National Geographic : 1951 Jan
Prehistoric Man Had Much to Occupy Him THIS PLATE seeks to highlight several of the most inter esting 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 3000 B. c. At Tepe Gawra, however, the prehistoric period is repre sented 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 was necessary to compress into a single composition here, and in the two preceding plates, the story of several centuries. Some of the pottery, for instance, belongs to Gawra XX (counting from the top) and below; the arched doorway, on the other hand, is a product of Gawra VIII, or very close to the beginning of history proper. The painted pottery of prehistoric 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 Elamite 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 color. 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 closed 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, leftusfineexamples of his work, ranging from weapons toengraved stamp seals. None of his masterpieces,however, canmatch hisbest efforts in translucent obsidian, such asthespouted bowl depicted here beside the pottery. When itisborne inmind that this volcanic glass cracks rather easily under pressure, that the whole bowl had tobeground, spout and all,out of a single core, and thatmany apiece must have been nursed along to the last stage only tocollapse under the finishing touches, the work ofthese nameless artists ofsome 5,000 years ago will stand out asincredible. The barber used straightrazor handles made ofslate and furnished with obsidian blades which were attached tothe holder with bitumen. The author cantestify from experience that these razors were efficient and convenient tohandle. The playing pipes weremade ofbone. They occur as early as Gawra XII. Oneof thebest preserved specimens was found in the grave of ayoung boy, theright hand still clutching the instrument. Gawra VIII produced thefirst known example ofatrue arch, made of sun-baked bricks. This level contained another acropolis different in detailsand general design from that of Gawra XIII (page 60), but nolessimpressive. The new architectural features aresufficiently distinctive to suggest that a change inpopulation had taken place after Gawra XIII. But who thesenewcomers were, and who their predecessors may have been,will probably never beknown. It is true of the prehistoricpeoples more than ofany other, that only by their works shall they beknown.