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Discovery of Archaeological ‘Megasities’ Resituates Research on Early Urban Areas

by Alice Riddell on March 5th, 02020

Site plan at Nebelivka. Photo: NEBELIVKA PROJECT, PRODUCED BY M. NEBBIA

New research, as reported by Science News, suggests our first cities were more expansive and socially egalitarian than originally thought. Beneath Nebelivka, a small Ukrainian village in Eastern Europe, newly discovered ancient remnants expose what is known archaeologically as a ‘megasite.’ These sites are sprawling and low-density, presenting very differently from the traditional first cities of Iran and Syria. The excavations at Nebelivka even suggest an organizational layout that promoted equal social standing and collective governance.

‘Over six years of fieldwork since 2009, the researchers have excavated and mapped Nebelivka structures located over more than a square kilometer. Aerial photos, satellite images and geomagnetic data, supplemented by excavations of 88 test pits, identified 1,445 residential houses and 24 communal structures dubbed assembly houses. Residential houses, some intact and most in ashes after having burned, were grouped into 153 neighborhoods, a majority containing three to seven houses. Neighborhoods, in turn, formed 14 quarters, each with one or more assembly houses situated in an open area.  

During about 200 years of occupation, Nebelivka served as both a dwelling site and, oddly enough, a kind of cemetery for incinerated houses, Gaydarska says. About two-thirds of Nebelivka houses had been deliberately burned at different times, creating mounds of charred debris across the site. Sediment and pollen excavated in and around Nebelivka display no signs of wildfire, a clue that the houses were intentionally set aflame.’

Bruce Bower, Science News