Without a doubt, just about every corner of the Middle East is laden with a deep history. Modern-day cities, nowadays often teeming with BMWs, McDonalds, Starbucks, cellphones, and access to wireless internet, have been in existence and (literally) stood their ground here for thousands of years. Yes, I do not exaggerate for a hyperbolic effect: thousands of years.
To put this into context, a city I visited recently in the north, Umm Qays, has had archaeological finds associated with the first hunter/gathers of the Great Rift Valley. Tools from the first hominid agriculturalists, a defining trait of our very own human evolution from nomad to settler, lay within the hills of the Jordan Valley. There are references to the nearby ruins of Pella in Egyptian scrolls from the second millennium BCE. Even the cornerstone of Christianity, the Bible, has references of Pella and Umm Qays’ existence. Fantasies of adventure and unearthing evidence of great past civilizations (an Indiana Jones Syndrome, of sorts) are very realistic here. Even in the Jordanian capital, one cannot walk around Amman without finding some piece of early civilization preserved by time and cultural heritage.
Without delving too deeply into the history of the region, Jordan has been the crossroads to many great empires. A part of the Great Rift Valley (extending from the Levant through the Red Sea and East Africa to Mozambique in the south), early humans followed the valley in search of game, living nomadically. The fertile soil of the Levant yielded some of the first settled civilizations, cultivating food that for the first time humans did not have to hunt for; thus, defining the very beginnings of societies. From there, early civilizations like Mesopotamia and Babylon rose along water sources of the river valleys.
Jumping ahead, cultures begin to make their presences, with languages, early pagan beliefs, and trade and commerce stretching from North Africa and Europe crossing the region to the Far East. Religion and society begin to evolve with the times. Philosophy, art, written scripts, military endeavors, and resource-sharing all add to the world’s development. Monotheism replaces polytheism; education and government infrastructures are established. And soon (albeit the brevity of this outline of history), empires are created to gather and horde resources for economic and political means. The modern world, alas, does not sound so different when compared with the simple themes and contexts of early civilizations.
Now, as I sit in a Gloria Jean’s Coffee cafe in northern Amman, using their electricity and wireless internet, drinking their coffee, and watching the traffic of the afternoon fly by on asphalt roads (used by updated combustion-engine vehicles), the Middle East really is a crossroads: of cultures, between the West and the East; and of times, between early human history and the contemporary Technology Age. With every step I take, someone, yesterday or even 6000 years ago, has stood here once before.
It’s history in the greatest manifestation possible…seeing and being where physical and mental evolution had tread time and time again. From here, tomorrow will just make today another part of the great timeline of life; and who knows where tomorrow will lead history?