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Looking at the list of the world's ten oldest surviving human constructed buildings, many are in Europe while the oldest building in what (with a generous interpretation of the concept) could be called the Fertile Crescent (FC) is at place 21, and 1650 years younger than the oldest entry on the list. There is even an American entry on the list above (at position 11) the first FC entry

Why is this odd? Let me quote another Wikipedia page: The region [FC] has been called the "cradle of civilization", because it is where settled farming first began to emerge as people started the process of clearance and modification of natural vegetation in order to grow newly domesticated plants as crops. Early human civilizations such as Sumer flourished as a result.

Civilizations, that could construct complex buildings, cities and similar appeared in this area several millenniums before they appeared in Europe and even if it might have been hunter-gather stone age cultures that built several of the European constructions on the list, similar stone age cultures existed in the FC tens of thousands of years before they did in Europe.

Furthermore, generally the FC is arid and dry compared to France and other parts of Europe where you can find old buildings (admittedly, most of these buildings are constructed using rocks which isn't very affected by weather but, ceteris paribus, the FC should be more favourable for preserving buildings).

Finally, according to Wikipedia the population density of the Middle East (as an approximation of the FC) is around 50 people/km2 while France and Western/Southern Europe is around 100/km2 so "wear-and-tear" due to high population doesn't speak to the FC's "advantage" either.

I haven't looked into war or migration but intuitively I don't think the FC are significantly worse of than Europe in these respects.

Considering all this, the oldest buildings "should" be found in the FC rather than in Europe. Why isn't this so?

(Compare to how it looks "internally" in Europe: the oldest buildings are approximately in the locations that have been populated for the longest time while e.g., the oldest buildings in Northern Europe, that became populated far later than France, are much younger, which makes a lot of sense!).

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mark C. Wallace Jul 16 at 16:31
  • Not convinced that the premise is true. Göbekli Tepe in Southern Turkey within the Fertile Crescent, for example, is the oldest non-residential structure in the world. The list also has many important omissions. – ohwilleke Jul 18 at 21:11
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If you look at the details of the oldest buildings on your list, all of them are built from fieldstone or minimally-shaped quarried stone. Further, the building materials were either found on-site or transported a relatively short distance.

Most of the Fertile Crescent, and particularly Mesopotamia, does not have access to these building materials. Instead, the primary building material was mud brick, with limited use of wood. Even in a dry climate, this doesn't last very long without maintenance, and over the past ten millennia or so, they've collapsed to form a distinctive type of hill called a tell.

The Fertile Crescent buildings aren't found on List of oldest known surviving buildings, they're found on List of tells.

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Actually, some of the oldest known man-made structures are in the Fertile Crescent (FC). The list in your question purposefully excludes sites like Göbekli Tepe, Tell es-Sultan, and Tell Qaramel, each in the FC, on the basis that they're not "recognizable standing buildings".

As such there's inherent bias in the source you cite to exclude sites that have either been stripped down to their foundations as they got used as quarries (see user2414208's answer) or destroyed due to disrepair and erosion, like when the roof fails and lets rain do its thing, or by natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, wildfires, and so forth.

Geography, climate, local building materials (think mud bricks), and history also all play a role in what gets to stay around and what doesn't.

Take the ruins in Malta as an example. They had been covered by dirt for countless years until re-discovered. The climate in Malta is relatively warm and dry, with very little rain. And as if to give a sense of how fast the stuff erodes just to answer your question, since the ruins got unearthed they've been deteriorating so fast that they ended up covering them to protect them.

By contrast, picture some abandoned structures that have yet to be discovered somewhere on the banks of the Euphrates or of the Tigris. It would have been flooded a bunch of times and endured a few earthquakes, both of which minimize its odds of still being around today. If it was built early enough near the estuary it might even be underwater. And then there's the fact that, in contrast with places in Western Europe, there hasn't yet been a long and well funded tradition of excavating right left and center to find out what's underground.

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    There is a multitude of biases all stemming from the definitions used in the src. The three words you cite aren't even all & what WP admits as "consciously omits". But very important would be the additional mention of indeed material. No that much quarries in Mesopotamia proper + You just don't recycle mudbrick… – LangLangC Jul 16 at 20:21
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    @LangLangC: it's a miracle that the mosque survived for nearly six centuries before crumbling. :D – Denis de Bernardy Jul 16 at 20:40
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It's not just Europe but even narrower. You'll notice the top 3 listed are all in France. Of the rest of the top 10, 4 are in the British Isles.

I think Mark has about half of the answer: These structures are over 5 thousand years old. Human-made materials have trouble lasting that long, so the very nature of the question privileges areas with lots of available stone to work with for building materials.

One other thing not often thought about is labor. Lifting that much stone is not going to be a one-man passion project. It requires a large organized (and probably specialized) labor force. In other words, it really requires a Neolithic society.

Also, if you look closely at their conditions, they define "building" to exclude unenclosed structures like dolmen. That's probably reasonable. I don't consider a gazebo or a port-cochere to be a proper building either. However, dolmen and the earliest French "buildings" were made to serve the same purpose: they are tombs. Its a lot more useful for your visitors to enclose a tomb in France, where it can get cold and windy a lot of the year, than in India, where keeping cool in the summer is more of a problem. So the definition of building used naturally privileges structures in cold climates.

So putting this all together, the ideal locale for finding the oldest buildings would be a cold-climate Neolithic area with lots of stone. So let's look at the early centers and spread of Neolithic technology:

enter image description here

Where's the furthest north reached by the early Neolithic radiations? Europe. So why do they tend to have the oldest stone buildings? Probably because they needed them the most.

  • But even if France might be stonier that the Middle East, ME is still so large that there are plenty of places with stones. Turkey and Iran has mountain ranges that reach several thousand meters (UK doesn't). – d-b Jul 18 at 15:21
  • Do you really mean "furthest from the Equator" (or perhaps "highest absolute latitude") rather than "furthest north" in the last paragraph? – Pieter Geerkens Jul 18 at 15:24
  • @d-b - I'd encourage you to go look at the pictures for some the stones used in those dolmen (I just added a link in the answer). Those top stones are huge. Much bigger than say a quarried pyramid block. This is on the order of the largest Easter Island Moei, estimates for the moving of which range in the realm of meters per day. None of those are found more than about 15,000 meters (9 miles) from the quarry. I can't imagine moving them around for hundreds of miles. – T.E.D. Jul 18 at 15:50
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    It's tempting to say the list's definition almost requires a megalithic society? – LangLangC Jul 18 at 16:01
  • @LangLangC - Certainly privileges them. Using lots of smaller stones is clearly going to be trickier to get right, and probably requires more advanced techniques. Building really large buildings that way likely even requires some knowledge of geometry, so probably also literacy (which was still a ways off). – T.E.D. Jul 18 at 16:10
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Civilisations not only build buildings, but destroy and reuse them. Many ruins were effectively used as quarries by local people and stones, e.g. bricks from Roman buildings ended up in an early medieval church, then in a late medieval fortress, then in a noble home (see here, only in Hungarian). Wikipedia also mentions how roman bricks were reused. I suppose the same happened with the oldest buildings in the Fertile Crescent - and actually lack of civilisation, lack of people around the (partially underground) building helps it to be keep undisturbed. After a few tens or hundreds of years, the building is forgotten, only to be rediscovered in the 19th or 20th century.

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In a word - bias (when unconscious) and deception (when done deliberately and consciously).

It’s the role of a professional historian to aim at the truth and to see through bias/deception in archives and weigh up the evidence accordingly.

That you haven’t first examined the bona fides of whoever has written the article on the ten most oldest buildings would be a surprising lapse in a professional historian.

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