Week 12: Rise of Mesopotamia

I. SW Asia: Period of Incipient State Formation
A. Samarra Culture 5500-5000 B.C.; Central &
Southern Mesopotamia experiments with irrigation
1. Structures built of mudbrick cast in molds: first
appearance of common later technique
2. Dead covered with ochre & tightly wrapped in
matting; diverse personal ornamentation
including nonlocal obsidian, turquoise, and
carnelian; copper jewelry but no copper tools.
3. Two structure types: rectangular houses, 8-12
rooms; and T-shaped storehouses. If grain was
comunally owned, was land as well?
B. Halaf Culture in N. Mesopotamia, 5300-4500 B.C.
1. Known primarily from pre-WWII excavations
at Arpachiyah
2. Wide geographical expanse for produced cer-
amics: Halafian ceramics found as far north as
Azerbaijan; as far south as Palestine, and east
to Iran.
3. Two structure types: insubstantial domestic
quarters and tholoi; no administrative centers
in towns; no site hierarchy; most sites 1-2 ha in
C. Ubaid Period, S. Mesopotamia, 5300/4500-3600
B.C.; between 4500-4000 B.C. incorporates N. Mes-
opotamia replacing Halaf. Most Ubaid sites loosely
scattered along margins of natural drainages. A lo-
cal southern Mesopotamian development of what
was in many ways a hostile environment?
1. Named after al-'Ubaid, first occupied Å4500
B.C. Houses of mudbricks and reeds; fishing,
hunting of gazelles and horse, herding of cattle
& goats, and cereal cultivation all important.
No evidence of centralized administrative
function, elaborate religious structures, or
wealth accumulating among an elite. Nice
contrast to the contemporaneous:
2. Eridu, best-known city in period
a. by 4500 already had a mudbrick "temple";
apparent continuity of temple devoted to
worship of water god, Enki, into Sumerian
times. Earliest occupation already demon-
strates houses of apparent elite clustering
around temple; craftsmen beyond them;
farmers at fringe.
b. Eventually reached 10 ha; 2,000-5,000
people, temple of monumental propor-
tions. Male & female clay figurines with
reptilian-like heads; domestic houses little
known. Irrigation network. Widespread
trading contacts.
3. Contrast between al-'Ubaid and Eridu, re-
peated elsewhere, shows 2-tier settlement hier-
archy of villages & towns.
D. Uruk period, 3600-3100 B.C. (named from site of
Uruk, most important and intensively excavated
site in S. Mesopotamia)
1. S. Mesopotamia now well ahead of anywhere
in world in development of urbanism
2. Population greatly increased in this period and
first small urban centers appeared
3. Pottery made on wheel, or mold-made: stand-
ardization of weights & measures
4. Stamps, cylinder seals found in great numbers
5. Warka (=Uruk, =Old Testament Erech): 80 ha
at height, 10,000-20,000 people. 2 ceremonial
districts: Anu ziggurat complex with "White"
temple built on a high platform; another
dedicated to the goddess of love, Eanna.
6. Temple not only place for worship but center
for redistribution of surplus foods; craftsmen
worked for temple and had in it.
7. Leader was the en, a sacred and a secular
leader. Other political authority may have
rested in an assembly of free adult males
8. Home of semimythical Gilgamesh.
E. Jemdet Nasr Period, proto-literate, 3100-2900 B.C.
1. small clay tablets with pictographic writing
begin to appear, mostly related to temple
accounts of goods.
2. Political organization is the city-state: there
were 15-20 of them in Mesopotamia; each had
well-defined territory in the middle of which
was a walled city; each city led by a king, who
was also the warden for the patron god; the
deity owned all the resources of the city-state.
3. Architecturally & probably politically, the
palace emerges from the temple.
4. All trading activities controlled directly by the
temple & the palace; merchants, though full-
time specialists, were employees of these
II. Early Dynastic Period: Sumer (2900-2371 B.C.)
A. Largest city-states centered on Nippu, Kish, Eridu,
Ur, and Uruk. (Only rarely united in empires)
B. First written documents appear in N. Mesopotamia
only at the end of this period.
C. Functioning of universe controlled by divine laws.