Most people are so unfamiliar with ancient history that when I tell them that the setting of my books is 5,300 years ago in the Middle East, too many ask, “Did they live in caves at that time?” I am sympathetic with such ignorance of history only because the history curriculum is the responsibility of teachers and parents. And what was taught the parents? And who taught the teachers? A vicious circle of ignorance seems to be chasing its tail in American education.
This rot in the basic education of moderns began with the woebegone idea that modern education’s primary responsibility is to prepare children for a career (to pay back student loans taken to pay academia’s runaway costs), rather than to train the next generation to think critically and to build upon the foundation of prior cultural accomplishments received from their forebears. How will students know the value of those prior accomplishments without being taught how those accomplishments improved on the status quo ante? And, if this gradual cultural progression is not part of the curriculum, the graduates will be easily hoodwinked by charlatans in politics, who will conjure imaginary castles in the sky rising from foundations on sand…like today.
I’m hopeful that those reading this know people didn’t live in caves in the Middle East 5300 years ago. But what about those who lived before the Uruk culture? Do the ceramic plates in the pictures below look like the possessions of troglodytes who crack bones in their hands to get the marrow?
These ceramic plates were produced 7,000 years ago at Arpachiyah.
This is my personal favorite from Arpachiyah.
The Uruk culture did not spontaneously spring up 6,000 years ago (4000 BC) from the black earth of Mesopotamia. Rather, it inherited the legacy of the preceding Halaf (6400 to 5400 BC) and Ubaid (6500 to 3800 BC) cultures . Studying the dates, you may have already surmised that the Ubaid and Halaf competed for a thousand years, and then the Ubaid culture displaced the Halaf and dominated Mesopotamia for the next 1,600 years.
That 2,700 year cultural legacy from the Halaf and Ubaid to Uruk’s culture can fairly be compared to the 2,700 years of accomplishments of Western civilization from the destruction of Samaria by the Assyrians in 740 BC to this present day–that is, from the early Iron Age to today’s Silicon Age.
I hope to fix in your mind the enormity of the cultural legacy of the last 2,700 years, which you may be more familiar with, so that you can consider whether I am justified when I say that Uruk received a similarly enormous legacy from the preceding 2,700 years of Halaf and Ubaid accomplishments which consolidated man’s ascent during the Holocene Climatic Optimum some 8,500 years ago. To do that, I offer a timeline which identifies the accomplishments between 8,500 and 6,000 years ago, and add the following site providing more perspective on that period. Then, to put that period in the larger context, I offer the following Timeline of Human Prehistory which presents the period 8,500 to 6,000 years ago in the middle of the Neolithic Age, preceded by eons of prehistory, and soon to enter the historical age of literacy leading to today.
Recognizing the huge legacy conferred upon the Uruk civilization from the two preceding cultures, let’s look a little closer at the Halaf and Ubaid cultures’ artistic high watermark in Arpachiyah. Why artistic? Because changing artistic conceptions reveal changes in culture. The three ceramic plates shown above reveal a staggering advance in art– the breakthroughs are into three colors and a highly durable ceramic fabric. It has been years since I first encountered these ceramics of Arpachiyah, yet I experience a rush every time I see one of them.
On the above map, we see Tell Arpachiyah. is located on the west side of the Tigris River in northern Iraq. This site was a favorite of Max Mallowan, husband of author Agatha Christie, the creator of my favorite detective, Hercule Poirot. The original site map below will serve as our tour guide.
We see many circular marks each labeled to be a Tholos. As the Tholos link relates to “Beehive tombs,” and Mallowan was looking at houses with a “keyhole shape” and calling them Tholoi, because they were constructed similarly and archaeologists will label things initially after familiar catalogued objects. They are in fact dwellings and other structures, and in the northwest corner (note the map indicator of magnetic north) of the map are identified as “ruined tall Halaf houses.” We see a lot of ovens from ruined Tholoi, stone roads leading to the hill capped with the rectilinear walled structure (House 6) beside or overlapping the foundation of a large Tholos, and an adjacent well. From the metric scale, we see the tell is about a hundred meters wide and seventy high. I don’t see the elevation labels of the contour lines, but tells rise above the surroundings, and House 6 is probably on the top of the tell (“hill or mound”) and not at the bottom of a depression. Other than that, the reproduction isn’t too sharp, and I don’t see more.
The dinnerware produced here was of such high quality ceramics that much of it survived in excellent condition with colors intact after 7,000 years. Sadly, this ceramic technology of Arpachiyah was lost with the Halaf culture.
Thanks for visiting,