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Land between two rivers

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1 Land between two rivers
Mesopotamia Land between two rivers

2 Timeline Early establishment of cities Ubaid Phase 5900- 4000 BC
Uruk period BC Early Dynastic BC Akkadian Period BC Neo Sumerian BC Old Babylonian period BC Old Assyrian period BC Middle Assyrian BC Neo Assyrian BC Neo Babylonian BC Persian and Hellenistic period BC

3 Popular imagination Ancient Sumeria and Babylon known from Old Testament, but periods before these Biblical stories is largely unknown. Mesopotamian cities and rulers had profound impact on Egypt, Elamites in Iran and development of urban life, art, and the practice of war for conquest.

4 Ubaid Excavations at Tell al-Ubaid were initiated in 1919.
Pottery fragments on the dessert surface hinted at city beneath the sand. Early field seasons revealed copper statues, remnants of sculptured lions, eagles, stags, and bulls. Also found: handcrafted pottery, utensils, fragments of wooden columns, and jewelry with inlaid mother-of-pearl.

5 Ubaid and Uruk period Excavations at Eridu were begun in 1942.
Deposits suggested 2000 years of occupation. Earliest phases extended back to the Ubaid period around 5900 BC. Burials (many with grave offerings), pottery, sculpture, pictographic images, temple foundations: all revealed a well ordered society with sophisticated artistic traditions.

6 Copper lion head Ubaid style pottery 3500BC

7 Ubaid painted pottery sherds
Ubaid painted pottery sherds. Distribution of such shards helps identify the range scope of cultural influence throughout the region.

8 Ancient environmental evidence suggest the area was once better watered, with easy access to the river delta (today a desert region). Based on comparative pottery studies and temple style it is evident the Ubaid culture eventually extended across all of southern Mesopotamia.

9 Excavation extend to a depth of 60 feet to reach “sterile” soils.
Ubaid culture is noted for pottery of distinctive style, and for a mixed lifestyle of agriculture, animal husbandry, and fishing. Ubaid was true city. Social stratification was well established. Clay boat model, Eridu 4000BC. Earliest known boat representation.

10 Kitchen deposit, Ubaid.

11 Tell al-Ubaid


13 British soldiers deployed in Iraq, at tell al-Ubaid
British soldiers deployed in Iraq, at tell al-Ubaid. Courtesy British Museum.

14 Uruk (Erech in Old Testament)
Mentioned in Epic of Gilgamesh: “…the outer walls shine with the brilliance of copper…the inner wall has no equal…the wall is great; is it not burnt brick and good?” The site is marked by a 40 foot tall temple (an early ziggurat). Remains of mud-brick walls run for 5 miles. Strong evidence for craft specialization and revealed clear signs of division of labor along with class distinctions.

15 Landscape of Uruk

16 Uruk, late phase.


18 Mosaic columns made from thousands of cones.
Carved alabaster female figurine.

19 Excavations Ongoing since 1922 by German archaeologists.
Site is marked on landscape by tall ziggurat. The “white temple” was devoted to Inanna: goddess of love and war (same as Ishtar). Tokens and administrative records indicate writing 300 years before the Egyptians. One mystery remains: where had the inhabitants come from?

20 Temple of Inanna, Uruk.

21 Surprising find Cambridge archaeologist Joan Oates discovered 8000-year old site at Choga Mami. Predates Ubaid. Pushes early Sumerian culture back in time an additional 2500 years. The earliest houses of Mesopotamia. Several communal granaries uncovered. Pottery styles similar to Ubaid types. Evidence of irrigation canals.

22 Small details reveal much
Cylinder seals Personal tokens Mosaics Early pictographic writing—eventually evolve into cuneiform Temple construction. Cultural trajectory leads to Sumerian civilization. Images to follow courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

23 Decorated pottery Proto cuneiform Cylinder seal, quartz.

24 Late Uruk, 3300 BC. “Priest-King.”
Carved alabaster. Uruk, Jamdat-Nasr phase, 3000 BC. Lapis lazuli and shell.

25 Stele of Ushumgal, Early Dynastic I, 2900 BC
Late Uruk, 3000 BC.

26 Ubaid, Early Dynastic III, 2400 BC. Copper alloy bull.
Proto-Elamite, 3000BC. Lioness demon, Crystalline limestone.

27 Demons Proto-Elamite (Iran). Horned demon. 3000 BC.
Arsenic copper alloy. Bullman, Alabaster. Early Dynastic I BC

28 Fragment of libation vessel. Early Dynastic III, 2400 BC.
Inscription identifies the goddess.

29 Various supplicant priests
2900 BC 2550 BC 2900 BC

30 Female supplicants. 2550 BC 2500 BC

31 Kneeling bull, Silver, 3000BC Proto-Elamite
Parade of bulls. Mixed media: limestone, shell copper, shale. Early Dynastic IIIB, 2400 BC Kneeling bull, Silver, 3000BC Proto-Elamite

32 Various cylinder seals
and their impressions. Seals are used to identify property or for official signatures. Seals frequently portray familiar mythical scenes or everyday life in unique fashion. These are clay, Jamdat Nasr phase, 3000BC.

33 Wall plaque. Banquet with musicians. Limestone.
From Khafajah, Sin Temple, level IX, early Dynastic 2550 BC Three registers. Display scene. This piece in Oriental Museum of Chicago. Missing piece is in Baghdad, Iraq National Museum. Fragment here is part of a door lock.

34 Sumeria and the Royal City of Ur
Research in the 1920s was spurred by interest in “Biblical Archaeology” Sir Leonard Woolley began work at Ur in (joint effort by the British Museum and University of Pennsylvania). Ur is described in Genesis as birthplace of Abraham, patriarch of the Jews. Excavations from eventually included a Royal Sumerian tomb.


36 Woolley and T.E. Lawrence.
Woolley poses for photographers.

37 University of Pennsylvania archives.
Wooley excavation at Ur.

38 Summary First writing. First known use of the wheel.
First cities with monumental architecture. Well defined class structure. Earliest “literature” and epic stories. First use of administrative accounting. Strong concept of private ownership. First examples of seafaring.

39 Next week The Royal tomb of Ur Expansion and empire

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