The Sumer is factually the first known civilization in history. But we wonder about the physical space where a group of inhabitants came together for the first time.
Imagine the first human beings who decided to live in agriculture and abandon the nomadic way of life to settle in one place. Where would a group of humans first come together and start building their homes? In this article, we trace the first town in the world.
Debates Over Town among Historians
When we speak of “town” we refer to two different definitions: the space where a small number of inhabitants live, dedicated to activities related, above all, to the primary sector; and is also the group of people who live in a population, region or country, where they share knowledge, ideas, and traditions that form the “culture” or a whole civilization of that people.
If we ask ourselves about the first civilization in the world in reference to the second definition, we all have it clear: the Sumerians. But in this article, we want to talk about the first town understood as the first of the definitions. This answer is no longer so simple.
From the outset, you should know that the terms “people”, “city”, “civilization” and many other related terms have generated and continue to cause intense debates among historians. It is that, when we begin to theorize, the situation gets a little out of hand and we want to impose exact definitions on something as lax as language. It will always be our biggest problem: we cannot tell the story with numbers. How lucky are these mathematicians?
But here we are going to use common sense. To those of us who live in cities, when we say “this weekend I am going to my town”, we understand. What was that first town in the world? Join me on this trip to the past.
It all started in Sumer
The area to look for the first people in history is clear: the Near East. Everything that has to do with the current human being was born there. When you go back to the most original and primal level of any human aspect, you end up between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, literally what Mesopotamia means: “the land between rivers”.
The first civilization in history arose in this geographical area: Sumer. With the Sumerians, a peculiar situation occurs. We did not know of its existence until the beginning of the 20th century. Until then, it was believed that the Egyptian culture was the oldest and, in addition, Egyptomania was on the rise, after the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun, in 1922.
The short time that has elapsed since the discovery of the Sumerians has two consequences: our knowledge of civilization is very limited compared to other cultures (the history of Egypt was already studied by the ancient Greeks, for example). The positive part: there is still a lot to discover and investigate (if the wars and political problems in the area allow it).
Where do I want to go? Because here we are going to mention the first town known to date, but the coming archaeological finds will almost certainly change our history. Yes, another little problem for historians, we are obsolete at computer speed.
We have the what. What about when? Well, we will have to point to the change from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic, when the human being left the nomadic life to settle in a place and become a farmer and ranchers.
At the end of the last ice age, between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago, the lowlands of Mesopotamia began to dry out, forming alluvial terraces of enviable fertility thanks to the rivers that bathed those lands with rich minerals. According to Babylonian tradition, at the mouth of these rivers, on the coast of the Persian Gulf, the first city was erected:
“Not a reed had grown, not a tree had been created, a house had not been made, a city had not been made, and the lands were seas when Eridu was created”
The city of Eridu has antiquity that some archaeologists have dated back to 4900 BC. But the archaeological evidence differs from the Babylonian tradition. There are clusters of pre-Eridu houses.
The First Town in the World is Jericho
The first settlements in the Near East, paradoxical as it may seem, did not belong to fully sedentary farmers. This situation was carried out in a process that lasted thousands of years. Rather they were semi-nomads who had semi-permanent enclaves, to which they always returned.
The oldest and therefore our sought-after first town in history is Jericó. Located on the Syrian-Palestinian coast, it has buildings that are more than 8,000 years old. It is estimated that at around 6500 BC, Jericho had two thousand inhabitants. It had circular houses made of adobe bricks made by hand. Jericho was walled and, among its archaeological remains, a tower nine meters high has been found. Both constructions require the joint effort of a community. Which would also share beliefs, as demonstrated by the human skulls decorated with shells, a possible indication of funerary rites.