Response: The enigma of “Syrian Pompeii
I would like to tell a little about one of the most ancient urban settlements located in Mesopotamia, in what is now Syria, combining a fortified city and a temple complex. Little is known about it, except that it is one of the first urban centers that emerged in Sumer, and perhaps on the entire planet, whose heritage it is called. Unlike such famous cities of antiquity as Ur, Uruk, Lagash, Larsa, Issin, and others, no one even suspected of its existence. The discovery of the “lost” city, was made relatively recently, and the material raised to the surface and studied is obviously not enough to make unequivocal conclusions. But we can say with certainty that this is one of the most important links in the history of mankind, which began the transition from agricultural settlements to full-fledged cities.
With the same confidence we can say that it is one of the most mysterious of all the ancient urban centers that have ever been excavated by archaeologists. It is interesting that there is no mention of it in Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, or Assyrian texts, as if it had never existed. But it is not an illusion, not a figment of someone’s imagination, it is quite a real archaeological object, and, moreover, well-preserved for more than 5 thousand years. However, modern researchers know nothing about it, even its real name, as it is not mentioned in any of the written sources. We are talking about the mysterious Sumerian city, conventionally called by archaeologists Tell Khazna – the modern village nearby. The honor of its discovery belongs to a group of Russian archeologists, who excavated the city under the guidance of Professor Rauf Munchaev.
Sensational find that shook the scientific world
The territory between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers is reasonably considered one of the places where civilization began and the history of the ancient world began. Its emergence was due to the settlement in Mesopotamia of the Sumerians, a mysterious people who created a cuneiform alphabet, which is considered the ancestor of all modern ones, and who built the first cities. They created state formations with clear governance, their own culture and beliefs. The remains of these first city-states were given a new life in the last 150 years when the most important discoveries in the history of world archeology were made. But unfortunately none of them has ever provided answers to the intriguing question of who the Sumerians really were, where they came from, but most importantly, where they drew knowledge that was far ahead of its time.
The main problem is that all the excavated Sumerian cities were poorly preserved because they were not built of stone, which is very scarce in Mesopotamia, but of raw bricks. This material is extremely unreliable, rapidly deteriorating even in the dry climate of West Asia, especially when it comes to the surface as a result of excavations – weathering causes catastrophic damage to the remains of ancient urban centers if they are not preserved. Many of them, even now it is impossible to identify and link them with those known to historians, their names are well known, but the exact location cannot be established. And in the case of Tel-Haznah, quite another story. It is a ghost town, nobody knows why, never mentioned anywhere, and it is located far to the west from the usual places of settlement of the Sumerians, found by pure chance.
The sensational discovery was made during the excavations of one of the hills, which interested scientists by its unusual shape, different from others located in the valley of the river Habur, in Eastern Syria. The excavations that were going on were initially inconclusive for Russian archaeologists, and when they were about to be curtailed, they suddenly came across the remains of some ancient structures that turned out to be just the tip of an iceberg. As they continued their research, the archeologists soon realized that they were dealing with an entire city, and it was so well preserved that it became a scientific sensation. In the hot and arid climate of the dusty Syrian desert, and deep beneath the surface of the hill, natural preservation had taken place. Thanks to this, the ancient structures have remained virtually intact and perfectly preserved, which can be considered a rare stroke of luck.
The undiscovered mystery of ancient Tell Khazni
Among the most surprising features of the excavated city, named after the settlement of the same name located nearby and the hill in which for thousands of years, hidden from sight, rested in obscurity its mortal remains, is that it was preserved artificially. Tell Hazna, for some unknown and inexplicable reason to scientists, was buried by its own inhabitants under an impressive layer of soil, before leaving the city. Its buildings, untouched by destruction, were completely, and importantly deliberately, buried, thus creating a kind of sarcophagus to preserve its integrity. It is difficult even to imagine such a volume of work, but it is obvious that it continued tirelessly day after day, month after month, for several years, maybe even decades. But why it was done and what purpose it had remained an unsolvable mystery.
This can be called the most intriguing discovery of all that somehow concerns the ancient city, because archaeologists have not encountered anything like this before, and therefore do not find an explanation for the strange actions of the inhabitants of Tell Hizna. But it has established that the population of the city, after the work on its “conservation” was completed, left these places overnight, but, apparently, intending to return, many years later. This may seem strange, even unbelievable, and defying neither logic nor common sense, but everything points to it. And this, in turn, completely refutes the main version, which is that the reason for leaving the ancient city was drought. Under such conditions, burying an entire city, without sources of drinking water, seems unlikely, making such a titanic effort, the population would have suffered severely from thirst.
It is noteworthy that even now, the surroundings of the excavated ancient city center clearly indicate that at the turn of the IV-III millennium BC, when it was founded, it was a blooming and fertile area. This was facilitated by the close proximity to the river Habur, whose muddy waters were used to irrigate the fields, where predominantly cereal crops were grown. In addition to this waterway, Tell Hazzna literally surrounded by other springs, of which to this day have dried up the bed. 5 thousand years ago, life was beating here, the neighboring hills hide dozens of settlements resting in them. This is not to say that there was a cataclysm that caused the drought here. Apparently, there was a precedent, but it was not instantaneous. The destructive process that turned fertile lands into a waterless, dusty desert lasted for centuries. It means that the reason that provoked the locals to leave their settled places, having previously covered up their dwellings, lies in something else.
It is obvious that the solution to this age-old riddle, will never be found, if only because the buried city itself gives no clues, and does not indicate in any way the possible reasons for the strange behavior of the ancient inhabitants of Tell Hazna. Despite the abundance of archaeological findings, there is not a single one among them that directly points to this, which adds questions and creates an even greater puzzle. The discovery of a huge ziggurat in the central part of the city, or rather what was left of it, lifted the veil of secrecy a little. When it was almost completely excavated, archaeologists stumbled upon dozens of temple complexes, sanctuaries of all kinds, and other buildings with sacred purpose. This new discovery made it possible to argue that the ancient Tell Hazeh was a cult and religious center, and it is possible that its burial was related to it.
What is Tell Hazna
After the removal of the lower layers and complete clearance, the internal layout of the ancient city can be clearly traced and the exact number of individual structures and their purpose is now known. Looking at the network of streets diverging radially from the center, half-destroyed buildings and altars, one can get a clear impression of what one of the oldest urban centers was like in its heyday and up to the time when it was abandoned by the inhabitants. It is also possible to roughly estimate the density of the population, and its belonging to individual estates. To understand all this helped, characteristic features of urban buildings belonging to several types of buildings. Most of them are religious buildings, temples and sanctuaries are found here literally at every step. There are many granaries on the territory of the city, represented by round towers scattered throughout its area. Next in density are the dwellings of ordinary citizens and craft workshops, but there are almost no defensive structures, and any semblance of a palace is not at all.
All this allowed to attribute Tell Hashnah to the religious centers, each of its features points to this. Firstly, numerous temples, shrines, ziggurat, and secondly, the almost complete absence of fortifications – an attack on the city, apparently, was equal to sacrilege. A large part of the population was composed of priests who lived at the temples, and the rest of the inhabitants, provided them with everything they needed. Food supplies came from the peasants who lived around the city, and, judging by the number of granaries, both Tell Hazna itself and all its inhabitants prospered. It is also noteworthy that there was no king or any other secular ruler, as well as the nobility. According to rough estimates of historians who took part in the research, the population of the ancient city was about 1000 people, and this figure has never changed.
In ancient times, Tell Khaznah was surrounded by a low fortress wall, apparently serving not so much for protection as to define the boundaries of the city. Behind it, on the inside, were about fifty small houses where ordinary citizens lived – mostly craftsmen and artisans: blacksmiths, weavers, bakers, potters and others. The city was divided in two by the central street leading from the ziggurat, towering in the center, to the main gate, with several side streets branching off from it. Among the houses of the city’s inhabitants, there are grain storage towers, numerous pottery kilns, cisterns for collecting water, and other outbuildings. The main structure is the central temple complex, built at the foot of the ziggurat, which differs from the others by its size and monumentality, and the richness of its interior and exterior decoration. It consists of a tower and the temple itself, which has been preserved worse than other urban structures, but even now looks solemn and majestic.
The age-old and unsolved mystery of Tell Hazzna is unlikely ever to be solved, but for tourists visiting it, this is more of a plus than a minus. But it’s not just this that draws them in, it’s also the stunning preservation that no other famous ancient city can match. All together, this gives it an incomparable charm and fascination, arouses genuine interest, and almost childlike delight, overwhelming the viewer. And one can only imagine how much stronger it would be if it were ever proven that this is indeed the oldest city on earth, built first.
Tell Khazna, an iconic city in the Syrian desert
Hello history buffs and dear readers of the blog ancient-east.ru. The discovery was made relatively recently, and raised to the surface and studied the material is clearly not enough to make unequivocal conclusions. But one thing is certain, this is one of the first settlements, which should be attributed to the cities. It refers to the mysterious Sumerian city of Tell Khazna, recently excavated by a group of Russian archaeologists led by Rauf Munchayev in Syria.
Rauf Munchayev is an outstanding scientist in the field of archeology, ancient history and culture of the Caucasus and the Middle East.
Tell Khazna archaeological find that shocked the world
Northern Mesopotamia has long been considered the birthplace of the Sumerian civilization, and it was here, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, that the first city-states and culture of this largely mysterious people emerged. During the last 150 years many ancient urban centers have been found in these places and stunning discoveries have been made which unfortunately have not answered who the Sumerians were, where they came from and most importantly where did they get their amazing knowledge far ahead of their time. The main problem in this is the poor state of preservation of the ancient urban centers, which are often even impossible to identify, and to associate with what is known to science only by name.
Tel Khaznah is an ancient city. Photo by Shahmardan Amirov (Doctor of Historical Sciences).
But while digging one of the hills in the Habur River Valley, Russian archaeologists stumbled upon the remains of some ancient buildings which were only the tip of the iceberg. Having continued the excavations, they soon found out that there was a city under the ground, and the city was so well-preserved that it became a scientific sensation. The fact is that there is absolutely no stone in the vastness of Mesopotamia, and since the Sumerians, everything here has been built from raw bricks, which in the hot, arid climate quickly turn into dust, which mixes with the local desert. And here, suddenly the whole city and just a perfect preservation, which can be considered a real miracle!
The eternal mystery of ancient Tell Hanna
The most striking feature of Tell Khazni (collective name of the city, from the names of the hill in which it was found, and the village, located nearby) can be called that the purposeful preservation of it. For some inexplicable reason, the inhabitants, when leaving the city, covered it completely with earth, deliberately preserving it in this way, not for a few months but for hundreds of years. All indications are that the population left the city at once and in its entirety, clearly intending to return here many years later! This seems unbelievable, and completely refutes the main version of why Tell Hazna was abandoned – because of the drought. After all, to bury an entire city, would have required many days, titanic efforts of the entire population, and in such conditions, forcing people to move from their settled places, it seems unlikely.
The city’s surroundings, even now, indicate that thousands of years ago, at the turn of the IV-III millennia BC, it was founded in a blooming, fertile area surrounded by numerous water sources. Dozens of smaller settlements rest in the neighboring hills, and to claim that there was some instantaneous cataclysm that led to a severe drought is impossible, it is simply impossible. The process of transformation of these lands into a desert, stretched for centuries, so there was another reason why the inhabitants of Tell Khazna suddenly left their homes, having previously covered them with earth.
The solution to this mystery, it seems, will never be found, there is nothing among the archaeological finds that points directly to this. But why the abandoned city was buried, it became clear when it was fully excavated, there is an impressive ziggurat, dozens of temples, shrines and other sacred buildings. This can only mean one thing – Tell Khaznah was a place of worship and was going to return to it, even if it was centuries later.
Ancient oasis in the middle of the dusty steppe
According to the internal layout, the number and purpose of the excavated buildings, it is now possible to make a quite clear impression of how it was in its heyday, and about the density and affiliation of its population. The city buildings, have several distinct types:
a) Cult buildings;
b) defensive structures;
d) Handicraft shops;
e) numerous granaries.
There are no semblances of palaces, distinguished among other dwellings, here at all. The main mass of the population was made up of priests and grain-growers, and their number never exceeded 1000 people. On my blog ancient-east.ru has a whole series of articles which are devoted to the ancient cities of Sumer, as well as a section on Sumerian mythology.
Tell Khaznah is surrounded by a protective wall, inside which are several dozen simple houses, divided by a central street, and several side streets. There are many grain storage towers, pottery kilns, water cisterns and other outbuildings. In the midst of all this, the temple complex stands out for its size, monumentality and richness of decoration. It consists of the ziggurat tower, the central temple, which is the worst preserved of the city, but still bears traces of its magnificent pilasters. As well as smaller temples, altars and priestly dwellings, not much different from the houses of the townspeople.
The mystery of Tell Khazna, apart from the stunning preservation of the ancient city, gives it an incomparable fascination, and arouses interest, and some childlike delight. And you can only imagine what it would be if one day it will be proved that this is indeed the oldest city on the planet. Good luck to you, dear friends, and we look forward to seeing you on the pages of the ancient-east.ru blog.