Mideast civilization

The dawn of urban life in the Middle East still remains uncovered in Syria.

Updated: Apr 26, 2010, 15:37 PM IST

Washington: The dawn of urban life in the Middle East still remains uncovered in Syria beneath three large mounds about three miles from the modern town of Raqqa, say American and Syrian experts.

These mounds, the tallest of which is nearly 50 feet high, cover about 31 acres and contain the ruins of Tell Zeidan, a proto-urban community dating 6000-4000 B.C.

During this period much of Mesopotamia shared a common culture, called Ubaid, which triggered the emergence of the first true city centres in the Uruk period that dates between 4000 and 3100 BC.

However, the mounds remains untouched for over 6,000 years in spite of the site`s significance.

This was a blessing for archaeologists.

Since Tell Zeidan was abandoned in 4000 BC, large areas of this large Ubaid temple-town can be easily accessed as they are not buried beneath feet of deposits from later occupation periods.

A joint Syrian-US excavation co-directed by Muhammad Sarhan from the Raqqa Museum and Gil Stein from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, has found significant evidence for monumental architecture, widespread irrigation agriculture, copper metallurgy and long distance trade in luxury goods.

"All this flourished long before people domesticated pack animals for transportation or invented the wheel," Discovery News quoted Gil Stein, the US co-director of the joint project, as saying.

Stein added: "The Ubaid people used widespread irrigation and agriculture, had powerful political leaders and experienced the first social inequality. Communities became divided into wealthy elites and poorer commoners."

One of the most important discoveries from the area was a large, stone stamp seal depicting a deer.

The seal is finely carved from a red stone which is not native to the area, and bears striking resemblance to another seal found at a site in northern Iraq, some 185 miles to the east of Tell Zeidan.

"The existence of very expertly carved seals with near-identical motifs at such widely distant sites suggests that in this period, high-ranking elites were assuming leadership positions across a very broad region. Those dispersed elites shared a common set of symbols and perhaps even a common ideology of superior social status," Stein noted.

Guillermo Algaze, a specialist on the emergence of urban centres in the Middle East and professor of anthropology at the University of California, San Diego, said in a statement: "Work at this unique site has the potential to revolutionize current interpretations of how civilization in the Near East came about."