The First Towns in Mesopotamia

Episode 4: Eridu and Other Towns in the Ubaid Period

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

The Halaf culture, dating the 6th millenium BC, consisted of small villages supported by simple irrigation agriculture. Eridu, located on the Persian Gulf, consisted of marshy wetlands. The latter dried out as the Persian Gulf retreated (from sea level drop), and Eridu villagers were the first to build irrigation reservoirs, levees and canals to water their fields and pastures.

They have left behind exquisite stone and obsidian tools and highly prized foreign goods (including imported obsidian, copper and shells). In addition to organizing a significant number of workers to build irrigation works, they also collaborated to build a temple Enke, the god of sweet waters. The temple was measured in cubits, which would become a standard measure of measure, even though they had no written language.

The villagers manufactured, clay pots (which they traded for foreign goods), clay sickles and clay balls to use with slingshots.

The northern cultures of Mesopotamia adopted Ubaid pots somewhat later than southern Mesopotamia, although copper smelting originated in the north. As in Eridu, there is clear evidence of an elite class, with larger houses and tombs and more accumulation of foreign luxury goods.

Northerners also smelted gold, silver and the gold-silver alloy electrium for jewelry, as well as “arsenic bronze” (produced by adding arsenic to copper). Eventually northern Mesopotamian towns imported tin from northern Europe and Asia, which allowed them to smelt copper into sturdy bronze tools and weapons.

Some northern Mesopotamian towns from this period had populations over 3,000 and reveal evidence of publicly run kilns to fire pots, as well as the use of pictorial stamp seals to prevent illegal access to the personal goods and rooms.

Chalices of obsidian and marble (some with gold inlays) also date from this period, along with evidence of Syrian domesticated dogs in northern Mesopotamians.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on kanopy.

Stone Age Mesopotamia

10,000 year old tower from Jericho

Episode 3: Neolithic Farming, Trading and Pottery

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

This lecture covers the Neolithic (new Stone Age) period in Mesopotamia (9,000 – 5,000 BC). During this period, plants and animals domesticated by pre-Neolithic settlers provided the bulk of people’s diet. However most residents added to their diet by fishing, hunting and gathering berries and other plant-based food.

Remains from the first farming settlements are found in northern Mesopotamia and the Levant [1], both areas with sufficient rainfall not to require irrigation. Peas and Lentils were grown close to the Eastern Mediterranean and Einkorn wheat in the Western Levant. Sheep, pigs, goats and cattle were herded in northern Mesopotamia. The rest of region was uninhabited prior to the advent of irrigation technology, except for Jericho. The latter relied on Persian Gulf agricultural settlements fed by a natural spring.

Tools used during this period relied on obsidian (which made the best knives), imported from Anatolia,[2] and bitumen (made from petroleum deposits), used to waterproof baskets and boats. Early inhabitants of Mesopotamia also adopted a new use of fire, which was first discovered by pre-human hominids. They burned limestone to make plaster, and to cover walls and floors and for food storage vessels and human figurines.[3]

Around 6,000 BC, Mesopotamian farmers moved south into flood plains lying between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Thanks to thousands of years of silt laid down by the two rivers, they found the soil there extremely fertile. Moreover with the fields lying downhill from the rivers, it was easy to exploit early summer floods by building simple dykes, levees and reinforced irrigation channels.

The city of Samarra dates from this later period. Samarra culture is characterized by distinctive clay pots (repaired with bitumen) and figurines. The Samarrans grew barley and several kinds of wheat and herded sheep, goats and cattle. They also hunted and fished.

Tel Halaf in Northeastern Syria was another city (5700 – 5000 BC) appearing during this period. Thanks to abundant rainfall, no irrigation was necessary.

Jericho and a second settlement known as Catal Huyuk grew large enough to qualify as towns (defined as hundreds of residents) during this period.

[1]The Levant is an approximate historical geographical term referring to a large area in the Eastern Mediterranean region of Western Asia.

[2]Anatolia is a large peninsula in Western Asia that constitute the major part of modern-day Turkey.

[3]Although clay was used to make bricks, there was no clay pottery as yet. The advantage of clay pots is you can use them for cooking (plaster vessels disintegrate when they come in contact with fire. With clay pots, it became possible to make porridge out of grains, as well as clay ovens to cook flatbread.

Film can be viewed free with a library card on Kanopy.