If someone asked you what the oldest city in the world was, you might give a lot of different answers. Your first guess might be Athens or Rome, or maybe somewhere in ancient Egypt. All great guesses, but when it comes to age, none of them hold a candle to the 9000-year-old settlement recently found just outside the town of Motza, Israel, a quick five-mile drive from the capital city of Jerusalem.
Our journey of discovery begins, as all the best ones do, with a highway in the desert. Workers from Israel’s National Transport Infrastructure Company discovered the site while excavating the network of tunnels that would connect the new road to a nearby highway. Little did anyone realize, they’d nearly paved over one of the most significant archaeological finds of this decade…
– Until recently, there hadn’t been any evidence of major prehistoric settlements in that part of Israel.
If you still don’t see why this is so important, imagine finding Atlantis off the coast of Miami.
– While words like Stone Age and prehistoric might bring to mind hairy Neanderthals chucking spears at mammoths and sleeping in caves, these ancient Israelis were much more advanced than that.
– Far from being a collection of huts, the settlement consists of several hundred stone and plaster buildings that included everything from houses and marketplaces to temples and tombs.
– If that isn’t impressive enough, many of the houses are laid out along what appears to have been a pre-determined grid of streets and alleyways.
– The city was a major trade hub, exchanging goods with people as far away as modern-day Turkey.
– Despite the ruin’s proximity to modern Jerusalem, the artifacts of this forgotten city are remarkably well preserved, allowing archaeologists to gain insight into a society that left no written history.
– In addition to art and jewelry, other finds include a variety of stone and bronze weapons and tools, such as axes and arrowheads, as well as knives and farm tools of varying shapes and sizes.
– Animal bones found nearby have led researchers to believe that the city’s first inhabitants were hunter-gatherers that arrived in the region sometime around ten thousand years ago.
– A reliable source of water allowed their society transition from hunter-gather to farmers, creating a stable source of food.
– We don’t know what language they spoke, the specifics of their belief system or even what they called themselves.
– Speaking of discoveries, Israeli authorities recently recovered a stolen mask dating from around the same period.
– Archeologists believe the mask, one of only fifteen of its kind, played an essential role in the belief systems of the people who inhabited the region 9000 years ago and may have been carved in the likeness of a respected ancestor.
All pictures from Israel’s Antiquities Authority