Southern Mesopotamia is famous as a region where the oldest cities of the planet can be found, but that does not mean that northern Mesopotamia is to be ignored. Tell Brak in Syria can teach us a lesson with respect to the dangers of urban sprawl.
So you thought that urban sprawl and conurbation were symptoms of our sick modern Western lifestyle? Think again.
What is conurbation anyway? Conurbation is the phenomenon in which several residential nuclei grow so large that they melt together into one (sub)urban zone. These zones are often seen to asphyxiate the green centre they surround.
On August 31, 2007, archaeologists Philip Karsgaard, Joan Oates and Jason Ur published an article in Science that shows that Tell Brak in Syria was as large as Uruk, the first known large city in current Iraq, several hundreds of kilometers more to the south.
Unlike Uruk, Tell Brak does not seem to have evolved from a centre, as the result of pressure by a central hierarchy, but seems to be the result of the fusion of several urban growth centres. The city started to form about 6200 years ago and is now a large hill, littered with old earthenware.
Because this earthenware can be associated with different periods, it is assumed that Tell Brak was the result of the conurbation of a ring of settlements that have slowly grown inwards towards the centre, slowly asphyxiating and ultimately killing the green core.
Therefore, Tell Brak was probably not a uniform city, but a melting pot of several more or less autonomous groups. Some of the more sinister parts of Tell Brak are two mass graves filled with young people who seem to have met their demise through violence.