With traces of habitation dating back as far as the last Ice Age, some of the oldest cities on the surface of the planet are thought to predate the ancient Egyptian pyramids by around 8,000 years.
Several thousand years before the first ancient Egyptian pyramid was envisioned during the Third Dynasty (King Djoser), ancient civilizations arose and fell in Earth’s early history. Long before royal architect Imhotep was given the megalithic task of building Egypt’s first stone-cut monument, people in present-day Syria founded great cities and built some of the first megalithic structures on the planet.
This period in history, spanning back more than 8,000 years, is poorly documented and understood.
The rise of the first city
Located in present-day Syria and dating back more than 8,000 years, we find one of the oldest cities on Earth. Thought to have started off as a small settlement during Earth’s last ice age, the ancient city of Aleppo became a sprawling ancient metropolis in the region, greatly influencing the development of culture in later periods. The ancient city of Aleppo hides many secrets, some of which date back to a time when history as we know it was not even written.
Despite its many enigmas, archaeological excavations no more than 30 kilometers away from the ancient city’s center have revealed a plethora of archaeological data that shows that the core of the city, as well as its nearby regions, were inhabited for at least 13,000 years. According to experts, the importance of Aleppo resides in the fact that it is one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in history. But in addition to that, its existence sheds light on a period in history where great things apparently happened. Not only did some of the oldest cities on Earth arise in that period, some of the oldest, most massive temples on Earth—Göbekli Tepe—were also built around 13,000 years ago.
Archaeologists maintain that in the historical record, Aleppo appears as an important city much earlier than the ancient city of Damascus. The earliest traces of habitation at the ancient city of Damascus were found in the wider Barada basin dating back to around 9,000 BC. Nonetheless, a large-scale settlement did not appear at the site until the second millennium BC. The ancient city of Aleppo covered an area of around 160 hectares. The city was enclosed by a massive wall, 5 kilometers in diameter, but despite Aleppo’s age, its wall is not the oldest on Earth.
It can be debated as to what city is the oldest on the planet. From a historical point of view, three ancient cities can make a case as the oldest on Earth. In addition to Aleppo and Damascus, we can, and probably must include the ancient city of Jericho.
The ancient city of Jericho is a treasure trove of history. Archeological excavations at the site have revealed evidence of around 20 successive settlements in the ancient city. The first one dates back to 9,000 BC, which means that already 11,000 years ago, around the very start of the Holocene Epoch, there were people living at the site. Jericho is surrounded by copious springs, which probably played a crucial role in drawing people from vast distances. In the Hebrew Bible, the ancient city of Jericho is described as the “City of Palm Trees.”
Although many people argue Damascus is without a doubt one for the oldest cities on Earth, in the historical record, Aleppo comes first. Archaeological excavations at Tell Ramad, where researchers radio-carbon dated several layers, point to the fact that the site was occupied since the seventh millennium BC, possibly as far back as 6,500 BC. However, looking at the wider area, there are traces that suggest the site where Damascus eventually flourished was inhabited from around 9,000 BC. Despite this, and as previously mentioned, no large-scale settlements appear until the second millennium BC.
The ancient city of Damascus was mentioned in some of the earliest ancient Egyptian records. The Amarna Letters dating back from around 1,300 BC, mention Damascus (called Dimasqu) being ruled by king Biryawaza.
According to some, the ancient city of Aleppo is the oldest city of them all. Nonetheless, we can’t really known the exact date when people decided to settle in the region. Archaeological excavations suggest that traces of habitation point to the last ice age. This means that between 13,000 to 11,000 years ago, a society formed at present-day Aleppo and people began forming what would later become one of the most significant cities in history. Not much is known about the oldest parts of Aleppo since archaeologists have not managed to study the city in depth. This is because the modern city occupies the ancient city’s place. The oldest records mentioning the ancient city of Aleppo (Armi) can be traced back to the third millennium BC.
As revealed by MNN, archaeologists have found traces of habitation at Aleppo which date back some 8,000 years, but excavations at a site 15 miles north of the city show the area was inhabited about 13,000 years ago.
According to archaeologists, the first permanent settlement on the site of the ancient city of Jericho developed near the Ein es-Sultan spring between 9,500 and 9000 BC. Traces of Epipaleolithic structures found at the site predate the invention of agriculture, the wheel, etc. Evidence of settlements at Jericho date back to around 10,000 BC. This coincides with the so-called Younger Dryas period, an era in Earth’s history characterized by cold and drought. According to archaeologists, this—the Younger Dryas—would have made habitation at one single location nearly impossible. However, springs surrounding Jericho may have made the wider site a popular settling place for early hunter-gatherers groups.
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Some 400 years later, around 9,600 BC, the droughts and cold of the Younger Dryas ceased making it possible to develop the site, creating a thriving settlement that allowed year-round habitation. Experts estimate that only 200 years later, around 9,400 BC, Jericho was a modest town with more than 70 unique structures.
In addition to being one of the oldest known continuously inhabited cities on Earth, Jericho is also home to the oldest-known protective wall in history. Experts believed that the ancient city was also home to the oldest stone tower, but archaeological excavations at s site in Syria—Tell Qaramel—have yielded even older towers.
Depending on who you ask, and particular beliefs, the age of the pyramids can vary. However, according to archeological evidence, the oldest-known pyramids were built in present-day brazil around 5,000 years ago. It is believed that around 3,000 BC, an unknown culture in Southern Brazil began building massive pyramid-shaped mounds made out of seashells. On top of these structures, edifices similar to temples were situated. Some of the largest pyramids in Brazil surpass, in terms of total volume, even the Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest of the Egyptian pyramids.
One Brazilian pyramid, located near the town of Jaguaruna, covers a total area of 25 acres. The pyramid is once believed to have stood more than 167ft high. Archaeologists estimate that there were more than one thousand pyramids in Brazil, but many of them collapsed and were destroyed by people in the early 19th and 20th centuries after confusing them with rubble.
Around that time, some 5,000 years ago, another culture constructed—entirely independently—pyramids. The ancient city-state of Caral in present-day Peru is also thought to have built great pyramids throughout history. Although not as massive as their Egyptian counterparts, archaeologists maintain that the monuments at Caral are among the most unique ancient pyramids on Earth.
As mentioned earlier, the Egyptian pyramids—according to mainstream experts—are thought to have appeared suddenly during the Third Dynasty Reign of King Djoser. The Pyramid Complex at Saqqara was a revolutionary monument, and its size was beyond impressive. The pyramid complex of Djoser covers around 15 hectares, which means it is approximately 2.5 times larger than the ancient city of Hierakonpolis. Furthermore, the above-ground elements of Djoser’s Pyramid complex are just one small part of the story. Beneath the pyramid, the builders excavated a labyrinth of tunnels, rooms, chambers, and magazines covering 5.7 kilometers in length.
While this is certainly impressive, let’s not forget that even before that, around 13,000 years ago, a mysterious people erected the first known megalithic temple in present-day Turkey called Göbekli Tepe. To build this ancient site, they used multi-ton blocks of stone some of which weigh dozens of tons.
Disclaimer: Feature image shows St. George Monastery in the Jericho Governorate