It is widely held that civilization spread from the Middle East towards Europe and Asia around 10.000 BC, the time of Agricultural Revolution. We’ve already drawn a couple of pottery patterns from that region in the last drawing session Drawing 101: Linear animals. Considering the great amount of archeological findings and the invention of the fast potter’s wheel in the same region, it’s worth exploring more.

Let’s clarify first the region’s name. What we call today Middle East comes close to what archeologists call Ancient Near East. On top of both names overlap partially the poetic Fertile Crescent and the historic Mesopotamia. Here we draw four main pottery styles corresponding to Hassuna, Halaf, Ubaid and Uruk cultures. 

Hassuna (around 6000 BC)

The earliest vessels have been discovered in Northern Irak, around today’s Mossul. There, in Tell Hassuna village, archeologists dug six layers of settlements. The deepest dates back to 5.600 BC, the shallowest to 5.000 BC. The pottery shards seem to evolve from coarse and unpainted in the low layers to incised and painted in the upper ones.

The name Hassuna describes thus the pottery found in Northern Irak in the 6th millennium BC. But the most beautiful Hassuna pottery bears a different name: Samarra, after the city that produced it in great amounts. Samarra pottery is monochrome and decorated with fish, birds and linear patterns covered already in Drawing 101: Linear animals)

Halaf (6100-5100 BC)

Curved birds’ wings and various species of birds ornate the pottery found at Tell Halaf (Northern Syria, close to the Turkish border). The Hassuna geometrical bands (zigzags, ladders) ornate also Halaf ceramic.

Halaf pottery
Halaf shard 5600-5000 BC (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY).

Try some Halaf patterns: delicate birds, tiny stars and geometrical horizontal bands. Change pencils with oil or wax colored pencils for a richer texture.

Halaf pottery patterns.

Ubaid (6500-3800 BC)

Ubaid culture developed in Southern Irak, near Basra, at Eridu, and spread later toward Northern Irak. The name comes from Tell al-Ubaid, a vast archeological site where specialized ovens for ceramics (kilns) and standardized pottery have been found.

Characteristic is the high-fired ceramic, buff-colored, painted in black. Patterns are simple. The Ubaid patterns found around Eridu (between 5.400-4.500 BC) resemble the linear animals and geometric bands of Samarra pottery.

Ubaid pottery
Ubaid bowl around 5.500 BC (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY)

From 4.500 BC on the Ubaid culture spread its urbanization toward North, where it met Halaf culture. Halaf patterns’ delicately curved wings, various birds and fine geometries disappeared in front of the simple, black, geometric Ubaid patterns. Archeologists suspected an Ubaid invasion into Halaf settlements, but today they’re sure that Halafians (Northerners) adopted the Ubaid (Southerners) culture more or less willingly.

Uruk (4000-3100 BC)

That was the time when Summer civilization was shaped. It was also the time of pottery mass production. In cities like Uruk (Southern Irak), ceramics was made by specialized artisans who used a new tool: the fast  potter’s wheel. That lead to pottery’s standardization. The vast amount of vessels resulted was undecorated and less attractive as the earlier Halaf pottery, but it proved more resistant and widely available. 

uruk pottery_opt
Late Uruk bowl 3.300 BC (British Museum)

Compare the Late Uruk bowl with the Halaf shard (both above). Two millennia separate them. At the first sight it seems a huge regress. Halaf is elegantly painted, Uruk is coarse. Yet, at a deeper sight Uruk pottery is the product of a far more developed civilization than Halaf’s.  Standardization occurred 6.000 years before, with the same results as our modernity’s standardization. Availability at the expense of beauty.