The exact date of when the first Pyramid on Earth appeared is up for debate. Some say that the Egyptian pyramids are the oldest on Earth, with Djoser’s Step Pyramid kick-starting a pyramidomania that would eventually produce some of the most impressive pyramids on Earth. Others say that, based on archeological excavations in Brazil, the oldest pyramids appeared in South America more than 300 years before Djoser’s Step Pyramid. But history is tricky, and there are some pretty old structures on Earth.
For example, the oldest multi-ton stone construction dates back to a time when history books tell us there were no developed societies on Earth. Nonetheless, archaeological excavations in present-day Turkey at a site called Göbekli Tepe reveal this is not the case. More than 12,000 years ago–during the last Ice Age–a group of unknown people gathered at a site–now largely buried beneath the surface–and erected a series of impressive stone structures.
Archeological surveys of the site have revealed the existence of more than 200 stone pillars, averaging in weight around 10 tons, measuring at least 6 meters in height. So far, more than 15 intricate stone circles have been identified through excavations and geological surveys. The stones used in the construction of Göbekli Tepe range in weight from 10, 20 to 50 tons. How ancient people living in that part of the world, 12,000 years ago managed to quarry, transport, and raise into position such massive stones remains a profound mystery.
The oldest cities and where they are
Academics tell us that during this time, there were no developed cities on Earth, but the mere existence of such a vast ancient complex such as Göbekli Tepe, tells a different story.
Officially speaking, some of the oldest cities on the surface of the planet can be traced back to around 8,000 years ago, in present-day Syria. There, we find the ancient remnants of some of the oldest settlements and cities in the history of mankind. One such incredible example is the ancient city of Aleppo, a sprawling metropolis that appeared thousands of years before the appearance of the first pyramids in Egypt.
Aleppo is surprising, not only because of its age but because its existence attests to different stages of habitation. For example, archaeological surveys of the site (albeit very limited) have revealed that Aleppo, as well as its surrounding regions, show traces of habitation that date back to around 13,000 years. Aleppo is curiously located no more than 50 kilometers from the Turkish border (south).
The contemporary city of Aleppo was built on the remnants of the ancient city, which makes studying the ancient site a very difficult mission for archaeologists. Aleppo is believed to have had around 160 hectares in area and was enclosed by massive ancient wall stretching for 5 kilometers. It is noteworthy to mention that Aleppo’s wall is not the oldest such structure on Earth.
In addition to Aleppo, there are other really, really old cities in the world. Damascus is another very ancient example. Although Aleppo appears in the historical record much sooner than Damascus, this city located in present-day Syria shows traces of habitation dating back to more than 11,000 years ago. Nonetheless, archaeologists have revealed that larger settlements did not appear at the site until the second millennium BC.
Jericho is another really ancient city. More than just a city, from a personal point of view, Jericho is a treasure trove of history. Archaeological excavations at the site have resulted in the discovery of at least 20 successive settlements on the site, the first of which dates back to around 9,000 BC. This means that similarly to Damascus, a sprawling society had already settled on the site around 11,000 years ago, during the so-called Holocene Epoch. Copious springs that are located near Jericho most likely attracted ancient people to the site thousands of years ago.
The three oldest cities
Although debatable, these are three of the most ancient cities on Earth. What do they all have in common? They are really, really old, and predate the oldest pyramids on Earth–the Brazilian pyramids–by thousands of years.
Aleppo. One of the most mesmerizing cities on the surface of the planet, Aleppo’s history is an endangered treasure. Most of the city has been ravaged by war, which caused the destruction of a number of extremely important ancient sites. But Aleppo has survived for thousands of years, and it has, albeit at a great cost, survived the not-so-distant Syrian war.
Although Aleppo is certainly one of the oldest cities known to us, we can’t really know the precise date when the city sprung to life. Archeological excavations nonetheless reveal traces of habitation that date back to the last Ice Age, anywhere between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago. The oldest, most ancient sections of Aleppo’s “old city'” are a treasure trove of history that has barely been touched by archaeologists. This means that the oldest history of Aleppo still remains an unopened book.
Damascus. This ancient city can rightfully compete as one of the oldest on the surface of the planet. Tell Ramad, an archaeological site near the core of the city, has revealed that the site was inhabited since the seventh Millenium BC, possibly 6,500 BC. The wider area reveals that Damascus and its settlement was far more important than initially thought. There are traces of habitation and structures surrounding Damascus that can be traced back to around 9,000 BC, which means that already 11,000 years ago, sprawling settlements existed in the area.
Jericho. This ancient city is one of the most impressive ancient cities. Not only because of its age but because of the various structures that make up the ancient city. Archeological records suggest that the first permanent settlements at the site can be traced back to around 9,500 BC, which means that more than 11,500 years ago, there were people living there.
Furthermore, Epipaleolithic structures found at the site during archaeological surveys were determined to predate the wheel and agriculture. It has been revealed that settlements at Jericho already existed around 10,000 BC. This means that around 12,000 years ago, just around when the megalithic temple of Göbekli Tepe was built, there were people living year-long at the site. Jericho is also home to what is considered the oldest-known protective wall in the history of mankind.
The importance of the three cities and many other ancient cities that were built around the same time resides in the fact that they were established during a period in history when societies were at a turning point between hunter-gatherers and communities living in year-long settlements. Göbekli Tepe is thought to have been created, for example, by hunter-gatherers, according to scholars.
However, given the scale of the project and its complexity, it is more likely that the people who built the site inhabited a yet-undiscovered city near the temple complex. Göbekli Tepe is truly massive and is unlike any other ancient site we’ve ever encountered.
The Pyramid as a monument is considered a stunning achievement in the history of engineering and architecture across the world. There are thousands of pyramids in different continents, the most famous of which are those in Africa, Egypt, specifically.
But half-way around the world and hundreds of years before Djoser’s Step Pyramid was envisioned, planned, and built, a mysterious society in Brazil erected massive pyramids. Unlike their Egyptian counterparts, the Brazilian monuments were built out of seashells and had a temple-like structure located at their summit.
Egyptian pyramids were longer-lasting than the Brazilian monuments because Egyptian architects, during Djoser’s reign, started using stone as their primary construction material, which allowed them to build monuments that would survive thousands of years into the future. But the issue in history resides in the fact that we consider this period in time, between 5,000 and 4,500 years ago, as the crucial period when we started building truly majestic monuments.
But this is not the case, and sites as Göbekli Tepe in Turkey are testimony of that. If mankind was already building settlements and early cities around between 12,000 to 10,000 years ago, and if “hunter-gatherers” were capable of moving multi-ton stone and create a geometrically-aligned complex around 12,000 years ago, then the true megalithic building process where people used stones as a construction material is far older than Djoser’s pyramid complex, considered the earliest known large-scale cut stone construction.
Are we ready to rewrite history?