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Western Asiatic Antiquities

Reprinted by permission from "Artifacts of Ancient Civilizations" by Alex G. Malloy

The Neolithic period in Western Asia can be traced to Anatolia, and the substantial population that inhabited Catal Huyuk on the Konya plain. Along with Jericho and the Natufian culture, and Hacilar farther west, this Anatolian site formed agricultural communities that depend on hunting for their diet. These were the first cities, and they lasted until the historic period. These Anatolian communities made pottery, and used it extensively. Goddess shrines were decorated with mythological bulls’ heads, and huge birds of prey. Sculptures of hard stone and terracotta figures were also molded. Climate changes caused these communities to disappear by 5650 B.C.

The Neolithic period arrived somewhat later in Mesopotamia and Iran. The pottery found from this period reflects a similar day life in these villages in and around the Middle Tigris and Euphrates and at Samarra Regions at the foot of the Zagros Mountains. Early characteristics include pottery, building houses out of clay, and the domestications of animals.

Mesopotamia

Tell Halaf, an important site on the Khabur River in Syria, is the name given for the period from the late 6th to 5th millennium B.C. The Halaf period and culture produced the finest, most beautiful pottery in ancient Mesopotamia. Many cities produced this fine Halaf-type pottery. It was this culture that moved into the Chalcolithic Age, from 4300-3100 B.C.

The Ubaid period is named for the site of Tell Al-Ubaid, just for miles northwest of Ur. It covers the period that produced the painted pottery of the deepest level of Ur. The Ubaid culture extended its influence far beyond its frontiers in Mesopotamia. The most interesting artifacts other than pottery are the terracotta elongated standing “mother-goddesses.”

The city or Uruk, modern Warka, marked the beginning of urban development. These unprecedented developments of art and architecture manifested themselves through many different kinds of technology and metallurgy. The unprecedented developments of art and architecture manifested themselves through many different kinds of technology and metallurgy. The temples and public buildings drew attention to the decorated facades of polychrome mosaics. During the Uruk period, the city of Kish produced the first pictographic tablets. The earliest collection of writing on clay tablets known as cuneiform script was found at Uruk. It is from that the transition was made from prehistoric to historic man. Stamp seals are also found at Uruk, as they were at Tepe Gawra in the Ubaid period, but now the cylinder seal and sealings also appear. Sculpture on a large scale came into its own. In the north, almost contemporary with Uruk, is the Gawra period.

The Early Bronze Age, from 3100-2100 B.C., starts in Mesopotamia with the Jemdet Nasr period, from 3100-2900 B.C. Wheel-made pottery was distinctive to the period, with painted geometric and naturalistic patterns. The cylinder seals are much more common than in the Uruk period. The designs, however, are more limited to simple coarse linear patterns. This was the result of the expanded popularity of the use of the seal by more of the populace. The appearance of bronze objects is the beginning of the Bronze Age. During this period, it is felt that a new people came into this area of Lower Mesopotamia. They are identified as the Sumerians. They dominated society up to the Early Dynastic period. The Sumerian literature tells of the goddess Inana. Accounts of creation are found in the epic of Marduk, and the flood in the epics of Atrahasis and Gilgamesh. A similar literary pattern is found in the first eleven chapters of the Book of Genesis.

The Early Dynastic period, from 2900-2371, saw each city as a center, or kingdom. They were ruled by kings mentioned in the Sumerian king list. The typical city-state in this period had a population of 10,000-20,000 inhabitants. Kish, Uruk (Eanna), Ur, Awan, Hamazi, Lagash, Abab, Mari, and Akshak are among the cities. The first dynasty at Kish had no less that 23 kings.

Sargon of Akkad, the founder of the Akkadian dynasty, was the first great conqueror named in history. His conquests became legends of later Babylonians. He first established himself in Akkad, and then Sumer, after which he moved to the east and defeated Elam Amurru in the west, and Subartu in the north. He gained control of Mari, and an area extending as far as what is now Lebanon, and the Taurus Mountains in Turkey.  His son Naram-Sin conquered and destroyed Ebla, a city of 260,000 citizens, and the center of a kingdom that held Syria and Palestine in 2400-2250 B.C.

Art excelled during the Akkadian dynasty. A new, vigorous rendering of the anatomy is revealed in stelae, monuments in the round.

The Ur III dynasty of 2100-2006 B.C. is also known as the Neo-Sumerian period. This began with the Gotian invasion, which caused the collapse of the Akkadian dynasty. The invaders were quickly repulsed, and a new dynasty was established under King Ur-Nammu. The buildings and city were restored 1400 years later, and we can now see the grand design of Ur as excavated by Woolley. The magnificent ziggurat of Ur-Nammu measured 61 × 46 meters at the base. Other structures like the mausoleum and the temples were also built on a grand scale. During this period of over 140 years, five kings ruled over the vast empire. All were great builders. The authority of the state grew with a hierarchy of civil servants. The vast economic records have come to us in the form of cuneiform tablets. These tablets are available to the collector today.

By the turn of the 2nd millennium B.C., the center of power was shifting, Isin, Larsa, and Eshuna gained power, and several new dynasties arose. The Babylonian dynasty was established in 2004 B.C., and eleven rulers reigned in this great empire until 1595 B.C., a period of 409 years. This was known as the Old Babylonian period. During this period, the great ruler Hammurabi resigned for forty-three years, from 1792-1750 B.C. During his tenure, the Hammurabi code of laws was formed, touching commercial, social, and domestic life. He conquered many of the remaining cities of Mesopotamia.

It is during this Babylonian period that the Biblical figure Abraham appears, and leaves Ur and Haran on his journey with God.

Art continued to excel, with relief carvings and fine hard stone sculpture. The cylinder seals were of fine workmanship, but were static in composition with presentation scenes.

The Kassite period is a period of decline, after the Hittite raid on Babylon in 1595 B.C. By the mid-15th century B.C., the Kassites had gained control of Lower Mesopotamia. They had trade contact with Egypt, and later Assyria.

The early 1500s B.C. saw the Mintannians, who were Indo-Aryan, established a small empire by bringing together the states of Northern Mesopotamia. For 200 years, they had political influence on Egypt and the Hittites.

With the weakening of Mitannian influence and strength, Assyria began to rise as an independent power and state. Ashur-Oballit I (1365-1330 B.C.) changed the city of Ashur from a trade city to the capital of the Assyrian empire. Assyria was put into a recession after the region of Tukulti-Ninurta I (1244-1208 B.C.).  This continued for the most part until the 9th century B.C., when its power was unsurpassed. From the period of 200 years from then to the 7th century B.C., Assyria was by far the most dominant power in Western Asia. Under Esarhaddon (680-669 B.C.), this empire controlled Elam, Babylonia, Eastern Anatolia, Palestine, Syria, and even Egypt. The Assyrian national god was Ashur, often represented among wings, and sometimes as a symbol of a winged rosette. The carving of cylinder seals caused a new upsurge in interest. Some of the monumental sculptures created during this period include giant guardian figures of winged human-headed bulls and lions. This relief sculpture from the palace is amazing.

A revolt in Babylon resulted in the fall of Ashur and Nineveh in 612 B.C. After this, a new power emerged, the Chaldeans. With this shift in power began the Neo-Babylonian period. In 539 B.C., the Persian ruler Cyrus II, or the Great, defeated the Babylonians. The Achaemenid Empire became one of the largest of the ancient world. At its greatest point, the Achaemenid Empire contained Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, Asia Minor, Thrace, Iran, and parts of India.

Anatolia

The Assyrian Colony period in Anatolia took place from 1920-1740 B.C. These colonies were trading partners with Ashur. They received tin and textiles, and they exported gold and silver.

The history of the Hittite kingdom starts in the Late Bronze Age (1600-1200 B.C.), or the Hittite Old Kingdom, and progresses to the Hittite empire of 1450-1180 B.C. The Hittites, under their king Hattusilis I, swept in and conquered Aleppo, and then conducted the famous raid on Babylon in 1595 B.C. The rich centers of the empire in the southeast were Tarsus, Carchemish, and Insupia (Ugarit). The Hittites were great charioteers, from the time of the Old Kingdom conquests on. Monumental rock reliefs at Yazilikaya display the gods of the Hittites. They so-called Neo-Hittite Art period took from the old tradition and blended it with Syrian, Hurrian, Assyrian, and some Aramaic techniques.

Iran

The Village period saw food-producing villages by the 7th millennium. Small clusters of village appeared at the plains of Den Luran, Susiana, Mahidasht, Hulailan, and Solduz. This period on the Susiana Plain (Susa A) lasted until the 4th millennium B.C.

During the Uruk period in Susa, efforts began to be made to bring the whole plain under a central administration. The result was the development of a state organization. Population increased substantially as the villages were abandoned.

The Proto-Elamite period, beginning around 2007 B.C., is when the southwest area of Iran emerged as Elam. The Elamite state was later controlled by the Akkadians. They shared control with the Simasaki during the Old Elamite period (2500-1500 B.C.).

The kings of Maitani, or the Mitannians, created a small empire. These people of Indo-Aryan origin settled and brought together the Hurrian states of Northern Mesopotamia. Their political influence was strong, rivaling Egypt and Anatolia from 1500-1350 B.C.

Elam was the center area of Susania, with capital city at Susa. The Middle Elamite period spanned the 13th and 12th centuries. Military victories at Babylon and farther north resulted in a period of prosperity and strength. Nebuchadnezzar I, the king of Babylon, ended all this late in the 12th century.

Luristan was located in the western region of Iran in an open area of the plains intersected by the Zagros Mountains. The Lurs were known for their bronze industry, and their society was closely connected to the use of the horse. The period of Luristan influence spanned from the 12th to the 7th century B.C. The period of greatest bronze output and prosperity can be dated to the last two centuries of their influence. For many years, all bronze artifacts coming from Iran were thought to be from Luristan, but today the differences have become clearer with modern excavations and studies. Luristan showed an independent and creative flair in their bronze workshops.   

Tools and Weapons

Once of the most collected areas of antiquity is Western Asiatic weapons. The vast findings of Scythian-Achaemenid and Parthian arrowheads have been a stepping stone into this field. The prices for these have been very reasonable for years. Now the prices are easing upward. The wonderful array of bronze weapons from Iran, and especially Luristan, has excited collectors and the scholars alike. Bronze shaft-holes axes, adzes, and pick-axes are found in Luristan and the southwest Caspian area. A wide range of daggers, dirks, and swords are also widely available, along with the occasional iron sword. Arrowheads and spearheads dominate this market, including some inscribed with cuneiform writing. Mace heads are found in bronze, and in fine carved stone marble, hematite, chalcedony, and serpentine. Collectors must be careful to known all the bronze objects offered. In the past, there has been a tendency for dealers to lump all Western Asiatic bronze weapons as Luristan. This misrepresentation I changing now, and the way was paved with the aid of fine published collections and new scholarship by Dr. P. R. S. Moorey at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Pottery

The wealth of ancient pottery found in Western Asia is vast, to say the least. The very early pottery from Hacilar, in Turkey, during the Chalcolithic period, is highly sought after. The collector should be warned that many fakes of this pottery have been found on the marketplace in the past. Pottery from Mesopotamia is not widely offered for sale. The fine painted examples from the Halaf period are widely sought, but not found. Pottery found in Iran and Syria has been more available to the collector, but this has changed with the uncertainty in the political climate today. Generally speaking, plan ware, when found, can be purchased at very favorable prices. The only problem lies in finding it. Painted pottery is more attractive and more available to the collector, but is also more expensive. This area of collecting has been neglected in the past.

Terracotta Figures 

Terracotta figures are a widely collected field in Western Asiatic art. The early mother goddess and primitive idol figures have been the subjects of special shows in Paris, London, and New York. The appreciation of these early expressions of emerging man has been popular. The bizarre Syro-Hittite terracotta heads have long been an interesting type of collectible. A warning to the collector: full standing figures are, much more often than not, highly restored. The heads were broken off at a shrine and offered to the god. They are usually not found complete. Along with the humanesque heads, terracotta animals are also collected. Babylonian and other Mesopotamian terracotta plaques are available along with the later Parthian man-on-horse terracottas.

Metal     

Bronze objects other than weapons and tools are widely available. A variety of objects costing $50 and up is available to the collector. The finer cast bronze Mesopotamian figures are found at the higher end of the marker, Anatolia bull figures are attractive, and can be purchased at under $1000, while the Phrygian fibula can be found at around $250. Bronze objects from Iran have been found extensively. Snake head bracelets and bracelets with knobbed decorations have been found, as have bells and other bronze horse accoutrements. The horse cheek pieces display the artist’s craft and style, and are found throughout Iran. The wonderful animal amulets and figures have been available and popular with collectors for 50 years. They are from the Caspian region, including Luristan and Amlash. The wealth of Luristan bronze include animal head pins, the heraldic animal bronze finials, animal head bracelets, and disk head pins executed in repoussé. In the 8th century, arm fibulas were fashioned throughout Western Asia, and they are widely available to the collector today.

Stone

Among the most popular Western Asiatic collectibles are seals. They exemplify the culture represented in fine detail in the miniature. The stamp seals are the most reasonably priced, but are simple in design. The amuletic animal seals are often found in fine quality. The cylinder seals are the best examples of Western Asiatic art. Care must be taken to know the process of manufacture and the styles within the cultures, if one is to avoid purchasing fakes. A series of serpentine cylinder seals with erotic scenes has appeared on the market in the last five years, and they are all false. Finding re-cut seals is not uncommon. This practice was done from dynasty to dynasty. The difficulty lies in identifying modern re-cutting practices. Newly cut stone will usually have sharpness to it, and will lack apparent wear to the material cut.

A guide to the collector on the Glyptic art found on cylinder and stamp seals, with stylistic development, can be found below:

Prehistoric:           
1) Animal, 2) Geometric patterns

Uruk Period:                  
1) Animal rows, 2) Pigtail figures, 3) Geometric patterns

Late Uruk Period:
1) Animal rows, 2) Patterns including geometric cross-hatching zigzags and herringbones

Jamdat Nasr:        
1) Animal rows, 2) Geometric patterns

Early Dynastic:     
1) Animal rows, 2) Figures with animals, 3) Combat scenes, 4) Ritual banquets, 5) Decorative animal motifs.

Akkadian:            
1) Combat scenes, 2) Mythological scenes with sun and water gods, 3) Worship scenes and banquets

Ur III:                            
1) Presentations to a deity, 2) Presentations to a king

Old Babylonian:
1) Presentations scenes, 2) Sun god and scimitar god, 3) Figure with mace, 4) Water god, 5) God with crook, 6) Suppliant goddess, 7) Nude female facing, 8) Combat scenes

Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian:    
1) Contest scenes, 2) Real animals, 3) Imaginary animals, 4) Hunting scenes, 5) Banquet scenes, 6) Worship of deities, 7) Deities in combat, 8) Worship of symbols, 9) War scenes: a) linear style, b) cut style, c) drill style, d) modeled style

Achaemenid:        
1) Kneeling archer, 2) Royal hero, 3) Animal scenes

Syrian (Early):     
1) Working figures, 2) Animals, 3) Patterns

Syrian (Middle):   
1) Banquet, 2) Human figures with animals

Syrian (Late):       
1) Figures with round cap, 2) Seated figures, 3) Deity scenes, 4) Mesopotamian deities, 5) Egyptian deities, 6) Heroes against animals and demons, 7) Rituals, 8) Decorative

Mitannian:           
1) Ritual, 2) Deities and figures, 3) Deities with humans, 4) Winged sun disc, 5) Animals

Elamite:               
1) Geometric

Jewelry

The word “goldsmith,” or jeweler, appeared in Akkadian cuneiform texts. The word for jewelry in Assyrian cuneiform was “dumaqu.” Jewelry was used by individuals throughout society, in both secular and religious contexts.

The Prehistoric use of jewelry was sporadic, but by the Early Dynastic period, various areas were providing gold, silver, and bronze jewelry. Semi-precious stones were used in context as inlays, or parts of the jewelry.

Early Ur produced headdresses, gold earrings, gold wire hair rings, diadems, necklaces, and gold and silver beads of various shapes and sizes. In the Akkadian period, Ur produced hair rings, earrings, pendants, beads, and pins in copper. Gold pins were produced in Anatolia along with necklaces and beads. Some of the Western Anatolian gold earrings produced in 2500-200 B.C. are solid gold. Crescent and disc gold earrings are from Babylonia. Assyrian pendants are ornate gold, and there is some use of cloisonné. More use of disc pendants and geometric pendants along with rings can be found from Western Iran in the 8th century B.C. By the Neo-Assyrian period, the level of jewelry making had grown to a high level of ornate workmanship. Work in the round of heads of the goddess Ishtar, figures of nude goddesses, ram’s head finials, and animal head gold bracelets are all magnificent. Gold jewelry is relatively expensive. An Achaemenid gold ring dating to the 5th century B.C. with spiral form and bovine terminal heads brought $4000 at auction.