early neolithic cities


catal huyuk was one of the world’s first cities and its ruins demonstrate the agricultural techniques of some of the human race’s first farmers. this settlement, located in the present day country of turkey, contained about 1,000 residences by the year 6,000 BC. it sat at the northern end of what was apparently a trade route between itself and the city of jericho. here men and women tried to survive using the earliest farming methods known to our ancestors.

jericho (tell as-sultan) is the name of a tell situated on an ancient lake bed plain  in the jordan valley in what is now is known as the west bank, palestine. the oval tell has between 8 and 12 meters of occupation fill, and it covers an area of about 2.5 hectares. the city that the tell represents is one of oldest continuously occupied (more or less) locations on the planet.

it has evidence of settlement dating back to 10,000 bc. during the younger dryas period of cold and drought, permanent habitation of any one location was not possible. however, the spring at what would become jericho was a popular camping ground for natufian hunter-gatherer groups, who left a scattering of crescent microlith tools behind them. around 9600 bc the droughts and cold of the younger dryas stadial had come to an end, making it possible for natufian groups to extend the duration of their stay, eventually leading to year round habitation and permanent settlement.

the first permanent settlement on the site of jericho developed near the ein as-sultan spring between 10,000 and 9000 bc. as the world warmed, a new culture based on agriculture and sedentary dwelling emerged, which archaeologists have termed pre-pottery neolithic a (abbreviated as ppna). ppna villages are characterized by small circular dwellings, burials of the dead within the floors of buildings, reliance on hunting wild game, the cultivation of wild or domestic cereals, and no use of pottery. at jericho, circular dwellings were built of clay and straw bricks left to dry in the sun, which were plastered together with a mud mortar. each house measured about 5 metres across, and was roofed with mud-smeared brush. hearths were located within and outside the homes. source: steven mithen, after the ice: a global human history, 20,000-5000 bc. (2006)

boncuklu höyük and çatal höyük form a very large neolithic and chalcolithic settlement in southern anatoliathe. the occupants of boncuklu höyük, literally the ‘beaded mound’, are thought to be ancestors of the people of çatalhöyük,  preceding them by some 2000 years. these early cities take the form of a mound or tell in which each successive occupation is built on its predecessor. the deepest layers of the mound at çatalhöyük, are thought to date from around 7,500 BC. (by contrast stonehenge, was erected between 2500 bc and 2000 bc although the surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100-3300BC.)

göbekli tepe is a tell, about 15km north-east of the turkish city of sanlıurfa, at the highest point of an extended mountain range. it is an artificial mound dating to the pre-pottery neolithic. it consists of several sanctuaries in the form of round megalithic enclosures.

during ppna circular multi-purpose community buildings, discovered at both tell el jerf el ahmar and tell el mureybet, suggest a well-developed social organization, with remarkable community activities. at jerf el ahmar the earliest of three successive, subterranean ‘community buildings’, which the excavator suggests was used both as a granary and for ceremonies. at the end of its use-life, a headless corpse was placed in the centre of the floor, the posts and roof were burnt, and the cavity was filled in.


//with these new cognitive and cultural faculties, people began to construct and inhabit dramatic built environments. within these rich cultural environments, they could maintain social memory through ‘commemorative ceremonies’ and ‘bodily acts’), in domestic rituals, in community buildings, in ceremonies with the bodies and heads of the dead, affirming a communal identity of place. these were the first ‘imagined communities’, but, unlike modern nations, they could be formed and maintained without social hierarchies of power// trevor watkins, antiquity.