Choga Mish Temple, contemporary with Eridu Temple. Credit & Source.
In last week’s post, I summarized the Sumerian creation myth and cosmology. I used what is considered the best available documentation – versions written in other languages more than 1000 years after the end of the preliterate Uruk era, which was terminated by the disruptive “Flood” recorded in the Kings’ List. No oral versions could have been recorded before then. The revisions used were recorded during jingoistic Babylonian and Assyrian empires, and are at serious risk of adulteration of the original theme. I chose the author Georges Roux as interpreter, and his conceptual models as the framework.
My intention is to extrapolate the framework back 3000 years to the Ubaid arrival in southern Mesopotamia. To extrapolate data, one needs at least two widely separated data points to project a straight line. We have our first data point in Post 74, and we can elaborate upon it from other sources. Now, our task is to collect data points on the creation myths and cosmology at various points in time between 3000 BC and 6000 BC. This period of 3000 years ranges from proto-literate to illiterate, thus requiring our data points be found in the material culture – rather than in literature.
We have already presented, in prior posts, much data regarding the Ubaid material culture during the Ubaid occupation of southern Mesopotamia ahead of the rising Persian Gulf. However, I think it important to establish that the original Ubaid culture developed as the pre-existing riverine and agricultural culture of the 1000 kilometer River Valley now submerged under the Persian Gulf. The best way to support that hypothesis is to find common artifactual evidence among contemporary settlements on the periphery of the Persian Gulf. We will now begin assembling that inventory.
I’m going to be very aggressive in identifying similarities in the material cultures. I admit I’m convinced by earlier cited research that the Persian Gulf Valley was a huge regional refuge before, during, and after the Last Glacial Maximum. Moreover, the refugees who lived there would have been displaced slowly backwards from the rising water’s edge. Once faced with the need to go to higher ground, while remembering their parents and grandparents telling them they had done so previously, the smarter ones would move further away – especially during the pluvial rains when more good new land opened up.
Here is a list of Ubaid-specific material culture which we’ll be looking for. You can read about these in posts 57 and 58.
1. Infant head shaping into backward cone.
2. Baked clay mullers (pestles) for tea, spices, herbs.
3. Baked clay flanged disks.
4. Baked clay labrets and ear spools as personal decoration.
5. Baked clay sickles.
6. Polished stone mace heads.
7. Polished stone palettes.
8. Distinctive “black on buff” pottery.
9. Tripartite housing.
10. Tripartite temples.
11. Ophidian figurines with “coffee-bean” eyes.
12. “Once and final” burial in communal cemeteries.
13. Buttress-recess public architecture.
14. Standardized grave goods (no class differentiation).
We’re going to work our way clockwise from Eridu (Ubaid Ground Zero in Southern Mesopotamia) around the Persian Gulf, looking for Ubaid-contemporary settlements. Today’s inhabitants of much of this territory are not interested in cultures that predate their own, and therefore are only interested in permitting archaeologists to excavate because excavations provide income to the locals. Some are murderously hostile to any history that doesn’t fit their own narrative—witness the iconoclasm vented by ISIS in Palmyra and Nimrud. Despite this animosity, evidence of Ubaid material culture continues to emerge.
Elongated Skull from Choga Mish I, Part 2. Plate 69.
Today, we’ll start this search by examining facts and artifacts from the Oriental Institute’s excavations at Choga Mish, which appear similar to the Ubaid material culture we examined extensively in the ten posts you’ll see when you insert the word “Ubaid” in the Search box at the top right of this page. Besides briefly reviewing those ten posts, I urge you to download (only until you’re finished reading this post) the following two free PDFs:
1.Choga Mish I. The First Five Seasons 1961-71. Part 2: Plates of photos, diagrams, sketches of hundreds of artifacts
2. Choga Mish II. Last Six Seasons. Final 1972-78.
The most efficient way to search each PDF is to press CNTRL+F to open its search box and search by keyword, examining each hit in order. I suggest the following keywords (I give some results to show what you can find):
- Importance of snake (see huge snake attacking goat in photo below from CM I and two “Master of Snakes” reconstructed seals in photo at bottom).
- skull (see elongated skull in above photo from CM I).
- labret (see reference to use as a facial decoration in CM II).
- Ubaid (note contemporary links of Ubaid 0, 1, 2, and 3 to Early, Middle, and Late Susiana in CM II).
Choga Mish jug with huge snake attacking goat. From CM I, plate 26
Two reconstructed “Master of Snakes” seal impressions from Choga Mish. CM I, plates 156 and 158.
That’s enough for today. In the next post, we’ll wrap up the reasons we’re confident Ubaid populated both Choga Mish and Eridu at the same time, by demonstrating the three links (snakes, elongated skulls, and labrets) are matched by the Ubaid in Southern Mesopotamia.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke