Scientists from the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute found a protective city wall under a huge mound in northeastern Syria known as Tell Hamoukar. The wall and other evidence indicated a complex government dating back at least 6,000 years.
The discovery at Hamoukar, dating from the same period, suggests that ideas behind cities may have predated the Sumerians, according to McGuire Gibson of the Oriental Institute.
"We need to reconsider our ideas about the beginnings of civilization, pushing the time further back," said Gibson, who plans to present the findings this week in Copenhagen, Denmark, at the International Conference on the Archaeology of the Ancient Middle East.
University of Chicago
|Project director McGuire Gibson|
Until the discovery last year, the only cities uncovered by archaeologists dating back to 4000 B.C. were in Sumeria, between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in an area that is now Iraq.
Gil Stein, a Northwestern University archaeologist who specializes in the same region and time period, said in Tuesday's editions of the Chicago Tribune he thinks the find is significant.
"Traditionally, scholars had viewed southern Mesopotamia as the area where urbanized states first developed, before spreading to less advanced areas," he said.
This summer, the archaeologists will continue to dig in the hopes of finding portions or royal palaces and temples structures that would confirm that the site is that of a previously unknown early civilization.