill, G.L. 2004. Origins and development of urbanism: Archaeological perspectives. Annual Review of Anthropology 33: 525–549.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Crüsemann, N., M. van Ess, M. Hilgert, and B. Salje (eds.). 2013. Uruk: 5000 Jahre Megacity. Peterberg: Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut.Google Scholar
  11. Emberling, G. 2002. Political control in an early state: The eye temple and the Uruk expansion in northern Mesopotamia. In Of pots and plans: Papers on the archaeology and history of Mesopotamia and Syria presented to David Oates in honour of his 75th birthday, ed. L. al-Gailani Werr, J. Curtis, H. Martin, A. McMahon, and J. Reade, 82–90. London: Nabu Publications.Google Scholar
  12. Emberling, G. 2003. Urban social transformations and the problem of the ‘First City’: New research from Mesopotamia. In The social construction of ancient cities, ed. M.L. Smith, 254–268. Washington, DC/London: Smithsonian Institution.Google Scholar
  13. Gelb, I.J. 1979. Household and family in early Mesopotamia. In State and temple economy in the ancient near east, ed. E. Lipinski, 1–97. Leuven: Departement Oriëntalistiek, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.Google Scholar
  14. Kouchoukos, N. 2001. Satellite images and near eastern landscapes. Near Eastern Archaeology 64: 80–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Liverani, M. 2006. Uruk: The first city. London/Oakville: Equinox.Google Scholar
  16. McMahon, A., A. Sołtysiak, and J. Weber. 2011. Late chalcolithic mass graves at Tell Brak, Syria, and violent conflict during the growth of early city-states. Journal of Field Archaeology 36: 201–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Menze, B.H., and J.A. Ur. 2012. Mapping patterns of long-term settlement in northern Mesopotamia at a large scale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109: E778–E787.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Nissen, H.J. 1988. The early history of the ancient near east, 9000–2000 BC. Chicago: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  19. Oates, J., A. McMahon, P. Karsgaard, S. al-Quntar, and J. Ur. 2007. Early Mesopotamian urbanism: A new view from the north. Antiquity 81: 585–600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pollock, S. 1999. Ancient Mesopotamia: The Eden the Never Was. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Roaf, M. 1989. Social organization and social activities at Tell Madhhur. In Upon this foundation: The ‘Ubaid’ reconsidered, ed. E.F. Henrickson and I. Thuesen, 91–146. Copenhagen: Carsten Niebuhr Institute of Ancient Near Eastern Studies.Google Scholar
  22. Schloen, J.D. 2001. The house of the father as fact and symbol: Patrimonialism in Ugarit and the ancient near east, Studies in the archaeology and history of the Levant 2. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns.Google Scholar
  23. Ur, J.A. 2010. Urbanism and cultural landscapes in northeastern Syria: The Tell Hamoukar survey, 1999–2001, Oriental Institute Publications 137. Chicago: University of Chicago Oriental Institute.Google Scholar
  24. Ur, J.A. 2012. Southern Mesopotamia. In A companion to the archaeology of the ancient near east, ed. D.T. Potts, 533–555. Malden/Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  25. Ur, J.A. 2014a. Households and the emergence of cities in ancient Mesopotamia. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 24: 249–268.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Ur, J.A. 2014b. Urban form at Tell Brak across three millennia. In: Preludes to urbanism: The late chalcolithic of Mesopotamia, eds. A. McMahon, and H. Crawford. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.Google Scholar
  27. Ur, J.A., P. Karsgaard, and J. Oates. 2007. Urban development in the ancient near east. Science 317: 1188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ur, J.A., P. Karsgaard, and J. Oates. 2011. The spatial dimensions of early Mesopotamian urbanism: The Tell Brak suburban survey, 2003–2006. Iraq 73: 1–19.Google Scholar
  29. Weber, M. 1978. Economy and society, vol. 2. Berkeley: University of California.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations