Prehistoric Man Had Much To Occupy Him

This plate seeks to highlight several of the most interesting achievements of Mesopotamian prehistory. It is a composite picture in more ways than one. The features here illustrated could not be found together in any single level, but each is authentic for a particular occupation; and all date from an age prior to the beginning of history, that is, from before 3000BC.

At Tepe Gawra, however, the prehistoric period is represented by as many as 20 individual levels, and a similar time span is required by the evidence from other sites.

With so much ground to be covered, it is necessary to compress into a single composition here. Some of the pottery, for instance belongs to Gawra XX; the arched doorway, on the other hand, is a product of Gawra VIII.

The painted pottery of prehistory Gawra falls into two main groups; the earlier of these bears the name of Halaf, and the later of El Obeid, a relative of the earliest pottery from the Elamaite capital at Susa. The Halaf pottery is celebrated for its high firing, its glossy polish, and especially for its extraordinarily intricate decoration in more than one colour. The El Obeid pottery from Gawra is often decorated with naturalistic designs - plants, birds, animals, and even landscape composition.

The potter by then had discovered the kiln, which enabled him to control his temperatures. The painter ground his materials on stone palettes and used them with infinite skill and patience. The stonecutter, too, left us fine examples of his work, ranging from weapons to engraved stamp seals.

None of his masterpieces, however, can match his best efforts in translucent obsidian, such as the spouted bowl depicted here beside the pottery. When it is borne in mind that this volcanic glass cracks rather easily under pressure, that whole bowl had to be ground, spout and all, out of a single core, and that many a piece must have been nursed along to the last stage only to collapse under the finishing touches.

The barber used straight razor handles made of slate and furnished with obsidian blades which were attached to the holder with bitumen.

The playing pipes were made of bone. They occur as early as Gawra XII. One of the best preserved specimens was found in the grave of a young boy, the right hand still clutching the instrument.

Gawra VIII produced the first known example of a true arch, made of sun-baked bricks. This level contained another acropolis different in details and general design from that of Gawra XIII, but no less impressive.

The new architectural features are sufficiently distinctive to suggest that a change in population had taken place after Gawra XIII. But who these newcomers were, and who their predecessors may have been, will probably never be known. It is true of the prehistoric peoples more than of any other, that only by their works shall they be known.

Tepe Gawra - From Everyday Life in Ancient Tines - National Geographic