Scientists stumble upon one of world's oldest cities


Feb 22, 2007

MADRID -  A Spanish scientific team found one of the world's oldest cities, thought to be about 5,500 years old, in Syria. 

The discovery, based on pottery fragments and other ceramics found at the site, was announced in Madrid by two of the scientists in charge of the investigation, Ignacio Marquez of Spain's CSIC scientific research council and Juan Luis Moreno of the Universidad de La Coruña.

According to reports, the find is of "the highest level" of scientific importance because of its ramifications for the understanding of history and for the multiple lines of future research it opens up in many fields.

The Hispanic-Syrian archeological work is being carried out at Tal Humeada, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) from the border with Iraq on the left bank of the Euphrates River.

Last summer, archeologists found lying on the surface of the ground "a large number of (ceramic) bowls" that date from the period of the Uruk culture.

The Iraqi city of Uruk, in fact, is one of the oldest known having thrived between 3,500 and 3,100 B.C., and its culture is characterized by the production of very simple and roughly-made ceramic bowls, fashioned of clay and straw, like those discovered at Tal Humeada.

In addition, researchers found the oldest evidence of writing at the Uruk city-state complex, something that required moving back the boundary between "History, capitalized" and prehistoric times, Marquez said.

The neighbourhoods of Uruk, as could be the case at Tal Humeada, contained temples, palaces and other large monuments that the Spanish scientists say they are confident they will discover at the new site once they begin to excavate it.

The hundreds of broken ceramic bowls or basins archeologists found at the site were probably used to hold workers' bread rations, a practice that was also used at Uruk.

The beginning of excavations at the new site are scheduled for sometime in 2008, given that the process for getting permission to conduct an archeological dig in Syria moves very slowly, experts say.

The Spanish scientists hope to find evidence of the beginning of agriculture, since the Uruk culture was characterized by the presence of agricultural settlements outside its cities.

Near the city there is a necropolis - a huge cemetery or "city of the dead" - in which it is calculated there could be up to 1,000 tombs, 160 of which have already been located.

One of them, which was not looted in antiquity like many others were, has been subjected to a "scientific investigation" by the Spanish team, which determined that it was a 6th-century grave containing human remains, arrowheads, fragments of rings and many beaded necklaces.