Hamoukar, Great City of Old

Archaeological Site of Tell Hamoukar | Courtesy of the University of Chicago News Office

Scholars have spent decades researching the origins of civilization. Most scholars have traced its roots to the land of Mesopotamia, which is often called “the Cradle of Civilization.” Initially, scholars believed that the oldest cluster of city-states making up the first civilization was in Southern Mesopotamia, known as Sumer; however, a new city-state found in the ruins of Northern Mesopotamia may have existed even earlier than that of Sumer. This once thriving and prosperous city may have come to an early end; it may have been the first city to have been destroyed by war. This city was Tell Hamoukar.1

Tell Hamoukar was a city located in what is known today as Syria. The city is currently believed to have existed as far back as 5000 years ago, during the Ubaid period (6500-3800 BCE). This is the same period during which Ur and Uruk of Sumer were also developing into complex societies. However, fossils and treasures found within Hamoukar do bear resemblance to those found in the other two, which suggests that Hamoukar could have pre-dated those other cities by several centuries.1

The ruins of Hamoukar | Courtesy of the University of Chicago News Office

Most Mesopotamian cities were formed near rivers and bodies of water because of their irrigation potential for agriculture. Unlike these other cities, Hamoukar developed away from major waterways, but it possessed fertile soil. Crates and other tools not normally found within the region, such as obsidian, laid scattered around Hamoukar. This suggests that Hamoukar was a trading port, and one of the first of its kind.3

Scholars are gradually coming to see Tell Hamoukar as having been possibly one of the earliest complex societies. Many of the pots, doors, and items found around Hamoukar bare symbols to denote ownership. This was done at a time before written language had been invented.4 Each seal possessed different pictures, such as lions or kissing bears, and were stylistically different from seals found in other regions. Infant burial grounds and eye idols, as well as ovens and other tools for food preparation, were also recovered.5.

Tell Hamoukar’s prosperity was not meant to last, however, as it soon found itself under the threat of invasion. Littered around the ruins of the once mighty city lie over 1,200 clay bullets and 120 clay balls. Scholars hypothesize that these oval shaped bullets may have been launched from slings and hurtled towards some foe with deadly accuracy. Many of these bullets were flat, which suggests that the clay had not fully hardened before being slung. It is possible that there had been an attack on Hamoukar, and that it proved to be a greater battle than the invaders had originally anticipated. The defenders may have used all of their ammunition and were forced to create new rounds during the battle.6

Nonetheless, scholars believe that the siege of Tell Hamoukar was probably a success. Citizens fled as the once proud city soon burned to the ground.7 While the invaders have not been identified, many of the weapons match Uruk designs, and it is believed that they are the ones who overtook the city, though their exact reason remains a mystery. The dating of the weapons suggests that this was one of the earliest recorded battles in history.8


  1. Lewis Lord, Richard J. Newman, and Marianne Lavelle, “Chaos over the Capital,” U.S. News & World Report, June 5, 2000, 18.
  2. Lewis Lord, Richard J. Newman, and Marianne Lavelle, “Chaos over the Capital,” U.S. News & World Report, June 5, 2000, 18.
  3. Andrew Lawler, “North versus South, Mesopotamian Style,” Science, 312, no. 5779 (June 2006): 1461.
  4. Andrew Lawler, “North versus South, Mesopotamian Style,” Science, 312, no. 5779 (June 2006): 1461.
  5. McGuire Gibson and Mohammad Maktash, Antiquity 74 Issue 285 (Sept, 2000): 477
  6. Zach Zorich, “Relics of the Very First War,” Discover 27, no. 3 (March 2006): 12.
  7. Andrew Lawler, “North versus South, Mesopotamian Style,” Science, 312, no. 5779 (June 2006): 1461.
  8. Zach Zorich, “Relics of the Very First War,” Discover 27, no. 3 (March 2006): 12.
Hamoukar, Great City of Old
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  • I had no idea Tell Hamoukar existed before reading this very informative article. I always thought Sumer was the oldest city, but I can easily believe this city is older, since I don’t really know too much about ancient history. It’s almost sad that this civilization was torn apart by war and that there’s no way to know what happened to the people that lived there, but it’s still very interesting nonetheless.

  • It’s amazing that as a species we have evolved so fondly. From domestication, to vegetation, to creating art. It bewilders me of how much the psychological inner workings of their minds were at play. With building their cities and having a sense of organization among themselves, came consequences. The use of tactics utilized to take down prey, was used to take down other humans. A betrayal of sorts among ourselves.

  • There is something that has always intrigued me: to understand when it was the moment when we left our animal nature, and we got our human nature. The time when someone came up with a law for the first time. The moment in which the first political system was created. Many people look at history with evil eyes. They think it is a waste of funds, and that for today is not necessary. However, they are wrong since they are blinded by their own pride. Nowadays we believe that our era is the most civilized, when events tell us the opposite. We believe that the technology we possess gives us the lead, but we see what is happening in Charlottesville, and that leaves us in the last place compared to our “primitive” ancestors. There is much knowledge, both political, archaeological, social and intellectual, that our race has unfortunately lost through time. I set the example of the mining technology of the Inca empire. The Incas were able to extract colossal amounts of gold and silver without contaminating absolutely nothing. This knowledge is now lost, and hopes to see the light as Hamoukar has just seen it. I celebrate the vocation of these archaeologists who are increasingly approaching the origins of our civilization. I am 100% sure that the knowledge they are finding will inspire our attempts to improve our society.

  • I was always taught in school that Sumer was the first city civilization. Reading about Tell Hamoukar and learning about the fossils and clay bullets and other clay objects they found helps them to date back centuries. This was a very strong and well written article, you had many sources to find information from and seemed to be very knowledgeable about your topic. I am interested to see if any new research has come about recently about this city.

  • Its quite interesting to find out that sumer may not have been the first complex society but its also fascinating to find out that other civilizations were way ahead of what was believed to be first. The thought that Tell Humoukar was more than likely being invaded making it the first battle in history astounds me also. I always love to read pieces like this taking what we all believed to be true and throwing it out the window. The proof of some type of trade hub and that almost every house was marked for ownership showed progress but it was not meant to last.

  • Great introduction! I enjoyed how you let the reader know that we are mistaken when we see Mesopotamia as the “Cradle of Civilization”. This approach excites the reader to find out what the true “Cradle” is. Also, very good usage of example, it does help illustrate how this was indeed the first complex society. Especifically when you describe how Hamoukar developed away from major waterways because of their fertile soils and the discovery of complex tools/equipment. Loved how you finished your conclusion with a cool fact, “this was one of the earliest recorded battles in history”. Great article!

  • Tell Hamoukar, great city of old. Archaeologist make it possible for us to know all the information we have today. It is truly breathtaking all that has and can be discovered from fossils. They found ovens and other tools for food preparation, something we use in our everyday lives. It is impressing that even people back then were trading, something that plays a huge role in our economy today. This article was beyond informative.

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