Bear stamp seal
Hamoukar, a large site in northern Syria that has been excavated since 1999 by a joint team from the Oriental Institute and the Syrian Department of Antiquities, has provided insight into the early development of Near Eastern cities. Long known to have been a large urban center during the Early Bronze Age (2,500-2,200 BC), Dr. Clemens Reichel and his team were surprised by the discovery of a walled, Late Chalcolithic city that had been destroyed by fire around 3,500 BC.
Among the charred remains of Hamoukar, researchers uncovered administrative buildings containing thousands of clay seals and other artifacts of great technical skill and highly developed artistry. These discoveries have challenged the notion that the development of urban civilization and bureaucratic complexity in this area were the result of southern Mesopotamian cultural domination of this area in the later 4th millennium BC. Recent discoveries, including an export-oriented obsidian tool production center of industrial size dating to 4,500-4000 BC, may push back the origins of northern Syria's first "urban experiments" ever further into prehistory.
Hamoukar thus promises to provide significant data on early urbanism for many years to come, allowing Dr. Reichel and his team to re-examine and revise the early history of this Near Eastern city. A variety of pottery found at the site raises questions about the people who created it: is the pottery representative of a cultural movement that involved architecture and other crafts? Does it represent a certain group of people? Is it a marker of social hierarchy? Nearly all funding for Hamoukar would go directly toward excavation methods, equipment, and travel expenses, helping excavators answer these questions and others about early Near Eastern urbanism.
For more information, visit the Hamoukar website.
Clemens Reichel is Assistant Professor for Mesopotamian Archeology at the University of Toronto and Associate Curator for the Ancient Near East at the Royal Ontario Museum. Following his undergraduate studies at the University of Freiburg (Germany), he received his MA at the University of London in 1990 and his PhD at the University of Chicago in 2001. His research interests focus on early state societies and bureaucratic complexity in Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age Mesopotamia and Syria.
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Revised: February 7, 2012