BA Ancient History and Archaeology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
The First Cities: The Archaeology of Urbanism in the Near East

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE20912
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Mesopotamia occupies a key place in the history of human society – the setting in which a series of ‘firsts’ appear; the first writing, the first kings, the first cities, the first legal systems, the first literature. These developments had a fundamental influence on subsequent civilizations, including the classical world and even society today. All these developments emerge during the 1000 years that are centred around 3000BC, but to understand them we need a wider perspective as it wasn’t a simple phenomenon or a single event. This course considers the late Neolithic society from which these urban states emerged as well as the way in which early states matured into the second millennium BC. Through a series of case studies, this course explores the major theoretical perspectives, the archaeological data, economy and the social changes that occurred within this region. These changes, however, were far from uniform or inevitable. The course examines the distinctive local social trajectories and the interaction between different regions as well as how these changes impacted on religion, the beginnings of writing, identity, exclusion, memory and social roles.


  • To become familiar with the geography of Mesopotamia, the chronologies and key sites through a series of case studies.
  • To understand late prehistoric society in Mesopotamia and its subsequent changes
  • To understand social organisation within an early urban society, as well develop approaches to understanding early urban states as dynamic, unstable entities.
  • To develop a greater appreciation of the changing ways in which material culture is used in the creation of social identities.
  • To improve understanding of the influence of inter-regional contact.
  • To examine long-term patterns of social change.

Knowledge and understanding

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the interpretation of key sites and their implications for society.
  • Express a broad knowledge of material culture in the Near East from later prehistory to the mid-2nd millennium BC.
  • Articulate an awareness of the impact of social, geographic and climatic factors of the development of human settlement in the Near East.


Intellectual skills

  • Show an awareness of different ways of understanding complex social interactions in past societies.
  • Articulate an understanding of the social context in which technological change occurs.
  • Become accustomed to using primary archaeological data.
  • Understand the potential of modern media to explore research questions.
  • Critically examine published works and make use of the course Wiki.

Practical skills

  • Written and verbal communication skills
  • Ability to read and discuss specialist literature in a wider context
  • Creation of visual methods of communication, using photography and creation of Prezis.


Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Make use of enhanced team-working and individual research skills, in other learning environments.
  • Independent research skills.
  • Ability to analyse and draw conclusions from primary material.


Assessment methods

Exam 50%
Essay 50%
Artefact report in the form of a Presentation 0%


Feedback methods

  • Written feedback on artefact report delivered via the School feedback template.
  • Additional one-to-one feedback (during the consultation hour or by making an appointment)
  • Peer feedback on Wiki contribution, both through the comments facility and particularly through the collaborative editing process.
  • Exam feedback available after completion of the relevant examination period, delivered via the School feedback template.

Recommended reading

Algaze, G. 2008. Ancient Mesopotamia at the Dawn of Civilization: The Evolution of an Urban Landscape. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Altaweel, M., & Squitieri, A. 2018. Revolutionizing a World: From Small States to Universalism in the Pre-Islamic Near East. London: UCL Press.

Matthews, R. 2003. The Archaeology of Mesopotamia. Theories and Approaches. London: Routledge.

Melman, B. 2020. Empires of Antiquities: Modernity and the Rediscovery of the Ancient Near East, 1914-1950. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mieroop, M. van de. 1999. The Ancient Mesopotamian city. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pollock, S. 1999. Ancient Mesopotamia: The Eden that Never Was. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Potts, D.T. 1997. Mesopotamian Civilization: The Material Foundations. London: Athlone Press.

Storey, G.R. 2020. The Archaeology of Ancient Cities. New York: Eliot Werner


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Stuart Campbell Unit coordinator

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