The study of the earliest settlements is absolutely fascinating. Many sites along the Euphrates had to be quickly excavated before they were submerged below artificial lake projects. Some have been excavated and published better than others. Among these widely varying settlements, can we find the one that was built by Noah during the first generation after the Flood?
Cayonu (5 building styles, pop. < 200)
Cayonu was a settlement near one of the tributaries of the Tigris River. By the time it have been rebuilt the fifth time, it measured almost seven acres. The earliest level did not leave evidence of any buildings or agriculture. The next oldest occupation level had rock wall buildings in a grid-like foundational pattern. Over the years, the style of the foundations changed from what they call “grill” to “channeled“, to “cobble“, to “cell“, then to “large-room“. The final community may have had 100 to 200 inhabitants and 25 to 50 buildings. It contains perhaps the earliest examples of fabric woven from flax and jewelry made from beaten copper. Because of a lack of artifacts, little is known about the oldest levels, except that Robert Braidwood confirmed that wheat was cultivated from the very beginning. (1)
Hallan Cemi (one large family)
Hallan Cemi was a small settlement at one of the sources of the Tigris River. It grew to eventually cover barely an acre. Only a small area has been excavated, with even less going down to the earliest level, so we don’t know much about the first settlement. In the later levels, people ate almonds, pistachios, and pulses, which might include beans, peas, and lentils, as well as sheep and deer. They may have raised pigs, and one auroch’s skull appears to have been hanging on a wall. Aurochs are an extinct species of cattle. Chunks of copper ore was also present, that had been extracted from distant mines. Archeologists consider that people lived there all year round, but they were also mobile and lived off the countryside.
Only two housing units have been identified. They are circular dwellings sixteen and twenty feet across, made of stones held together with plaster. The floor was dug out below ground level and finished with a sand and plaster mixture. The walls and roof are missing but may have been constructed with wooden posts and beams that were not preserved. The houses surrounded an open common area fifteen feet in diameter. A lower excavation level had larger “public” buildings. These large structures, along with engraved stone bowls, tie Hallan Cemi to Çayönü. Hallan Cemi appears to have been the habitation of a growing, multi-generational family unit. (2)
Cafer Hoyuk (later than Cayonu)
Cafer Hoyuk had a long history of occupation, but it began with the domestication of wheat at a building level that matched the “cell-plan” phase of building at Cayonu, which was the fourth of five stages. This would indicate that Cafer Hoyuk began much later than Cayonu. (3)
Nevali Cori (mostly communal buildings)
Out of 22 or 23 buildings found at Nevali Cori, only one is considered to be a house for family living. Others have stone carvings that relate it to the Stonehenge-like megalithic structure called Gobekli Tepe. The settlement had five architectural levels. They correspond to a the middle building period of Cayonu, so there is little, if any, evidence of an earlier time of settlement. Like Cafer Hoyuk, it began later than Cayonu.
Gobekli Tepe (the first Stonehenge)
High on a hill overlooking Abraham’s town of Haran, Gobekli Tepe consists of 20 circles of ten-ton stones, each in the shape of a “T”. Over 200 T-stones have been located by magnetic and radar scans of the ground. Older than Stonehenge and similar to it, Gobekli Tepe is usually called a temple for religious hunter-gatherers, but without any evidence to support this theory. A more Biblical interpretation would make it a yearly gathering place for the tribes of Noah that were spreading out to farther and farther reaches of Asia, Africa, and beyond. The human-like pillars would have thus represented the patriarchs, and the 100 foot circles could have been covered like a circus tent for the family reunion festivities. So far, no evidence has been found that people lived there. No burials or human remains have been found. It remains a great mystery to many people.
Akarcay Tepe (trade network)
Akarcay Tepe is represented by two separate mounds. The western mound does not have pottery, while the eastern mound does. Six phases have been identified between the two mounds, which is used to demonstrate a transition from a pre-pottery to a pottery lifestyle. The oldest two phases, in the pre-pottery mound, have the highest count of obsidian tools, 76.5%, which come from Bingol and Lake Van, almost 200 miles away, near the source of the Euphrates. This indicates an incredible early trade network. I have not found any description of buildings or lifestyle in the earliest level, so it is hard to know when the settlement started. (4)
Jerf el-Ahmar (small village, 2 acres, pop. <1000)
This site had two separate mounds which were not connected. The older eastern mound had nine levels, which were not on top of each other, terraced on the side of the slope. The oldest four building levels had round houses, which transitioned to rectangular buildings. This follows the general trend from Pre-Pottery Neolithic A to PPNB. The earliest levels belonged to hunters who lived mostly on meat. Sheep and goats were raised at some later period and farming came even later. The people here had a complex and vibrant community life with wide-ranging trade with other parts of the Near East. Messages were written with symbols rather than cuneiform. The culture is linked to Murabet, while large, round buildings, such as shown below, link it to Nevali Cori and Gobekli Tepe. (5)
Tell Halula (a long occupation)
Tell Halula is so large, 20 acres, that is called a megasite. It has 21 houses having 3 to 5 rooms. 107 skeletons have been found and identified as having mtDNA types U, R0, K, HV, H, N, and L3. It has been divided into 40 excavation levels. The top 20 levels contain Halaf pottery; the bottom 20 levels are considered pre-pottery (PPNB). This would place it after Jerf el-Ahmar. The lowest levels do not have any wild crops, which means that they were imported already “domesticated” from elsewhere, from another settlement or perhaps from the Ark itself.
Abu Hureyra 1 (pop. < 200)
People lived here in round huts with floors cut into sandstone. They hunted, fished, and gathered over 100 species of plants, while storing food for year-round consumption. It is generally thought that they grew rye, buckwheat, and lentils long before any other settlement, but this has been contested. The site was abandoned and the people may have moved to Murabet. This makes it older than many sites mentioned here. Stones called lunates link this site with early sites like Jericho in the Levant (Israel). (6)(7)
Mureybet (gateway to the Levant)
Most of the four phases of Mureybet belong to the period known as Natufian. Small groups of migrating hunters-gatherers camped in the region that is now Lebanon, Jordon, and Israel. This was the first significant migration away from the original settlement area. Abu Hureyra and Mureybet were part of the Natufian Period, but did people migrate from Mureybet to Canaan or from Canaan to the Euphrates?
One of these settlements could have been the original one. Would it be the biggest one or the smallest one? Would they be migrants or permanently settled? Would they have crops? Animals? The answers to these questions depend almost entirely on our belief system as we interpret the facts. Next time, we need to discuss how to determine which settlements are oldest,… and which came first.
(1) Cayonu, Turkey (ancient-wisdom.com)
(2) Hallan Chemi and Early Village Organization in Eastern Anatolia by Robert Redding
(3) Cafer Höyük Explained
(4) Akarçay Tepe 2005 – Persée (persee.fr)
(5) New discoveries in architecture and symbolism at Jerf el Ahmar (Syria), 1997–1999 | Juan Antonio Mazon Gutierrez – Academia.edu
(7) Village on the Euphrates (website)