One of the world’s most important seed banks has left Syria, and it won’t be returning

Ross Andersen in The Atlantic:

ScreenHunter_1409 Oct. 05 10.52Aleppo, Syria, has as good a claim as any to the title of “world’s oldest city.” It is certainly among the longest to be continuously inhabited. There are hints that nomads camped out just north of Aleppo, as early as 11,000 B.C. People used to say that Abraham had climbed its highest hill, to survey the surrounding landscape. Alexander the Great conquered Aleppo in the 4th century B.C, and made it an outpost in his empire. It would later become a hub on the Silk Road, where trade routes from Mesopotamia, China, Europe, and Egypt converged.

What is a city, if not a place of convergence? For the bulk of our existence, we humans have been wanderers, lovers of open land and sky. Cities tricked us out of this way of life. They seduced us with convergence, with hundreds, thousands, even millions of people, all living in one place. When scholars debate the site of the world’s first city, they are yearning after our cultural origins.

Recent human history can plausibly be described as a great experiment in urbanism. We used to roam, then we settled, and condensed into nodes. For thousands of years, the pace of these changes was slow, but in our current era, urbanization has accelerated. Hundreds of millions of people have moved into cities during this past century. Theirs is the largest migration in human history, and by a wide margin.

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