The archaeologists determined the presence of six
discrete settlements dating back to between 4200 and 3900 BC about
500 metres (yards) from the central site at Tell Brak. Ur says it is still
unclear whether these six settlements represented offshoots from the
central site, or migrants coming from faraway places to settle.
Either way, the site does not show a pattern
suggesting that it spread gradually outwards in concentric circles
from a central point, as one might expect, he notes.
Ceramic artefacts from the later period, 3900 to
3400 BC, appear more closely distributed towards the central site,
suggesting that the satellite settlements expanded inwards towards
the middle. By this later time period, some 15,000 people
likely called Tell Brak home, according to Ur. Some experts put the
number even higher. "It's not just a sleepy village," says Emberling.
Ur believes his new findings contradict the
impression given by early written texts that the earliest cities
typically emerged under the strict control of kings who liked to
keep their people as close as possible.
"Undoubtedly a good deal of early urban development
was motivated by the state and aristocratic rulers in particular,"
says archaeologist Michael Shanks at Stanford University in
California, US. "But," he says, "one of the major things we've
learned in archaeology over the past fifty years is that there's no
single pattern when it comes to urban development."
Shanks adds that the different ways in which
ancient cities developed points to a diversity in early political
structures. And, says Ur, some of these political structures
may have been less autocratic than historians have previously