The Oldest Continuously Occupied Human Settlement

Caitlin Dempsey


From the air, this human settlement sits on top of a mound.  About 6,000 years ago, humans first set up camp on this site called Erbil Citadel, or Qalat as it is known locally.  That makes Erbil Citadel, located in the center of Erbil, Iraq, the oldest continuously occupied human settlement.  Covering an area just over 10 hectares (24 acres), Erbil Citadel sits on an oval shaped mound that is 32 meters (100 feet) high. Dirt, debris, and collapsed mud houses from previous human settlements lie underneath the current structures that sit on town of this mound.

Erbil Citadel, November 20, 2018, Landsat 8.
Erbil Citadel, November 20, 2018, Landsat 8, public domain.

The Oldest Continuously Occupied Human Settlement Sits on a Tell

This occupation of an artificial mound created from the past generations of human garbage and debris is known in archaeology as a tell.  The word tell, or tel, comes from the Arabic تَل‎, tall, which means ‘hill’ or ‘mound’.  As with most classic tells, Erbil Citadel has a low, truncated cone with sloping sides.

Restoration of Erbil Citadel

In 2006, more than 500 families were relocated to being the restoration of the historic settlement.  Progress on the restoration has been slow and to date, only one family, who remained for the purpose of maintaining the continuous settlement status, lives within the mound.  In 2014, Erbil Citadel was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.