World’s oldest war in Syria, 6,000 years ago?

This video is called Hamoukar: Redrawing the Map of the World’s Earliest Cities.

Translated from Archeonet in The Netherlands:

In Syria, almost 6,000 years ago, the first offensive war was fought.

German archaeologist Clemens Reichel told this to German weekly Die Zeit.

Ever since 2003, the archaeologist is conducting excavations on behalf of the university of Chicago where Hamoukar town used to be.


Hamoukar, today in north east Syria, close to the border with Iraq, about 4,000 BC was one of the first towns built.

It arose in the north of world famous Mesopotamia between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, and was surrounded by a three meters thick wall.

However, this sturdy wall was not enough to keep enemies out, Reichel concludes from his archaeological research.

“This is the oldest known example of an offensive war. …

Just in the core area of the battlefield, about twenty by thirty meters in size, Clemens Reichel and his colleagues in the past years found some 2300 clay ‘bullets’.

The clay bullets were thrown at the opponents, like stones fit for that purpose.

The attackers were probably from southern Mesopotamia and won.

See also here.

Military history of Iraq: here.

What Science Has Learned about the Rise of Urban Mesopotamia: here.

Prehistoric wars in Britain: here.

6 thoughts on “World’s oldest war in Syria, 6,000 years ago?

  1. Ancient Weapons Found in Ruins in Syria

    Jan 16 2007

    Associated Press Writer

    CHICAGO (AP) — It was the ancient version of a last stand: Twelve clay bullets lined up and ready to be shot from slings in a desperate attempt to stop fierce invaders who soon would reduce much of the city to rubble.

    The discovery was made in the ruins of Hamoukar, an ancient settlement in northeastern Syria located just miles from the border with Iraq.

    Thought to be one of the world’s earliest cities and located in northern Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, it is the site of joint excavations by the University of Chicago and the Syrian Department of Antiquities.

    Excavations have been going on at the site since 1999, but in digs conducted this past fall, researchers uncovered new evidence of the city’s end and more clues about how urban life there may have begun. The University of Chicago was to announce the findings Tuesday.

    The site is so close to Iraq that Clemens Reichel, the American co-director of the expedition, has seen explosions on the other side of the border.

    “It’s somewhat surreal. We’re not living in a vacuum there. We know exactly what’s happening across the border,” Reichel said. “But working in Syria is like working in the eye of the storm. It’s very peaceful to work there. Practically no problems.”

    The site was anything but peaceful in approximately 3,500 B.C. The archaeologists have previously detailed how they believe Hamoukar’s independence was ended by a battle that caused its buildings and walls to collapse and burn.

    This past fall, the team found more traces of that battle. For example, there was a shallow pit containing a water basin normally used to soften clay sealings for reuse. The clay sealings were used on bags, jars and baskets to help ensure that the valuables or food inside had not been tampered with.

    But along this basin, the researchers found neatly lined up along its edge 12 “sling bullets,” oval-shaped weapons made of clay that were fired using slings. More than 1,000 of the bullets were found in debris of collapsed walls in 2005.

    Reichel theorizes someone who usually worked with the clay sealings was trying to contribute to the war effort and fashioned bullets from the clay instead.

    “You imagine the despair the people were in. They were using everything they could to throw back at the attacker,” he said. “It looks like a desperate last attempt.”

    But the roof collapsed before the bullets could be used, and the researchers believe they were the first to see the scene since that fateful day.

    “It’s the content of 5,500 years ago no one has seen. There’s an element of eeriness – almost a sacred element – when you do this,” said Reichel, a research associate at the university’s Oriental Institute.

    As for the identity of the invaders, the researchers point to debris that indicates if members of the Uruk culture of southern Mesopotamia weren’t the ones attacking, they certainly swooped in immediately afterward and took over the city. Either way, they were probably on a quest for the region’s raw materials.

    Elsewhere at the site, archaeologists believe they’ve found clues to why urban life began at Hamoukar.

    A massive area, the size of a golf course, is scattered with thousands of pieces of obsidian, a type of rock used to produce tools and weapons. It also contains debris that “tells us that they are not just using these tools here, they are making them here,” Salam al-Kuntar, the Syrian co-director of the expedition, said in a statement.

    Using pottery fragments for dating purposes, the researchers theorize the area could have been a place where obsidian tools were produced hundreds of years before the ferocious battle.

    The discovery could also help explain how civilizations developed in different regions of the Fertile Crescent, Reichel said.

    It is accepted that in the south, urban society developed in response to the need for organized labor to support the irrigation-based agriculture. The findings from Hamoukar – which was on a key trade route linking modern-day Turkey to southern Mesopotamia – suggest that civilization could have developed there to tap into the market for mass-produced goods (such as obsidian tools).

    Guillermo Algaze, a professor of anthropology at the University of California at San Diego, has researched Mesopotamian archaeology and early civilizations. He follows the findings at Hamoukar, but did not participate in the dig.

    He said the existence of Hamoukar and the nearby Syrian city of Tell Brak prove that early development of Mesopotamia occurred independently in the north and south, which is contrary to traditional scholastic belief. Previously, civilization in the north of the region was thought to have developed under the influence of urban areas in the south.

    Still, the outcome of the battle at Hamoukar in 3,500 B.C. helped change the trajectory of the region, with southern Mesopotamia becoming the dominant force, home to ancient kingdoms such as Babylonia.

    On the Net:

    University of Chicago: mph-off(%)

    © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


  2. 2007-03-09 18:12
    Italy to recast Near East history
    New Damascus centre to help countries reclaim their pasts
    ROME (ANSA) – Italy is to help Middle Eastern countries recast their ancient history along lines no longer dominated by Western thinking.

    Announcing a new archaeological institute to be set up in Damascus, Rome University’s pre-eminent expert on the area, Paolo Matthiae, said the joint Italo-Syrian project would help a new generation of scholars re-appropriate their heritage. Matthiae, famous worldwide for discovering the ancient city of Ebla in northern Syria in the 1960s, said there was “enormous diffidence, in my view perfectly well-founded, to the way the West has read the past of the region”.

    He pointed out, in particular, that Near East history is often viewed through a Biblical prism – a view that risks becoming blinkered in some cases.

    “In America, for instance, they still talk about ‘the Biblical lands,” he said.

    Matthiae said this historical reading was a “minefield”, especially given the current tensions in the Middle East.

    “We have to make sure these countries have confidence in the way the West investigates and interprets the past,” he said, presenting plans for the institute.

    The new school would aim to become a “centre of excellence” for studies in the field, incorporating all findings.

    “Our Arab friends are fully entitled to have their extraordinarily glorious past seen from a standpoint that is not exclusively geared to the western world”.

    Matthiae, 66, is Professor of Archaeology and History of Art of the Ancient Near East at the University of Rome La Sapienza.

    He has become a myth to many archaeologists for his historic discovery of Ebla, which was eventually revealed as a civilisation rivalling Egypt and the major cities of Mesopotamia.

    The city, whose 3,000-year-old stone tablets contain the first reference to Jerusalem, is still giving up treasures 40 years after Matthiae found it.

    Working closely with their Syrian colleagues, Matthiae’s students recently made a string of dazzling finds at the ancient Syrian capital of Qatna including the oldest temple and palace in a kingdom that once dominated the caravan routes between Mesopotomia and the Near East.


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