Hamoukar, Great City of Old

http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/photos/hamoukar/hamoukar03.jpg
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

http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/photos/hamoukar/hamoukar09.jpg
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.
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32 Comments

  • Reading about early human civilizations has always been fascinating to me. The stories these ancient cities hold for us tells us about the origins of essential aspects of human life, such as trade, commerce, war, and even property and labels. One question I have after reading this article, however, is if Hamoukar was potentially the oldest civilization, who invaded them?

  • To hear that there was once a place that predates the Sumerian cities is something that sparks my mind. But this just makes more questions. Who were these people? How did they establish Hamoukar? Who ruled it? And then of course there is the question of who invaded who. I think this is why I enjoy ancient history. There’s so much mystery and so many questions. And sometimes those questions have yet to have answers.

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