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Document IconEarly Dynastic Period in Southern Mesopotamia

Lecture notes

Uruk expansion

The material culture associated with the Southern Alluvium’s Uruk period sites (especially pottery, architecture, seals etc) are found in a large geographical stretch including Northern Syria, Souteast and Eastern Anatolia, Iranian highlands, Khuzistan. In these regions “peripheral” to Southern Mesopotamia, Uruk material appears alongside with local material assamblages. There is much debate among scholars about the socio-economic dynamics behind such expansion of the sphere of influence of the Southern Mesopotamian: several scholars are convinced that Southern Mesopotamian merchants were travelling to foreign lands (often in search of raw materials that S Mesopotamia itself lacked-timber, metal, precious stones) and establishing “colonies” or “enclaves” of trade and exchange. Guillermo Algaze have adopted Immanuel Wallerstein’s “world-systems theory” for the Uruk expansion and suggested that the expansion of Uruk culture can be read as an expansion of the sphere of interregional interaction and trade, initiated by the emerging S Mesopotamian states which set up a system of regional control locations/ports. A criticism of this imperialistic argument points that the interregional network need not have been initiated by the South as the center of power, but it was a mutually beneficial phenomenon: that certain settlements chose to associate themselves with such growing economic system and be incorporated into it, while others did not.

Habuba Kabira South in Syria: a massive settlement, probably largest or best known of these Uruk expansion colonies. 18 ha. A walled 10 ha are: elaborate fortification wall with city gates. A settlement founded on virgin soil in mid-4th millennium BC, occupied only briefly perhaps a few centuries and then abandoned abruptly. The architectural uniformity of the settlement suggested the presence of a central authority to the archaeologists. Paved streets, with sophisticated drainage system. Pottery minimal decoration-mass produced, including the beveled rim bowls. Numerical tablets, bullae, cylinder seal impressions.

Transition to Early Dynastic Period

Decline of this prosperous Late Uruk culture in the southern Mesopotamia. During the Jemdet Nasr period in the last 200 years of the 4th millennium, the top levels at the Eanna district of Uruk were razed and rebuilt on Level III, with a new set of buildings which produced numerous tablets. Settlement at Habuba Kabira ends abruptly and Southern Mesopotamia was gradually divided up into small city states in early to mid- 3rd millennium BC with a new socio-political configuration. Sumerian Temple Hymns, perhaps the most important written documents from this period gives us the names of 35 city-states only in the South. These small states were centered around one or two major cities, and the agricultural land that surrrounded these settlements. The major socio-cultural development we see is that people now move into these ever expanding and walled cities of the Mesopotamian countryside, and statrting to live under the protection of the urban environment. Each city-state was associated with a city-god and a major sanctuary dedicated to this principal deity, and from the Sumerian mythology we know that the city itself was believed to have been founded by those patron deities, and the whole land belonged to them. This necessarily provided a strong sense of local identity for the inhabitants of this city-state, who took pride in their city god; and brought a verys trong sense of belonging to a common cultural identity.

The signs-symbol for each city, which were used as pictograms, composed of a representation of a schematic altar, o which rested a small animal that was associated with the city god.

The complex process of urbanization in southern Mesopotamia must have left such an impressive mark on the Mesopotamian society that the foundation and construction of cities occupy a considerable amount of space in the early literary compositions in Sumerian, produced in the two subsequent millennia. Interesting to trace aspects of social imagination concerning cities, by reading between the lines within these texts. I am particularly interested in the interrelated concepts of kingship, the city as a divine residence and an imperial seat with its spatial metaphors for prosperity, and foreign landscapes both as a natural resource and a tool for the exercise of power. The rhetorical image of the city that emerges as a socio-political and mytho-poetical construct, is associated with the archetypal enclosures of the cattle-pen (tùr) and the sheepfold (amaš), fundamental components of Mesopotamian urban economies. In turn they are contiguous with the bodily image of the king as “shepherd” (sipa) who maintained his body politic by founding cities, building sanctuaries and exploiting marginal landscapes.

Early Dynastic I. 2950-2750 BC.
Early Dynastic II 2750-2600 BC.
Early Dynastic IIIa 2600-2450 BC
Early Dynastic IIIb 2450-2350 BC.

Khafajah town plan. The construction of the fortification walls in the Mesopotamian city corresponded to the very beginning of the Early Dynastic period. Why was the idea of a monumental city wall was only limited to a few settlements in the prehistoric and Uruk period, while pretty much every ED city in the South started to be walled around. This is mostly associated with a few reasons:

In our next weeks reading from Mieroop on the Urban Landscape of the Mesopotamian city we will see however, it is now believed by the scholars that the city was never confined to these walls, but extended beyond these walls with orchards, and outlying neighborhoods. We will see some examples to this.

Map of Diyala sites, Adam’s map. A great majority of archaeological knowledge of ED period in the South comes from the excavations at Diyala river valley by the Chicago Oriental Institute. We will lok at Khafajah ancient Tutub, Tell Asmar, ancient Eshnunna, and Tell Agrab.

Khafajah: The urban layout.

The site of Khafajah, 100 acres in total (400x1000 m) on the east bank of the Diyala river. The site is composed of 4 major mounds, again inhabited in different periods of time. What we are specifically going to be looking at, is the Mound A, which is also the most thoroughly excavated. It is inhabited from Late Uruk period, the end of the 4th millennium to mid 2nd millennium, when Hammurabi, the king of Babylon established a fortress in Mound B.

On Mound A, both residential neighborhoods, the city wall, small shrines and monumental temples and palaces were excavated at Khafajah, giving us an impressive account of the urban history of the site, but we have to find our way monument by monument. But the study of the architectural history of the particular monuments are revealing in the development of the ED architectural traditions in the periods ED-I through ED-III eeven into the following Akkadian period.

We will look at the site first with two small temples from the early setlement at the site, two shrines that developed in the residential area, The Sin temple and Nintu temple. Then we will look at the development of the walled quarter houses, and the subsequent building of the Temple Oval, in urban layout, the relationship between the walled quarter, the major gate and the Temple Oval orientation..

Sin temple

One of the very earliest temples in the urban history of Khafaja is the Sin temple, its earliest levels are dated to the Jemdet Nasr period, therefore prior to the beginning of the Early Dynastic. (Point out tthe charts). The temple was located in the roughly center of the mound in the urban context of a dense residential neighborhood. From its later phases, we know that it was dedicated to the god Sin, or Nanna or Suen, the moon god. Sin is the later Akkadian pronounciation.

The temple Sin I, earliest version was built on virgin soil in an earlier phase at the very end of Late Uruk and Early Jemdet Nasr period, around roughly 3200 BC. It was built on a roughly levelled surface, with a rectangular large central room, and other rooms flanking the NE side, and a staircase room flanking the SW. Outside it had a small courtyard outside. A shallow platform is preserved to the N end of the main cult room. I would like to point our that this plan type is rather familiar to us, from White temple at Uruk and the later phase of temples at Eridu, like level VII.. But this is much more modest in materials, decoration and scale. Note the satircase, which remained an important feature of this temple, which denotes strongly the cultic usage of the rooftop of the temple. There was also a circular basin like structure in the courtyard. Archaeologists report that peg mosaics, that is the clay cones that are known from Uruk are also found abundantly among the remains of the temple. So this tradition is also carried over. Make note of the Room 47 off from the cult room, where perhaps the cultic relics were deposited esp the cult image.

Sin II, was completely rebuilt with little change in the plan. In section the walls of this temple does not exactly match the earlier temple. So when the earlier temple fell into ruins, it was levelled and rebuilt. But now we have a clearer idea what the courtyard is taking shape of, a narrow entrance through the densely packed fabric of residences to a triangular courtyard. Fasinating actually is the non-monumentality of building, the way it is visually lost among the other houses.

Sin III, is also a rebuilding of the original plan. A niche appears behind the altar platform, demarcating where the cult image stood. Notice actually the longitudanal room loses its staircase function, and the access to the roof is now through the courtyard. Precious objects were recovered like cylinder seals with mother of pearl suspension loops, lots of amulets, pottery libation vase in the form of a bird, mostly recovered in the courtyard. Clearly courtyard was where the heavy cultic activity went on. The small room to the S of the courtyard had shelves around it which must have been filled with stuff. Some small jars were recovered in situ.

Sin IV, is constructed in a peculiar way. The earlier temple was completely levelled and foundation walls which are now far more thick than earlier ones were built. Then an artificial terrace is formed by solid packing with clay inbetween, deliberately raising the level of the temple, and sealing comletely the earlier building off. This is the first evidence of such artificial terracing at Khafajah. Later we will see that an identical method was used for other tempels as well. Since the courtyard remained low at its original level, the entrance to the shrine now needed steps to reach the sanctuary. We also see that the narrow rectilinear room that used to be a staircase is now sealed off and not used any more, which is already an important departure from the Uruk style double flank/tri-partite temples. This phase of the building is rather long, as archaeologists identified 2nd, 3rd and 4th occupation periods of the same temple. The courtyard has also become multi-partite, with possibly different actiities related to the temple household in each of them. In the Northern courtyard, 2 kilns were built, associated with household activities. A wealth of small objects were also recovered from this level, including a beautiful glazed steatite stone bowl with inlaid decoration. Architectural inlay decoration was also found inlay pieces fixed in bitumen, as you will see in the Museum.

Sin V, is the last phase in the Jemdet Nasr period. There is not much of a change, but the temple is rebuilt based practically on the same plan, by just levelling.

Sin VI, corresponds to the first ED level of the building, dated to the EDI period. The overall design of the building is significantly altered while the temple compound gained much better architectural definition with a much more spacious courtyard, an ante-chamber/main cult chamber arrangement in the shrine itself, a rather well marked entrance to the courtyard with a small ante-room for that as well. Now the precinct is entered through a respectively monumental staircase since the whole compound is above the level of the neighborhood. The monumentality of the staircase is also marked with the two buttresses that flank the entrance probably helping to support some kind of shed at the entrance also monumentalizing it. The walls that enclose the compound are much more substantial. The narrow room to the SW is completely eliminated from the design, and now the main cultroom forms the final point, the culmination of the succession of spaces. A major departure from Uruk traditions of temple building in terms of the organization of space. The altar is now large and monumental, and not a shallow platform but a large box like feature. The other ante-like oblong room with its square unbaked brick altar like structures is not understood very well in terms of function.The set of rooms to the N of the cult room are only accessible from the courtyard and not from the shrine itself, and identified by the scholars as possible kitchens. The temple itseld did really function as a large household.

Sin VII, is still an ED I temple, with similar characteristics as the earlier temple. Especially in terms of the organization of spaces. The plan of the cult room is an exact replica, but elsewhere there are notable changes. The N and E walls mnow sit on much thiclker foundations and the entire East section is rearranged allowing much more open space in the courtyard, but a slightly larger porch for the entrance to the courtyard. An interesting construction method of notable character is that, the ruins of the earlier temple was covered with reed mats and bundles of reeds for the preparation of the filling on which the new temple was built. In the courtyard we now find a small hearth, and a circular perfect basin in the middle. Two solid rectangular wall projections are attested on the N wall of the courtyard, symmetriocally flanking the drain channel that led to the toutside from the central basin. It probably supported some kind of portico on the N side of the courtyard, and perhaps roofed therefore. The basin is suggested to have been used for ritual ablution. 2,7 m in diameter, and 90 cm deep. Quite substantial. It was built of kiln fired bricks. A really peculiart type of ballustrades flank the entrance to the precinct, called butterfly type, which we will see later in other temples. The symbolism and function is not well understood.

Sin VIII, is the first ED II temple of the Sin temple sequence, and it actually is contemporary with the first building period of Temple Oval. A much new technique of foundations is invented in this stage, called trench foundations, the idea is to dig 60-90 cm of a trnch at this stage, to accommodate the foundations of the new temple, symbolically probably purifying the area for the new temple. The paving technique is also changed. Instead of just tamped earth, now they were using large bricks of the plano-convex type (10x19x34). The plano-convex brick type was alo introduced at this time for massive constructions.

Plano-convex bricks: are characteristic to only Early Dynastic period in southern mesopotamia. They were molded bricks in rectangular frames, and sundried. But what is peculiar about them is that the excess of mud was not skimmed of, was not removed from the top and left the brick being substantially curved in one side. And in almost all of the excavated examples they were impressed with a finger on top of this bump. The plano-convex bricks were either laid flat in its masonry or used in the herringbone technique. The corners of the walls and the lower levels of the walls and its foundations were mostly laid with flat masonry technique for structural soundness, while the inbetween filling of the walls were done mostly by herringbone technique. Having refuted H. Frankfurt’s suggestions for the “symbolic significance” of the herringbone technique as an imitation of earlier reed and mat constructions (the walls were plastered in any case and the herring bone designs were not displayed); Delougaz has suggested a stone predecessor to the herringbone technique from Northern Iraq where irregular small stones were used to construct walls in a similar fashion.

Lets return to the Sin temple: The sanctuary itself is now much bigger with an oblong sacristy for the officiating priest at its N end. Now we have the small room for the deposit/hiding of the cult image again. The oblong antechamber to the ult room itself is also enlarged and with an altar at the S end, it itself became a subsidiary cult room. The courtyard is now much better organized, to the N, between the two buttersses now a small bitumen covered ablution basin is located right next to the wall, replacing the central and circular basin of the earlier temple. Also in the courtyard we now find for the first time an altar, an open air altar. # round offering tables are found immediately next to it. Several seals, amulets, carved stone vessels were recovered from Room 7 to the E corner of the courtyard. A single column entrance marks to the Room 2, which is in itself a very new peculiar feature. A beautiful lion headed bird inscroibed in archaic characters, also a terracotta cult wagon was also found with a fruit stand on top, which is identified as unique. Very fascinating also is the fact that the Western wall of the sanctuary on the outside was marked with shallow buttresses, the first expression of concern for the outside appearance of the precinct.

Sin IX, was also dated to ED II period. Small amount of architectural change is attested, except for the fact that now in the courtyard we gain have a central ablution basin, which was drained this time towards the Eastern façade, and several offereing tables of square and circular shape were built by the altar in the courtyard. A wealth of ED II style sculpture was uncovered from this level, as well as a carved steatite vase with atypical architectural decoration of international style, and human figure mastering animals. The statues were purposefully stacked on the floor. The buttressing on the outer façade is now also extended to the Northern and Southern sides.

Sin X, is not only the last phase of the temple but also it is dated to the ED III period. The area of the Sin temple was abandoned after this level. The ED III temple is a substantially enlarged and monumentalised version. , especially to the West, where an additional large cult room is achieved, finally acquiring a succession of three oblong cult rooms each having access from each other. On the outside this main mass of the cult rooms, i.e. the sanctuary is monumentally presented to the city with protruding butteresses. Yet another cult chamber was introduced to the East side of the courtyard, with a monumental podium and a series of regularly placed square tables with rounded tops. Archaeologists had really hard time understanding the function of these tables on which nothing can really be placed. Thorkild Jacobsen has some ideas about them in his Kititum temple article that appeared in 1989 issue of Eretz-Yisrael.

Nintu temple

Another small scale neighborhood temple which was attested in the early history of Khafajah, I would like to present to you briefly is the Nintu temple, temple dedicated to Nintu, “the Lady of Birth” of Mesopotamian pantheon of divinities, an earth goddess associated with fertility. From your chronological chart you will see that the temple was founded at th every beginning of the ED I period, in the residential quarter between the Temple Oval and Sin temple. The ED I phase consisted of a small one room structure, with poorly built thin walls, an altar as a small roughly square structure. But I will only talk about its later ED II phase, when this small one rooms structure developes into a multi-cult room complex with courtyards. This is basicly the last complete phase (Phase VI) of the temple just before it was demolished to make room for the construction of a walled residential quarter for the urban élite. It was composed of two almost independent courtyards with separate entrances from the street, and 3 major cult rooms associated with them. It almost looks like a double sanctuary dedicated to two separate divinities, but there is no artifactual or textual evidence for that. The courtyard to the West has actually 2 cult rooms associated with it one to the west one to the east, and each cult room has its own multi-levelled cult podium. The entrance to the compound from the North.

I would like you to make careful note of the fact that each of the three cult rooms were made to stand ou as promenant architectural masses in the 3rd dimension by the help of raised walls and butress-recess features, which is most evident in the isometric reconstruction. The architectural prominence of the cult room itself is ever more pronounced in the sanctuary to the East, with an almost free standing cult-room, with outer walls buttresses all around. Hoards of sculpture came from this temple too especially from the ED II level V.


Building phases and dating:

The Temple Oval has 3 major building phases. The first phase is well documented while there is fragmentary evidence about the 2nd and 3rd phases. It seems that the original foundation which razed off the residential buildings and graves at the site (of the temple), corresponds to the Early Dynastic II period. Therefore actually the construction of this monumental complex falls into a later phase in the urban history of the city.

The second building period is dated to the beginning of the ED III period while the last (3rd) building period corresponds to EDIIIb- and perhaps Akkadian periods.

Urban context:

The area of the temples and the transformation of them in ED II.

The temple complex is located at the eastern edge of the settlement defensive wall, about 30 m. distance from one of the city gate. The area between the city gate and the gate into the Temple Oval complex is shown to have been an open convergational area. I would like you to keep an eye omn the placement of these major sanctuaries next to major city gates. Later in the Old Babylonian accounts of the Mesopotamian city we will see that the city gate had a very mportant convergational function, where the urban realm and the countryside met, and often functioned as a marketplace. The temple Oval complex is located among a dense fabric of residential neighborhoods, and the structure of this residential neighborhood changes throuh time in form and character, along with the building and destruction of the temples. Various other smaller temples were also excavated in the area, leading the excavators think that this part of the town had significantly a religious ceremonial character. 40 m. east of the Temple Oval, a large temple to Sin was dedicated, that we have just looked at.

Prior to the construction of Temple Oval, the large area that it occupied was part of this houses area, the residential urban fabric, and as you see in your handout, this correponds to the Houses phases 12-7, which is a long non-interrupted settlement in the area, that continued through the ED I period.

When however we look at the ED II period in the area, we see that the entire urban zone was radically transformed: First and foremost is the foundation of the Temple Oval; which is done by razing off a good portion of the houses. Contemporary to this development is Sin Temple VIII and Nintu temple V, which incorporates as you remember the massive rebuilding of these temples with new innovative building technology like the introduction of trench foundation, the intro. of plano-convex bricks, let alone their increased monumentality. The houses that were rebuilt in the area adjacent to the temples were built with thicker walls and more regularly designed spaces. In later phase at the very end of the ED III period, that corresponded to the 3rd building period of Temple Oval, the housing quarter this time was transformed into a walled-planned housing quarter between the temple Oval and the Sin temple, immediadely to the SE of the Temple Oval, at the cost of destroying the Nintu temple, and associated with elite residences, who wished to isolate themselves from the rest of the town. This is the urban-historical context when the Temple Oval was built. Now let us look at the temple complex itself.

Foundation and the 1st building period

The floor area of the oval is about 8000 square meters (that is almost 1 ha and equal to 2 acres) and prior to the construction of the temple complex, the entire oval area was dug down to the water table at least 8m. removing the earlier buildings and graves in this area, razing them off creating a giant pit of about 25 feet deep. The pit is then filled with pure sand devoid of any sherds or organic matter, which means that the sand must have been brought ouside the site and possibly filtered to avoid any substance in it, almost physically purified. Upon the sand, the foundation walls were set in 1.20 to 1.40 m. in height with solid baked bricks, while the entire follor area is packed with pure clay lumps containing occasional fragments of sun-dried brick, to form the artificial terrace and a good levelling for the rooms.

This peculiar practice of trench foundations that are then filled with pure sand, is associated by the excavators with the ritual prification of the site of the temple complex, and the deposition of the pure sand is really an important evidence for that. Edzard in a very provocative article on the textual references to temple building, indicates that: “At the beginning of a building project the foundation site would be dug out,.. described in the texts as ‘founding (a building) in the depths”. In digging out the foundations one evitably strikes ground water, i.e. reaches the “imagined subterranean fresh water sea that is called the Abzu. (Edzard 16). So The temple is not only built hig with the artificial terracing to be in contact with the sky, the heavenly realm of the gods, but by this trench foundations, it is also put into contact with the underworls, another major divine territory. The walls had broader width in their foundations below the ground, at least 30-40 cm. The sand pit limit is traced midway under the outer enclosure wall of Level I building. Therefore House D was also built on sand. The inner enclosure wall is thicker than the outer one. The outer enclosure wall was buttressed on the inside. The function of the buttresses could not be decided. Delougaz says may be to support some cross beams that would then cover the corridor created between the inner and outer enc. walls. But this explnation does not work for the buttresses looking into the wider courtyard in front of the main entrance and House D. Later in level III, a more monumental gateway on the outside was built outside in front of the complex.

The compond was composed of a main central rectangular courtyard defined with a number of rooms all aroud it. In the SE side of the courtyard was an artificial terrace, almost as large as the courtyard, with a buttressed façade, and a monumental staircase leading to the top of it. Unfortunately the very top of this platform, on which probably a cult room must have stood, was not preserved. Delougaz reconstructs a “northern” type of shrine on top of the platform based on the off the center location of the staircase that led from the main temple courtyard to the platform. This is a longitudanal one-room structure with thick walls and buttresses on the outside, and an off-center doorway (Delougaz 1933, fig 1).

The upper platform of a temple complex was called DUB.LÁ, referred to in the Neo-Sumerian king Gudea's inscribed cylinders, literally menaing "god's bedroom"; and is said to have included a bed and facilities forth bathing and anointing. We will see that this succession of courts and finally a high platform is really what lies beneath the idea of a Mesopotamian ziqqurat. At the famous ziqqurat, Temple of Nanna at Ur, built by Ur-Nammu, the god Nanna had his his bedroom with his bed, and vessels for anointing was at the sanctuary at the very top of the ziqqurat. The feeding, bathing and especially the mouth-washing of the cult images in ancient Mesopotamia is known from later traditions, and we will come to them from time to time. The intention was that the material form of the statue of the god was animated, the image was empowered to act and speak. The imperssive amount of water related arrangements and the utmost care taken in their construction must definitely have to do with the holy water basins that are mentioned in the texts. The upper platform is also referred to as gigunus, describing them as adorned with plantations of the holy cedar trees, probably in barrels. Waterproofing of these platforms by means of baked bricks set in bitumen makes sense. Private quarters of the deity was referred to as the "secret", "the house of darkness" , or "the house that knows no daylight". This point expalins the one chamber after another removal of the cult room away from the entrance, thus daylight.

Then the whole compound was walled around with a really thick wall oval in shape in its overall planimetric form. About a meter below this level, the whole compound was enveloped once again with a second but much thinner precinct wall. This outer courtyard housed the so-called House D, to its North. This complex, from the archaeological finds from its rooms and sections, proved to be a prosperous residential complex, which is believed among scholars to be the prist-king’s house. In Level I, House D (600 m2 in size) opened to the first courtyard of the Temple Oval, and it was very respectable in its wealth. A shrine is identified within it, to its NE end, Room 4. The overall compound of the house was also arranged around a small courtyard of its own, and a main hall Rm No 3 opened to this very courtyard.

The main courtyard housed some wells: 2 wells of substantial size circular in shape and constructed with baked plano-convex bricks in the herringbone technique. A bitumen plastered open channel ran from the mouth of one of the wells into a small round basin, 3m to the North of the well, laid with plano-convex bricks.

The rooms around the courtyard were assigned different functions according to what were found in them. In one room on the N side, excessive amounts of stone maceheads were found carefully packed in pottery vessels, thus called The “macehead room” (M44:5) for instance identified as stone-cutter’s workshop. Rooms behind the platform as grain storage. Several of the rooms were used for storage of agricultural products, esp those behind the temple platform.

The compound courtyards served several purposes like the ruler making offerings to the main deity of the temple in front of the public, and athletic games, mostly wrestling and boxing associated with the festivals.

2nd and 3rd Building Periods:

The archaeological evidence from the 2nd and 3rd building periods of the Temple Oval is very fragmentary. The first rebuilding in the 2nd building period, the most important change was the impressive thickening of the outer enclosure wall, which used to be much thinner in the 1st building period. This outer oval enclosure wall was also povided with impressive buttresses which shows a development of the concern for the exterior appearance of this wall. In Level II, there is a major change in the spatial organization and directions of approach to the House D. In this period, the entrance to the House D complex was blocked and a new entryway to the house was opened through the outer enclosure wall of the temple oval, namely from the town. From the finds in the house, archaeologists suggest that the House was wealthier in this period.

The third building period witnessed complete rebuilding of the temple complex with substantial differences in planning. One of the major innovations is the construction of a monumental gateway to the temple complex. There is also substantial evidence that the oval outer enclosure was straigtened into a more rectangular form. However this only known from the E corner of the complex, and therefore there are a number of different reconstructions of the plan of the complex at this time period.

In level III, the House D was totally eliminated, as the outer enclosure wall of the Temple Oval was replanned and “straightened”. Contemporary with this building activity is suggested to be the building of the walled residential quarter between the Temple Oval and the Sin temple.

In two very influential articles that appeared in early 80s in the Italian journal Mesopotamia, Elizabeth Henrickson studied the residences in the Early Dynastic Diyala sites, and in her conclusion she argued thet in the ED II period, elite residences were found in the monumental temple compounds as it is in the case of Temple Oval, also in the Shara Temple at Tell Agrab. But this tradition changed drastically in the course of EDIII when the residences were set apart from the compounds, and accommodated in the walled compounds which were also secluded from the ordinary citizens of the cities. And my understanding is that this architectural development really points out to a secularization of the ruling class, while they were much more closely affiliated with the temple household itself.


From Mesopotamia, we are aware of two more temple complexes, in such scale and with a similar Oval compound wall. One of them is the EDIII temple of Ninhursag at Tell al-Ubaid, the temple whose decorative remains you are studying as assignment for next week. Their scale is also almost identical. A variety of construction details correspond: the bitumen covered baked brick drains, the use of plano-convex bricks, etc. In contrast, the oval at al-Ubaid did not have anything like House D of Khafajah. The builder of the Ninhursag temple was however the king Aannipadda, the king of Ur, who must have resided in Ur himself.

The other one is Al-Hiba, (ancient Lagash, the main city of the Sumerian city-state Lagash). Excavated by Donald Hansen, of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY and the Institute of Fine Arts of NYU. We will come back for a short discussion of this site next week.

But obviously the construction of Temple Ovals were a peculiar architectural phenomenon of the Early Dynastic Period.


Contemporary with the Royal tombs of Ur and actually within the terriroy of the city-state of Ur in the Early Dynastic period is the city 6 km West of Ur. Only the temple on the highest part of the mound was investigated briefly: the Temple of Ninhursag. Archaeologists found there another oval temple complex around the temple platform (33x26 m), which had similarities with that of the Temple Oval at Khafajah, as well as being contemporanous. Their scale is also almost identical. A variety of construction details correspond: the bitumen covered baked brick drains, the use of plano-convex bricks, etc. In contrast, the oval at al-Ubaid did not have anything like House D of Khafajah. The builder of the Ninhursag temple was however the king Aannipadda, the king of Ur, who must have resided in Ur himself.

But we are more lucky in terms of the articulation of the buildings facades, with a variety of materials including a copper alloy relief of a lion headed eagle, the anzu, a freestanding bull figure, very very elaborate mosaic columns with shell, pink limestone, black shade inlays on bitumen and wood, narrative friezes with shell inlays, wall clay nails with rosette shaped heads, the temple must have been spectacular. A fascinating monument from Mesopotamia to study. Early Dynastic period clearly shows the development of particular visual vocabulary with narratives in image and text, particular architectural technologies that were shared by all those city states. Unfortunately our information is very patchy. However this shared material culture goes all the way to Mari where similar finds were excavated.


Tell Asmar, ancient city state of Eshnunna, not far from Khafajah, also on the Diyala river basin. Also excavated by the Oriental institute Chicago, in 1930s. The town was occupied at the end of the Protoliterate period, i.e. Jemdet Nasr, and grew really fast in the Early Dynastic period, became a prosperous town.

Abu temple that was excavated here carries a major significance, since the startigraphy from this temple was first used as the basis of the periodization of the Early Dynastic period. Refer to chart on handout into 3 distictive phases.

Early dynastic sculpture from temple contexts.

We have already seen a great deal of experimentation with human body in the form of sculpture in the Uruk period, where the craftsmen were quite skilled in achieving a great deal of naturalism in their depiction of the human body in stone, as we know from Uruk statues, especially those of the priest king. The monumental sculpture that were recovered from the Early Dynastic temple contexts were very different than those Uruk statues, and most of them, if not all of them are now believed to be statues representing the devotees, the worshippers who have presented the statue to the particular city-god as an offering. The way that several of similar sculpture are found deposited neatly in the temples, as in the case of the Abu temple made the scholars think that the temple had to act as a depository for these offering statues. The later texts from the early 2nd mellennium confirm this hypothesis; one Neo-Sumerian rule Gudea, whom we will talk about next week named his statues, ‘it offers prayers’, so the statue itself would represent the deity in the presence of the god, in the main cult roo, where probably not eevryone could go. Especially people were not allowed to see the cult image except for particular occasions.

Wall plaques

Another important object that was found in the temple contexts were the limestone wall plaques that were attached to the temple walls next to the doors (that is why sometimes they are called door plaques) by means of a wooden peg or a knob, piercing the center of the plaque, through the square hole in their middle. Even though the well known examples are all decorated with figurative scenes, a great deal of blank examples of slate were also found, so it must have definitely a specific function. One such suggestion was that to fix the wooden knobs or pegs on to which curtains, cloth would be stretched for the door. There is evidence that the plaques were well placed into the wall, with only one surface visible and flush with wall surface. In a mudbrick wall, you would need something to firm your pegs.

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Fascinating is the relief decoration carved on these plaques, often in two or three registers. They include several ritual scenes, scenes of offering to the temple, libation and festival activities. Very informative about temple household and the social practices that went on in the temples. Therefore these plaques were the really first major attempts towards visual narrative in the Early Mesopotamian art. For some of these wall plaques we know that they were commemorating not a generic but a specific event, celebrating a particular achievement on the behalf of the king and his people. Later examples from EDIII are inscribed too that makes this certain. These plaques therefore, which most of the time depict celebration, of especially a societal kind, derives its meaning from its very making. The same abstarction of human figure is also evident in these reliefs.

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