Cradle of Civilization

A Blog about the Birth of Our Civilisation and Development

Mid-fourth millennium red-black burnished wares from Anatolia

Posted by Fredsvenn on March 20, 2015

Red-Black burnished ware – Kura Araxes

The Kura–Araxes culture: Khirbet Kerak (“the ruins of the castle”) or Beth Yerah (“House of the Moon (god)”)

The black and red ware culture (BRW, 12th – 9th century BCE), an early Iron Age archaeological culture of the northern Indian subcontinent. It is associated with the post-Rigvedic Vedic civilization.

In some sites, BRW pottery is associated with Late Harappan pottery, and according to some scholars like Tribhuan N. Roy, the BRW may have directly influenced the Painted Grey Ware and Northern Black Polished Ware cultures. BRW pottery is unknown west of the Indus Valley.

The Kura–Araxes culture or the early trans-Caucasian culture was a civilization that existed from 3400 BC until about 2000 BC, which has traditionally been regarded as the date of its end, but it may have disappeared as early as 2600 or 2700 BC.

The earliest evidence for this culture is found on the Ararat plain; thence it spread northward in Caucasus by 3000 BC (but never reaching Colchis), and during the next millennium it proceeded westward to the Erzurum plain, southwest to Cilicia, and to the southeast into an area below the Urmia basin and Lake Van, and finally down to the borders of present day Syria. Altogether, the early Trans-Caucasian culture, at its greatest spread, enveloped a vast area approximately 1,000 km by 500 km.

The name of the culture is derived from the Kura and Araxes river valleys. Its territory corresponds to parts of modern Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Ingushetia and North Ossetia. It may have given rise to the later Khirbet Kerak ware culture found in Syria and Canaan after the fall of the Akkadian Empire.

Their pottery was distinctive; in fact, the spread of their pottery along trade routes into surrounding cultures was much more impressive than any of their achievements domestically. It was painted black and red, using geometric designs for ornamentation. Examples have been found as far south as Syria and Israel, and as far north as Dagestan and Chechnya.

The spread of this pottery, along with archaeological evidence of invasions, suggests that the Kura-Araxes people may have spread outward from their original homes, and most certainly, had extensive trade contacts. Jaimoukha believes that its southern expanse is attributable primarily to Mitanni and the Hurrians.

The term ‘Red-Black burnished ware’ was formulated by R. Braidwood to indicatea ceramic production which appears in the Amuq plain from Phase G (only a few sherds) and which becomes much more common in Phase H.

This was described as a precisely burnished or polished pottery with mixed grit and fine chaff temper charac-terised by the contrasting red and black color scheme between the internal and theexternal surfaces of the same pot.

B. Kuftin also provided the description of a highly polished ceramic with a red-reddish-pink/black bichromy, some years earlier, during his excavations in the high-lands of the Tsalka plateau in south-western Georgia.

This pottery was dated to theearly stages of the local Eneolithic and considered as part of an homogeneous cultural facies which belonged to the area delimited by the Kura and Araxes rivers and com-monly termed, since that time, ‘Kura-Araxes culture’.

The presence of possible connections between these pottery traditions and theKhirbet Kerak ware has also encouraged hypotheses on the involvement of the Levantarea in special kinds of relationships with Anatolia and the Kura-Araxes culture.

The causes which have been related to the widespread presence of this production in sucha vast geographical area very often share a migrationist approach which sees seasonalor permanent movements of people involved in various activities (trade, metalwork production or highly mobile pastoralism), and moving from Transcaucasia or Eastern Anatolia to the adjacent regions

Eastern and central Anatolia have been basically considered as the bridge thatconnected Transcaucasia to the Levant and the place where the Red-Black burnishedpottery arrived from the east and was transmitted to the west.

The Anatolian Red-Black burnished wares have been read as a consequence of these relations and notmuch space has been dedicated to the fact that their history and development aremuch more complex and more closely connected to dynamics internal to the Anato-lian regions than between the latter and the surrounding areas.

Despite the fact that only a few excavations in Eastern Anatolia and Transcaucasia enlighten fourth and third millennium social and cultural developments, there aresome recent data which have provided a sounder basis for a more precise reading of the relationships which occurred between the Anatolian communities and the Tran-scaucasian ones and consequently of the dynamics connected to the appearance anddevelopments of the Red-Black pottery.

The issue has already been dealt with in a recent article that cross-compared thefourth millennium pottery productions from the sites of Arslantepe and Sos Höyük in the Malatya and Erzurum regions (respectively Upper Euphrates valley and north-eastern Anatolia).

It noted that the Red-Black burnished ware was first produced inthe Anatolian region and only a few centuries later in Transcaucasia, implying that itfollowed a west to east trajectory of circulation and that the Kura-Araxes communitiesadopted this technological tradition only in a second phase (last quarter of the fourthmillennium) and probably because of more intense relationships with the Anatolian regions.

The basic question here is this — how can we understand the Red-Black ceramicsfrom the different areas of Anatolia? How are the ceramics from the variousareas of occurrence in Anatolia related to each other? These questions are examinedbelow from the focus of Sos Höyük and Arslantepe.

W.F. Albright first identified Khirbet Kerak Ware in the early 1920s. The ware consists of a variety of bowls, kraters, jars and stands beautifully burnished in red and black, as well as of unburnished cooking ware and portable hearths, all made in a style and technique clearly alien to the local traditions.

This ware has been linked to groups of Early Transcaucasian migrants who emerged in the Kura-Araxes region, and spread to southeastern Anatolia and the Levant during the 3rd millennium BC, producing distinctive ceramics known in Turkey and Syria as Karaz Ware or Red-Black Burnished Ware.

At Tel Bet Yerah, Khirbet Kerak Ware was introduced at the beginning of EB III, ca. 2750 BCE, and produced in large quantities on-site, alongside traditional local ceramics. Production of this ware continued throughout EB III, in diminishing quantities, and ended with the demise of the Early Bronze Age town. 

Mid-fourth millennium red-black burnished wares from Anatolia

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