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Mesopotamian developments

Each era is categorically examined for developments and markers that distinguish it from other eras in: society; art and architecture; language; and finds, of sites and of objects.


Art and architecture




Pottery decoration: frontal bucrania; walking horned animals; schematic humans; rosettes and leaves as floral decorations; and Maltese crosses and swastikas as geometric decorations. Red, black and white colors. Painted female cultic figurines were found.

Halaf Figurine. Chagar Bazar, 5600 - 5200 BC. Image © L M Clancy, 2010 09 09. British Museum, ME 125381.

Ubaid Period


Slow wheel use begins.
Ubaid House.
Ubaid Figurines
Ubaid ceramics
Tortoise Vase

Key features of Ubaid (and Uruk) temples: built on a platform; niched and buttressed façade; sometimes clay cone decoration. They are found in a tripartite plan, as in the Uruk era when the T-shaped plan also arises.

Tell Abu Husaini

Female Ubaid Figure

Ubaid Period I

Ubaid Period II (Hajji Mohammad)

Uruk Period

Theocratic polity.

Beveled Rim Bowls

Key features of Uruk (and Ubaid) temples: built on a platform; niched and buttressed façade; sometimes clay cone decoration. The Mosaic and the Limestone temples of the Eanna precinct at Uruk are incredible examples. Two standard temple plans have been recognized in the Uruk era: the triparite plan and the T-shaped plan.

Habuba Kabira
Jebel Aruda

Uruk Vase
Lady of Uruk
Uruk Statuette (link)

Jemdet Nasr Period

Girsu/Tello is the first place where Sumerian was identified was a language. The Jemdet Nasr sees the end fo both the tripartite and the T-shaped temple plans, which began at least in the middle Ubaid but do not continue into the Early Dynastic era.

Sin Temple (Khafaje)
White Temple (Uruk)
Eye Temple (Tell Braq)
Archaic Shrine (Tell Asmar)

Early Dynastic Period

Warring city-states. Major kings were Enmebargesi, Gilgamesh, Agade.

The ED era is characterized by the plano-convex brick, often laid in a herring-bone fashion. These are an unideal type-fossil, as they do not occur north of the Diyala and have been found in Akkadian contexts. In the Diyala, the ED is typified by scarletware.

Solid-footed goblet

Temple Oval

With the demise of the tripartite and T-shaped temple plans, there is great diversity in temple planning with no standardized plan. However, there is continuity in the orientation (cardinal points), niched and buttressed façade, a (usually) bent-axis approach, and the presence of the same fittings (altar, hearth and offering tables).

Cased cuneiform died out, replaced by lined/non-cased cuneiform. Cased cuneiform was used only in an archaizing fashion such as with Hammurabi's Code.

Standard of Ur
Diyala Sites
(Tutub, Eshnunna, Tell Agrab).

Tell Asmar Hoard

Early Dynastic I

Plano-convex bricks
Tall ware with the base
???? (fast wheel-made)

Early Dynastic II

Fast wheel-made with a little bit of decoration, like around the handle.

Early Dynastic III (2600 - 2200/2300 BC)

A network of powerful cities existed in the ED III, consisting of Ur, Nippur, Kish, Mari, Tell Brak and Ebla.

Goddess-handle jars, which began in ED III, maybe lasted into Akkadian era.

Shift to naturalism is evident in sculptures and cylinder seals, a development continuing into the Akkadian epoch.

Tell Brak

Standard of Ur
Ram in Thicket
Stele of the Vultures

Early Dynastic IIIa

Early Dynastic IIIb

Akkadian/Agade Period

First trans-regional state.

The bronze head of Sargon / Naram-Sin epitomizes the naturalism of this era. The Sumerian Palace is largely Agade and replaced the ED palace but it still has the same architecture = fortified walls; interior courtyard; monumental architecture.

Sargon / Naram-Sin Head
Stele of Naram-Sin

Ur III Period

Stele of Ur-Nammu

Early Bronze Age

Khabur Ware is found from 1900 to 1600 BC in northern Mesopotamia, and is distinctly characterized by stripes and triangles painted decoration. Pottery at this time in southern Mesopotamia was usually plain.

Khabur Ware. Image © L M Clancy, 2010 01 27. British Museum, ME 125429.