The Center of the World

There’s a stone temple in Turkey that’s considered the first complex structure in human history. Unearthed at Göbekli Tepe, it was originally constructed back to the 10th Millennium BCE. No older sites with such complexity or scale have been found, meaning that this would have been one of the first times the human species would have engaged in complex planning, resource gathering, and coordination. In 1993 Cesare Emiliani proposed using the era this site and it’s predecessors emerged in as the year 0 for a revised calendar. This revised calendar would keep the same days and months, but would add on 10000 years to the current year. This was called the Holocene calendar, and puts the current year at 12018 HE.

This would put the founding of Jericho, the oldest currently inhabited city, in the year 1000 HE.

The great pyramid of Kufu would have been built in 7440 HE.

The Bronze Age Collapse, which took down the civilizations of Dynastic Egypt, the Hittie Empire, and Mycea, occurred around 8800 HE.

Judaism was founded around 9020 HE.

Julius Ceasre was assassinated in 9956 HE.

William Shakespeare wrote about him in 11599 HE.

America was founded in 11776 HE.

And the United Nations was founded in 11945 HE.

When you’re going through Amman in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, it’s very easy to get a sense of the city’s scale. From any street on one of the city’s steep hilltops, you can look out upon a vast landscape of four and five story buildings, white like the desert, curving with the earth until they become small and blue on the horizon. Poking out from this landscape are cell phone and radio towers, and the minarets of Mosques which at night light up with trims of LEDs.

My first day there, a class tour took us up to a place in the center of the city known as the Citadel. It was my first time getting this hilltop view, it seemed to me you could just keep going on forever and ever, everything from here to infinity covered in those white apartment blocks. In reality it probably ebbed out into suburbs just beyond what I could see, the horizon is only a few kilometers away, even at high altitude. But still, this visage gave me a feeling I’d never felt before, one that try as I might I couldn’t place.

I arrived with my class at the Citadel. I’d never heard of this place before, I was expecting a castle like the one in Tyrone Park in New York City, clean, maintained, but no longer inhabited. When I stepped off the bus however I found myself among ruins. Saturating the site were a crisscross of stonework foundations that seemed to incorporate every era from the ancient to antiquity. Rising above it all on the crest of the hill were three pillars of a Greek temple, that I later learned was to Hercules. Beyond the crest there was a building in the style of medieval mosque. Below it all in the valley there was a Roman amphitheater. I began to wonder how old this place was, as the tour started. To begin they told us of the first people who settled here, called Ammonites. They lived in caves and emerged 12,000 years ago, -2000 HE. We toured one of the caves they called home. This hill had attracted them due to it’s proximity to a now subterranean river, and the particular vista it gave thanks to it’s status as the tallest hill in the region. Light filtered in from side entrances to the cave, and the rocks above our heads were stained black from the smoke of thousands of campfires. Never in my life had I been somewhere this old.

Over the centuries these Ammonites had built settlements on top of settlements as they were occasionally destroyed by earthquakes. Eventually larger expansionist powers started to come into the region, with the Romans founding a city called Philadelphia and building the Temple of Hercules in 10166 HE, concurrently to the amphitheater below. Later, the Umayyad Caliphate would come into the region, and build the mosque like structure, the Umayyad Palace, in the 10800s. Then came the Ottomans in 11299 HE, then came the British in 11924, then came the Hashemites, then came the modern city that stretched into the horizon, then came me, a tourist from a city named after Philadelphia in the United States. I was finally able to identify that feeling I’d had since I first landed here. This place had continuity.

There is something about living in a country that has largely erased any history that was there before 11500 HE. There’s no connection to anything ancient. They tell you this place was settled 400 years ago, and don’t worry about the many millennia of civilization that was here before that. We have erased it. You are not part of it. It makes everything feel alien, temporary. It was started a blink of an eye ago and will be gone when the eye blinks again. But in Amman, you can feel the past. You can feel back to the dawn of civilization in those temples at Göbekli Tepe, and rocket up through history to the modern day, with it’s light-trimmed Mosques and cellphone towers. No longer ancient, but knowing, unlike I did until now, what ancientness is, and knowing how to build on it.

The Citadel’s statues as a place of ruins had largely to do with the earthquakes that would come every few centuries. It wasn’t worth building on the hilltop. So newer settlements started to build in the valleys, with the hilltops being reclaimed as the city went through modern expansion. The Citadel found it’s new status as a tourist site as archeologists started to look at the place and realize just how far back things went. The only modern building is a museum displaying artifacts from Amman and Jericho. That was it’s own timeline. Starting at the entrance with spearheads and crude clay pots, you could walk though time and see the tools become artwork become more complicated and advanced as our species crafted and perfected over a thousand dead generations. As we were leaving I looked out across the hilltop, and caught the Temple, the Palace in the modern city in a single view. Shifting my gaze to the horizon, I swear I could almost see the future.

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