Yale Excavation in Syria Continues to Reveal Secrets of World’s Earliest Cities

weiss tell lelain

Nearly four decades ago, in the Khabur River basin of northeastern Syria, Yale archaeologist Harvey Weiss uncovered a buried city that over the ensuing years would reveal important new insights into ancient Mesopotamia and the origins of civilization.

Beginning in 1979, Weiss’s excavation of the site known as Tell Leilan yielded ancient monumental temples containing cuneiform clay tablets kept by the rulers of the city, and more recently a 4,200-year-old palace, once a key center for the lost Akkadian empire. Within these mud-brick buildings researchers also retrieved carbonized grains and animal bones, traces of daily life that offered a glimpse of how this ancient civilization fed itself — and, as Weiss has long argued, evidence of the surprising role of climate change in its ultimate collapse.