Site of earliest known urban warfare
Posted by Fredsvenn on May 30, 2015
As they say: There has never been such a thing as a good war
– even with the us of bow and arrow people get killed
In prehistorical post-Paleolithic societies, war likely consisted of small-scale raiding. One half of the people found in a Nubian cemetery dating to as early as 12,000 years ago had died of violence. Since the rise of the state some 5,000 years ago, military activity has occurred over much of the globe.
The advent of gunpowder and the acceleration of technological advances led to modern warfare. According to Conway W. Henderson, “One source claims that 14,500 wars have taken place between 3500 BC and the late 20th century, costing 3.5 billion lives, leaving only 300 years of peace (Beer 1981: 20).”
The sling is an ancient weapon known to Neolithic peoples around the Mediterranean, but is likely much older. It is possible that the sling was invented during the Upper Paleolithic at a time when new technologies such as the spear-thrower and the bow and arrow were emerging.
With the exception of Australia, where spear throwing technology such as the woomera predominated, the sling became common all over the world, although it is not clear whether this occurred because of cultural diffusion or independent invention.
Representations of slingers can be found on artifacts from all over the ancient world, including Assyrian and Egyptian reliefs, the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius, on coins and on the Bayeux Tapestry.
The oldest representation of a slinger in art may be from Çatalhöyük, from approximately 7,000 BC, though it is the only such depiction at the site, despite numerous depictions of archers.
The documentation of military history begins with the confrontation between Sumer (current Iraq) and Elam (current Iran) c. 2700 BC near the modern Basra, and includes such enduring records as the Hebrew Bible.
Other prominent records in military history are the Trojan War in Homer’s Iliad (though its historicity has been challenged), The Histories by Herodotus (484 BC – 425 BC) who is often called the “father of history”.
The Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BC) is a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia. The name derives from Tell al-`Ubaid where the earliest large excavation of Ubaid period material was conducted initially by Henry Hall and later by Leonard Woolley.
In South Mesopotamia the period is the earliest known period on the alluvium although it is likely earlier periods exist obscured under the alluvium. In the south it has a very long duration between about 6500 and 3800 BC when it is replaced by the Uruk period.
Ubaid 1, sometimes called Eridu (5300–4700 BC), a phase limited to the extreme south of Iraq, on what was then the shores of the Persian Gulf. This phase, showing clear connection to the Samarra culture to the north, saw the establishment of the first permanent settlement south of the 5 inch rainfall isohyet. These people pioneered the growing of grains in the extreme conditions of aridity, thanks to the high water tables of Southern Iraq.
In the Ubaid we see the clear emergence of the multi-generational “manor” with great houses headed by influential landowners, containing their extended families and retainers. The origins of this pattern may well lie in the Samarran T-shaped houses of Tell-es Sawaan. These Ubaid/Uruk private domains co-existed with the emerging temple systems as central appurtenances of political authority in Sumerian society with both of them probably dominating, then replacing the “Council of elders” of an earlier pre-urban time (as noted in later Sumerian writings).
Arising in temples of the Uruk era, the T-shaped plan is much like the tripartite plan except that the central rectangular hallway is T-shaped, sometimes with additional rooms along the head of the T. This plan is well attested in Ubaid houses before it came into use for temple architecture; this gives continuity, and the use of house plans for temples reflects the Sumerian notion that temples were houses/dwellings for the gods.
In North Mesopotamia the period runs only between about 5300 and 4300 BC. It is preceded by the Halaf period and the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period and succeeded by the Late Chalcolithic period.
In the period from 4500–4000 BC saw a period of intense and rapid urbanisation with the Ubaid culture spread into northern Mesopotamia and was adopted by the Halaf culture. Ubaid artifacts spread also all along the Arabian littoral, showing the growth of a trading system that stretched from the Mediterranean coast through to Oman.
The Ubaid period as a whole, based upon the analysis of grave goods, was one of increasingly polarised social stratification and decreasing egalitarianism. Bogucki describes this as a phase of “Trans-egalitarian” competitive households, in which some fall behind as a result of downward social mobility.
Morton Fried and Elman Service have hypothesised that Ubaid culture saw the rise of an elite class of hereditary chieftains, perhaps heads of kin groups linked in some way to the administration of the temple shrines and their granaries, responsible for mediating intra-group conflict and maintaining social order.
It would seem that various collective methods, perhaps instances of what Thorkild Jacobsen called primitive democracy, in which disputes were previously resolved through a council of one’s peers, were no longer sufficient for the needs of the local community.
Ubaid culture originated in the south, but still has clear connections to earlier cultures in the region of middle Iraq. The appearance of the Ubaid folk has sometimes been linked to the so-called Sumerian problem, related to the origins of Sumerian civilisation.
Whatever the ethnic origins of this group, this culture saw for the first time a clear tripartite social division between intensive subsistence peasant farmers, with crops and animals coming from the north, tent-dwelling nomadic pastoralists dependent upon their herds, and hunter-fisher folk of the Arabian littoral, living in reed huts.
“A contextual analysis comparing different regions shows that the Ubaid expansion took place largely through the peaceful spread of an ideology, leading to the formation of numerous new indigenous identities that appropriated and transformed superficial elements of Ubaid material culture into locally distinct expressions”.
During the Ubaid Period [5000 B.C.– 4000 B.C.], the movement towards urbanization began. “Agriculture and animal husbandry [domestication] were widely practiced in sedentary communities”.
The archaeological record shows that the Ubaid period came to an abrupt end in eastern Arabia and the Oman peninsula at 3800 BC, just after the phase of lake lowering and onset of dune reactivation.
At this time, increased aridity led to an end in semi-desert nomadism, and there is no evidence of human presence in the area for approximately 1000 years, the so-called “Dark Millennium”. This might be due to the 5.9 kiloyear event at the end of the Older Peron.
Stein and Özbal describe the Near East oikumene that resulted from Ubaid expansion, contrasting it to the colonial expansionism of the later Uruk period (ca. 4000 to 3100 BC).
The Uruk period existed from the protohistoric Chalcolithic to Early Bronze Age period in the history of Mesopotamia, following the Ubaid period and succeeded by the Jemdet Nasr period.
According to the Sumerian king list, Uruk was founded by the king Enmerkar. Though the king-list mentions a king of Eanna before him, the epic Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta relates that Enmerkar constructed the House of Heaven (Sumerian: e-anna; Cuneiform: E.AN) for the goddess Inanna in the Eanna District of Uruk. In the Epic of Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh builds the city wall around Uruk and is king of the city.
Uruk went through several phases of growth, from the Early Uruk period (4000–3500 BC) to the Late Uruk period (3500–3100 BC). The city was formed when two smaller Ubaid settlements merged. The temple complexes at their cores became the Eanna District and the Anu District dedicated to Inanna and Anu, respectively.
Inanna was the Sumerian goddess of love, fertility, and warfare, and goddess of the E-Anna temple at the city of Uruk, her main centre. Inanna was the most prominent female deity in ancient Mesopotamia. As early as the Uruk period (ca. 4000–3100 BC), Inanna was associated with the city of Uruk.
Inanna’s name derives from Lady of Heaven (Sumerian: nin-an-ak). The cuneiform sign of Inanna; however, is not a ligature of the signs lady (Sumerian: nin; Cuneiform: SAL.TUG2) and sky (Sumerian: an; Cuneiform: AN). These difficulties have led some early Assyriologists to suggest that originally Inanna may have been a Proto-Euphratean goddess, possibly related to the Hurrian mother goddess Hannahannah, accepted only latterly into the Sumerian pantheon, an idea supported by her youthfulness, and that, unlike the other Sumerian divinities, at first she had no sphere of responsibilities. The view that there was a Proto-Euphratean substrate language in Southern Iraq before Sumerian is not widely accepted by modern Assyriologists.
Aratta is a land that appears in Sumerian myths surrounding Enmerkar and Lugalbanda, two early and possibly mythical kings of Uruk also mentioned on the Sumerian king list. Aratta is described in Sumerian literature as a fabulously wealthy place full of gold, silver, lapis lazuli and other precious materials, as well as the artisans to craft them. It is remote and difficult to reach. It is home to the goddess Inana, who transfers her allegiance from Aratta to Uruk. It is conquered by Enmerkar of Uruk.
Inara, in Hittite–Hurrian mythology, was the goddess of the wild animals of the steppe and daughter of the Storm-god Teshub/Tarhunt. She corresponds to the “potnia theron” of Greek mythology, better known as Artemis. Inara’s mother is probably Hebat, the mother goddess of the Hurrians, known as “the mother of all living” and the “Queen of the deities”, and her brother is Sarruma.
Hannahannah (from Hittite hanna- “grandmother”) is a Hurrian Mother Goddess related to or influenced by the pre-Sumerian goddess Inanna. Hannahannah was also identified with the Hurrian goddess Hebat. Christopher Siren reports that Hannahannah is associated with the Gulses, also known as the Hutena, the goddesses of fate, in Hurrian mythology. They are similar to the Norns of Norse mythology or the Moirai of ancient Greece.
Uttu in Sumerian mythology is the goddess of weaving and clothing. She is both the child of Enki and Ninkur, and she bears seven new child/trees from Enki, the eighth being the Ti (Tree of “Life”, associated with the “Rib”). When Enki then ate Uttu’s children, Ninhursag cursed him with eight wounds and disappears. Uttu in Sumerian means “the woven” and she was illustrated as a spider in a web. She is a goddess in the pantheon.
The mother goddess Hannahannah promises Inara land and a man during a consultation by Inara. Inara then disappears. Her father looks for her, joined by Hannahannah with a bee. The story resembles that of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, in Greek myth.
The Leyla-Tepe culture is a culture of archaeological interest from the Chalcolithic era. Its population was distributed on the southern slopes of the Central Caucasus (modern Azerbaijan, Agdam District), from 4350 until 4000 B.C.
The Leyla-Tepe culture includes a settlement in the lower layer of the settlements Poilu I, Poilu II, Boyuk-Kesik I and Boyuk-Kesik II. They apparently buried their dead in ceramic vessels. Similar amphora burials in the South Caucasus are found in the Western Georgian Jar-Burial Culture.
The culture has also been linked to the north Ubaid period monuments, in particular, with the settlements in the Eastern Anatolia Region (Arslan-tepe, Coruchu-tepe, Tepechik, etc.). The settlement is of a typical Western-Asian variety, with the dwellings packed closely together and made of mud bricks with smoke outlets.
It has been suggested that the Leyla-Tepe were the founders of the Maykop culture (ca. 3700 BC—3000 BC), extending along the area from the Taman Peninsula at the Kerch Strait to near the modern border of Dagestan and southwards to the Kura River. The culture takes its name from a royal burial found in Maykop kurgan in the Kuban River valley.
In the south it borders the approximately contemporaneous Kura-Araxes culture (3500—2200 BC), which extends into eastern Anatolia and apparently influenced it. To the north is the Yamna culture, including the Novotitorovka culture (3300—2700), which it overlaps in territorial extent. It is contemporaneous with the late Uruk period in Mesopotamia.
An expedition to Syria by the Russian Academy of Sciences revealed the similarity of the Maykop and Leyla-Tepe artifacts with those found recently while excavating the ancient city of Tel Khazneh I, from the 4th millennium BC.
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.
There is evidence of trade with Mesopotamia, as well as Asia Minor. It is, however, considered above all to be indigenous to the Caucasus, and its major variants characterized (according to Caucasus historian Amjad Jaimoukha) later major cultures in the region.
Their metal goods were widely distributed, from the Volga, Dnieper and Don-Donets river systems in the north to Syria and Palestine in the south and Anatolia in the west. Jaimoukha believes that its southern expanse is attributable primarily to Mitanni and the Hurrians.
Inhumation practices are mixed. Flat graves are found, but so are substantial kurgan burials, the latter of which may be surrounded by cromlechs. This points to a heterogeneous ethno-linguistic population. Their practice of storing relatively great wealth in burial kurgans was probably a cultural influence from the more ancient civilizations of the Fertile Crescent to the south.
In the late 3rd millennium BC, settlements of the Kura-Araxes culture began to be replaced by early Trialeti culture sites. The Trialeti culture was the second culture to appear in Georgia, after the Shulaveri-Shomu culture, a Late Neolithic/Eneolithic culture that existed on the territory of present-day Georgia, Azerbaijan and the Armenian Highlands from 6000 to 4000 BC. The culture is thought to be one of the earliest known Neolithic cultures.
Shulaveri culture predates the Kura-Araxes culture and surrounding areas, which is assigned to the period of ca. 4000 – 2200 BC, and had close relation with the middle Bronze Age culture called Trialeti culture (ca. 3000 – 1500 BC). Sioni culture of Eastern Georgia possibly represents a transition from the Shulaveri to the Kura-Arax cultural complex.
In around ca. 6000–4200 BC the Shulaveri-Shomu and other Neolithic/Chalcolithic cultures of the Southern Caucasus use local obsidian for tools, raise animals such as cattle and pigs, and grow crops, including grapes. Many of the characteristic traits of the Shulaverian material culture (circular mudbrick architecture, pottery decorated by plastic design, anthropomorphic female figurines, obsidian industry with an emphasis on production of long prismatic blades) are believed to have their origin in the Near Eastern Neolithic (Hassuna, Halaf).
The Trialeti culture shows close ties with the highly developed cultures of the ancient world, particularly with the Aegean, but also with cultures to the south, such as probably the Sumerians and their Akkadian conquerors. The Trialeti culture was known for its particular form of burial. The elite were interred in large, very rich burials under earth and stone mounds, which sometimes contained four-wheeled carts. Also there were many gold objects found in the graves. These gold objects were similar to those found in Iran and Iraq. They also worked tin and arsenic.
This form of burial in a tumulus or “kurgan”, along with wheeled vehicles, is the same as that of the Kurgan culture which has been associated with the speakers of Proto-Indo-European. In fact, the black burnished pottery of especially early Trialeti kurgans is similar to Kura-Araxes pottery.
In a historical context, their impressive accumulation of wealth in burial kurgans, like that of other associated and nearby cultures with similar burial practices, is particularly noteworthy. This practice was probably a result of influence from the older civilizations to the south in the Fertile Crescent.
The Uruk period in the Middle East lasted a thousand years from 4000 to 3000 BC.This was a period of innovations, urbanization, economic and social transformations. A phenomenon within this period termed the ‘Uruk expansion’ lasted from 3700 to 3100 BC. South Mesopotamian pottery, architecture, art and administration technology such as the cylinderseal, spread to other regions where it replaced or accompanied local material traditions.
Uruk material appeared in the surrounding regions about 3700 BC, and became abundant about 3350 BC, before it disappeared about 3100 BC when local material cultures re-emerged. The dominating view of the expansion is that it happened as a result of processes in south Mesopotamia such as: economic expansion, urbanization, centralization, war and emigration.
The importance of ideology in this period has been recognized by scientists, but has not been thoroughly researched. Paul Collins (2000) argued that the Uruk expansion was conditioned by a unique ideology that had developed in south Mesopotamian communities and that the expansion of this ideology created the Uruk expansion.
Stein and Özbal (2007) have maintained that the Uruk expansion was foremost a southern colonization, while an ideological system followedthe spread of material culture during the Ubaid period 5800–4200 BC.
Most archaeologists and historians of the ancient Near East have focused on the internal transformations that led to the emergence of early cities and states. In The Uruk World System, Guillermo Algaze concentrates on the unprecedented and wide-ranging process of external expansion that coincided with the rapid initial crystallization of Mesopotamian civilization.
In this extensive study, he contends that the rise of early Sumerian polities cannot be understood without also taking into account the developments in surrounding peripheral areas. Excavation work undertaken in 2005 and 2006 has shown that the city of Hamoukar was destroyed by warfare by around 3500 BC -— probably the earliest urban warfare, or “earliest evidence for large scale organized warfare in the Mesopotamian world”, attested so far in the archaeological record of the Near East.
Using slings and clay bullets a – likely Uruk – army took over the city of Hamoukar, a large archaeological site located in the Jazira region of northeastern Syria (Al Hasakah Governorate), near the Iraqi and Turkish borders, burning it down in the process.
Most importantly, archaeologists believe that Hamoukar was thriving as far back since at least 4000 BC and independently from Sumer. They traded in obsidian and in later times copper working became increasingly important to the city’s economy. Thousands of clay sealings – once used to lock doors or containers and impressed with stamp seals – were found at the ancient site. They tell of a bureaucratic system that was almost as complex as our own.
The Mesopotamian landscape was shaped by urbanization, population growth and trade during the 4th millennium bc. The Uruk expansion, an expansion of south Mesopotamian material culture to nearby and far-off regions started about 3700 bc. North Mesopotamian and Anatolian settlements formed a network with south Mesopotamia, which collapsed about 500 years later.
This period has puzzled archaeologists for a century with different explanations being given for what this expansion was, how it happened and for what reasons. In this article I will focus on the interconnection between the two regions and how this may have created the expansion.
The north Mesopotamian settlements functioned as middlemen in a trading network where they connected the resource-rich areas in Anatolia with the alluvial plains. The north Mesopotamian settlements exploited their position between the two regions where they could control the trading routes. This led to a lot of changes in the northern regions that do not necessarily mean that this was an occupied region or a region where decisions were dictated by leaders in south Mesopotamia.
The late fourth millennium BC in Mesopotamia may be understood in terms of a complex economy that expanded across western Asia. Some suggest that this trading network may be described as an Uruk-dominated world system in which the southern Mesopotamian core expanded to incorporate the peripheral regions of Syro-Mesopotamia, the Iranian highlands, and southeastern Anatolia.
Alternatively, others suggest that the Late Uruk expansion was a catalyst for the development of the Mesopotamian hinterlands, resulting in socio-economically complex regional centres. Such centres may have competed for resources to satisfy both a local elite class as well as a newly established exchange system with southern Mesopotmia.
Up to now the experts believed the Southern part of the land between the two rivers – where the city of Uruk rose – to be the cradle of civilisation and that Northern peoples were subsequently colonised. But the Hamoukar excavation demonstrates that at the time some civilisations developed independently from the South and that only later they fell into the sphere of influence of Uruk after a war fought around 3500 BC.
The origins of urban settlements has generally been attributed to the riverine societies of southern Mesopotamia (in what is now southern Iraq). This is the area of ancient Sumer, where around 4000 BC the Mesopotamian cities such of Ur and Uruk emerged.
In 2007, following the discoveries at Hamoukar, some archiologists have argued that the Cradle of Civilization could have extended further up the Tigris River and included the part of northern Syria where Hamoukar is located. The evidence at Hamoukar indicates that some of the fundamental ideas behind cities—including specialization of labor, a system of laws and government, and artistic development—may have begun earlier than was previously believed.
Located off the main mound, the obsidian workshops predate the destroyed city by several hundred years and could explain, Reichel says, urban society’s emergence so far north of other early cities. Ex–porting manufactured tools to southern cities would have brought significant revenue and wealth to Hamoukar.
“This could have been the incentive that pulled people off their fields,” he says. Instead of plowing their own subsistence farms, they specialized in other work and imported food from surrounding villages. “And once people started to accumulate a fortune, they wanted a walled enclosure to protect it—your first city.”
Uruk was a massive city, located to the south in modern day Iraq. Unlike Hamoukar it was lacking in natural resources such as timber and metal. Yet, despite this lack of resources, its people were on the move. “This Uruk culture from the south started expanding all over the Middle East,” said Professor Clemens Reichel, of the University of Toronto and Royal Ontario Museum, who is leading the excavation at Hamoukar. His team’s work is being supported by the Department of Antiquities in Syria and the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
One of these colonies was located just outside Hamoukar. It’s a small site, probably occupied by no more than a few hundred people. Its pottery remains were scattered over a hectare. When researchers analysed the pottery they found that much of it consisted of Uruk pottery. “It’s the same stuff that you would find in Southern Mesopotamia, almost 700 km to the south,” said Reichel.
Researchers believe that this colony was there to facilitate trade, but was probably not controlled by Uruk’s rulers. “I’m tending more to them being sub-state entities,” said Reichel, private entrepreneurs, perhaps like the British East India Company of more recent colonial times.“The picture is unquestionable – Reichel explains – if Uruk inhabitants did not throw those projectiles, surely they took advantage of them”.
In 3500 BC Hamoukar was destroyed by a violent attack. Slings and clay bullets were the force’s primary weapons. While incredibly crude, by today’s standards, these weapons could do a lot of damage. The archaeologists tested the slings’ effectiveness by creating their own bullets and attacking their own dig house.
“The impact is quite remarkable,” said Reichel. At one point he was accidentally hit in the head by a colleague who was practising. “He wasn’t very good at that point, but by god I felt it,” he said. “Once he got really good, the speed, the velocity, that those guys get, is amazing… I’m virtually certain it can be fatal.”
While Professor Reichel survived his encounter, many people at Hamoukar did not. The attackers broke inside the city’s three meter thick city wall, the fighting continued and buildings were set on fire. Archaeologists discovered remains of brick walls that collapsed after heavy fires and bombing. Around barriers 1200 oval projectiles and about 120 larger clay balls have been found. On the site also crockery and various objects coming from Southern cities have been discovered, but only in higher – and therefore later – levels than those containing the battle remains.
Hamoukar’s defenders resisted the attack, employing everything they had to produce weapons. In a shallow pit ordinarily used to soak and recycle discarded clay seals, the sealing clay was turned instead into sling bullets. Excavators found two dozen of them neatly lined along the pit’s edge. “It looks as if they were—quite literally—throwing everything they could find against the aggressors,” Reichel says. In the debris of the buldings the team also found 12 graves, likely dug for war casualties.
Clemens Reichel explains that the Tel Hamoukar site is also interesting because it appears that the battle caught the inhabitants off guard and this is apparent from the fact that in many points the rubble buried populated areas conserving them much like it happened with the ruins of Pompei.
This discovery revolutionizes in some sense the expansion history of civilisations in Mesopotamia, and is confirmed by findings in another archaeological site in Northern Syria, the Tel Brak (Nagar, Nawar). English archaeologists recently studied it and claim that also in Tel Brak a developed civilisation existed in 4000 BC., but disappeared 500 years later, in the same period of the Tel Hamoukar battle. Four mass graves dating to c. 3800–3600 BC were discovered in the surroundings of the tell, and they suggest that the process of urbanization was accompanied by internal social stress, and an increase in the organization of warfare.
Tell Brak remains constitute a tell located in the Upper Khabur region, near the modern village of Tell Brak, 50 kilometers north-east of Al-Hasaka city, Al-Hasakah Governorate. Tell Brak is the modern name of the tell, while the city’s most ancient name is unknown. During the second half of the third millennium BC, the city was known as Nagar and later on, Nawar.
Starting as a small settlement in the seventh millennium BC, dated to the proto Halaf culture c. 6500 BC. Many objects dated to that period were discovered including the Halaf pottery. By 5000 BC, Halaf culture transformed into Northern Ubaid, and many Ubaid materials were found in Tell Brak. Excavations and surface survey of the site and its surroundings have unearthed a large platform of patzen bricks that dates to late Ubaid, which reveal that Tell Brak developed as an urban center slightly earlier than better known cities of southern Mesopotamia, such as Uruk.
Northern Mesopotamia evolved independently from the south during the Late Chalcolithic / early and middle Northern Uruk (4000-3500 BC). This period was characterized by a strong emphasis on holy sites, among which, the “Eye Temple” was the most important in Tell Brak.
Tell Brak evolved during the fourth millennium BC into one of the biggest cities in Northern Mesopotamia, and interacted with the cultures of southern Mesopotamia. Interactions with the Mesopotamian south grew c. 3600 BC, and an Urukean colony was established in the city. With the end of Uruk culture c 3000 BC, Tell Brak’s Urukean colony was abandoned and deliberately leveled by its occupants.
By late Northern Uruk and especially after 3200 BC, northern Mesopotamia came under the full cultural dominance of the southern Uruk culture, which affected Tell Brak’s architecture and administration. The southern influence is most obvious in the level named the “Latest Jemdet Nasr” of the “Eye Temple”, which had southern elements such as cone mosaics. The Uruk infiltration was peaceful, and it is first noted in the context of feasting, as commercial deals during that period were ratified through feasting.
Tell Brak contracted during the following phases, and became limited to the mound. Evidence exists for an interaction with the Mesopotamian south represented by the existence of materials similar to the ones produced during the southern Jemdet Nasr period, an archaeological culture in southern Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq) that is generally dated to 3100–2900 BCE.
The Jemdet Nasr period is named after the type-site Jemdet Nasr, where the assemblage typical for this period was first recognized. Its geographical distribution is limited to south–central Iraq. The culture of the proto-historical Jemdet Nasr period is a local development out of the preceding Uruk period and continues into the Early Dynastic I period.
Although in older literature 3200–3000 BCE can be found as the beginning and end dates of the Jemdet Nasr period, it is nowadays dated to 3100–2900 BCE based on radiocarbon dating. The Jemdet Nasr period in south–central Iraq is contemporary with the early Ninevite V period in Upper Mesopotamia and the Proto-Elamite stage in western Iran and shares with these periods characteristics such as an emerging bureaucracy and inequality.
The hallmark of the Jemdet Nasr period is its distinctive painted monochrome and polychrome pottery. Designs are both geometric and figurative; the latter displaying trees and animals such as birds, fish, goats, scorpions and snakes. Apart from the distinctive pottery, the period is known as one of the formative stages in the development of the cuneiform script.
The oldest clay tablets come from Uruk and date to the late fourth millennium BCE, slightly earlier than the Jemdet Nasr period. By the time of the Jemdet Nasr period, the script had already undergone a number of significant changes. The script originally consisted of pictographs but by the time of the Jemdet Nasr period it was already adopting simpler and more abstract designs. It is also during this period that the script acquired its iconic wedge-shaped appearance.
The Jemdet Nasr tablets are written in proto-cuneiform script. Proto-cuneiform is thought to have arisen in the second half of the 4th millennium BC. While at first it was characterized by a small set of symbols that were predominantly pictographs, by the time of the Jemdet Nasr period, there was already a trend toward more abstract and simpler designs. It is also during this period that the script acquired its iconic wedge-shaped appearance.
While the language in which these tablets were written cannot be identified with certainty, it is thought to have been Sumerian. Contemporary archives have been found at Uruk, Tell Uqair and Khafajah. The tablets from Jemdet Nasr are primarily administrative accounts; long lists of various objects, foodstuffs and animals that were probably distributed among the population from a centralized authority.
Thus, these texts document, among other things, the cultivation, processing and redistribution of grain, the counting of herds of cattle, the distribution of secondary products like beer, fish, fruit and textiles, as well as various objects of undefinable nature. Six tablets deal with the calculation of agricultural field areas from surface measurements, which is the earliest attested occurrence of such calculations.
The centralized buildings, administrative cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals from sites like Jemdet Nasr suggest that settlements of this period were very organized, with a central administration regulating all aspects of the economy, from crafts to agriculture to the rationing of foodstuffs.
The economy seems to have been primarily concerned with subsistence based on agriculture and sheep-and-goat pastoralism and small-scale trade. Very few precious stones or exotic trade goods have been found at sites of this period. However, the homogeneity of the pottery across the southern Mesopotamian plain suggests intensive contacts and trade between settlements. This is strengthened by the find of a sealing at Jemdet Nasr that lists a number of cities that can be identified, including Ur, Uruk and Larsa.
Before expanding again around c. 2600 BC, when it became known as Nagar, and was the capital of a regional kingdom that controlled the Khabur river valley, Tell Brak remained a small settlement during the Ninevite 5 period, with a small temple and associated sealing activities.
Around c. 2600 BC, a large administrative building was built and the city expanded out of the tell again. The revival is connected with the Kish civilization, and the city was named “Nagar”, which might be of Simitic origin and mean a “cultivated place”. At its height, Nagar encompassed most of the southwestern half of the Khabur Basin, and was an equal of the Eblaite and Mariote states.
Nagar was involved in the wide diplomatic network of Ebla, and the relations between the two kingdoms involved both confrontations and alliances. A text from Ebla mentions a victory of Ebla’s king (perhaps Irkab-Damu) over Nagar. However, a few years later, a treaty was concluded, and the relations progressed toward a dynastic marriage between princess Tagrish-Damu of Ebla, and prince Ultum-Huhu, Nagar’s monarch’s son.
Nagar was defeated by Mari in year seven of the Eblaite vizier Ibrium’s term, causing the blockage of trade routes between Ebla and southern Mesopotamia via upper Mesopotamia. Later, Ebla’s king Isar-Damu concluded an alliance with Nagar and Kish against Mari, and the campaign was headed by the Eblaite vizier Ibbi-Sipish, who led the combined armies to victory in a battle near Terqa.
Afterwards, the alliance attacked the rebellious Eblaite vassal city of Armi. Ebla was destroyed approximately three years after Terqa’s battle, and soon after, Nagar followed in c. 2300 BC. Large parts of the city were burned, an act attributed either to Mari, or Sargon of Akkad.
Nagar was destroyed around c. 2300 BC, and came under the rule of the Akkadian Empire. Following its destruction, Nagar was rebuilt by the Akkadian empire, to form a center of the provincial administration. The early Akkadian monarchs were occupied with internal conflicts, and Tell Brak was temporarily abandoned by Akkad at some point preceding the reign of Naram-Sin. The abandonment might be connected with an environmental event that caused the desertification of the region.
The destruction of Nagar’s kingdom created a power vacuum in the Upper Khabur. The Hurrians, formerly concentrated in Urkesh, which at that point was an ally of the Akkadian Empire through what is believed to have been a dynastic marriage tradition (Tar’am-Agade the daughter of the Akkadian king, Naram-Sin, is believed to have been married to the king of Urkesh), indicating they had a firm hold on the area by the reign of Naram-Sin of Akkad (ca. 2254–2218 BCE), took advantage of the situation to control the region as early as Sargon’s latter years.
The Khabur River valley, the largest perennial tributary to the Euphrates in Syrian territory, was the heart of the Hurrian lands. From north to south, annual rainfall in the Khabur basin decreases from over 400 mm to less than 200 mm, making the river a vital water source for agriculture throughout history.
The course of the Khabur can be divided in two distinct zones: the Upper Khabur area or Khabur Triangle north of Al-Hasakah, and the Middle and Lower Khabur between Al-Hasakah and Busayrah.
Since the 1930s, numerous archaeological excavations and surveys have been carried out in the Khabur Valley, indicating that the region has been occupied since the Lower Palaeolithic period. Important sites that have been excavated include Tell Halaf, Tell Brak, Tell Leilan, Tell Mashnaqa, Tell Mozan and Tell Barri.
The region has given its name to a distinctive painted ware found in northern Mesopotamia and Syria in the early 2nd millennium BCE, called Khabur ware, a specific type of pottery named after the Khabur River region, in northeastern Syria, where large quantities of it were found by the archaeologist Max Mallowan at the site of Chagar Bazar.
The pottery’s distribution is not confined to the Khabur region, but spreads across northern Iraq and is also found at a few sites in Turkey and Iran. The region of the Khabur River is also associated with the rise of the Kingdom of the Mitanni that flourished c.1500-1300 BC.
Tell Brak was known as “Nawar” for the Hurrians, and kings of Urkesh took the title “King of Urkesh and Nawar”, first attested in the seal of Urkesh’s king Atal-Shen. The city experienced a period of independence as a Hurrian city-state, before contracting at the beginning of the second millennium BC.
Nagar prospered again by the 19th century BC, and came under the rule of different regional powers. In ca. 1500 BC, Tell Brak was a center of Mitanni before being destroyed by Assyria c. 1300 BC. The city never regained its former importance, remaining as a small settlement, and abandoned at some points of its history, until disappearing from records during the early Abbasid era.
The city-state of Urkesh had some powerful neighbors. At some point in the early second millennium BCE, the Northwest Semitic speaking Amorite kingdom of Mari to the south subdued Urkesh and made it a vassal state. In the continuous power struggles over Mesopotamia, another Amorite dynasty had usurped the throne of the Old Assyrian Empire, which had controlled colonies in Hurrian, Hattian and Hittite regions of eastern Anatolia since the 21st century BC.
The Assyrians then made themselves masters over Mari and much of north east Amurru (Syria) in the late 19th and early 18th centuries BC. Shubat-Enlil (modern Tell Leilan), was made the capital of this Old Assyrian empire by Shamshi Adad I at the expense of the earlier capital of Assur.
Different peoples inhabited the city, including the Halafians, Semites and the Hurrians. The Halafians were the indigenous people of Neolithic northern Syria, who later adopted the southern Ubaidian culture. Contact with the Mesopotamian south increased during the early and middle Northern Uruk period, and southern people moved to Tell Brak in the late Uruk period, forming a colony, which produced a mixed society.
The Urukean colony was abandoned by the colonist toward the end of the fourth millennium BC, leaving the indigenous Tell Brak a much contracted city. The pre-Akkadian kingdom’s population was Semitic, and spoke its own East Semitic dialect of the Eblaite language used in Ebla and Mari. The Nagarite dialect is closer to the dialect of Mari rather than that of Ebla.
During the Akkadian period, both Semitic and Hurrian names were recorded, as the Hurrians appears to have taken advantage of the power vacuum caused by the destruction of the pre-Akkadian kingdom, in order to migrate and expand in the region.
The post-Akkadian period Tell Brak had a strong Hurrian element, and Hurrian named rulers, although the region was also inhabited by Amorite tribes. Tell Brak was a center of the Hurrian-Mitannian empire, which had Hurrian as its official language. However, Akkadian was the region’s international language, evidenced by the post-Akkadian and Mitannian eras tablets, discovered at Tell Brak and written in Akkadian.
Tell Brak was a religious center from its earliest periods, its famous “Eye Temple”, which was named for the thousands of small alabaster “Eye idols” figurines discovered in it, is unique in the Fertile Crescent, and its main deity, Belet-Nagar, was revered in the entire Khabur region, making the city a pilgrimage site.
The findings in the “Eye Temple” indicate that Tell Brak is among the earliest sites of organized religion in northern Mesopotamia. It is unknown to which deity the “Eye Temple” was dedicated, and the “Eyes” figurines appears to be votive offerings to that unknown deity. Michel Meslin hypothesized that the temple was the center of the Sumerian Innana or the Semitic Ishtar, and that the “Eyes” figurines were a representation of an all-seeing female deity.
The culture of Tell Brak was defined by the different civilizations that inhabited it, and it was famous for its glyptic style, equids and glass. When independent, the city was ruled by a local assembly or by a monarch. Tell Brak was a trade center due to its location between Anatolia, the Levant and southern Mesopotamia. It was excavated by Max Mallowan in 1937, then regularly by different teams between 1979 and 2011, when the work stopped due to the Syrian Civil War.
Khirbet Kerak (Arabic: Khirbet al-Karak, “the ruins of the castle”) or Beth Yerah (“House of the Moon (god)”) is a tell (archaeological mound) located on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee in modern day Israel, which spans an area of over 50 acres—one of the largest in the Levant—and contains remains dating from the Early Bronze Age (c. 3000 BC – 2000 BC) and from the Persian period (c. 450 BC) through to the early Islamic period (c. 1000 AD).
A form of Early Bronze Age pottery first discovered at the tell but also seen in other parts of the Levant (including Jericho, Beth Shan, Tell Judeideh, and Ugarit) is known as “Khirbet Kerak ware.” Khirbet Kerak culture appears to have been a Levantine version of the Early Transcaucasian Culture. The 2009 discovery at the tell of a stone palette with Egyptian motifs, including an ankh, points to trade/political relations with the First dynasty of Egypt, at approximately 3000 BCE. Around 2000 BC, the city was destroyed or abandoned.
Artefacts from Hamoukar which postdate the battle, are similar in style as items created at Uruk. This makes an Uruk army the likeliest attackers. “If the Uruk people weren’t the ones firing the sling bullets, they certainly benefited from it. They took over this place right after its destruction,” Reichel told the New York Times back in 2005.
A few commentators have associated the end of the Uruk period with the climate changes linked to the Piora Oscillation, an abrupt cold and wet period in the climate history of the Holocene Epoch, other explanation is the arrival of the East Semitic tribes represented by the Kish civilization.