National Geographic : 1951 Jan
The Temple Courtyard Was the Scene of VariedPursuits THE DISCOVERY of writing came toward the end of the prehistoric age in Mesopotamia. It did not require many generations to perfect this amazing new tool and make it available for the use of the individual, the temple, and the state. Side by side with this development came an increasing mastery over metals. By the beginning of the third millennium B. c. the land emerges into the full glare of history. No longer are we faced with a series of cultures that are impressive but none theless inarticulate. The principal actors on the stage are now plainly identified. We are confronted with specific languages and peoples, cities, and city-states. We know by name many of the individual kings and some members of their families; we are able to follow their successes and their setbacks, their problems, achievements, and occasionally even their dreams. The first historic phase is a long one, extending down into the second half of the third millennium. In the south, which by now calls itself Sumer, there arise from anonymity several prominent cities, such as Ur and Uruk, Lagash and Umma, Kish and Eshnunna. Methodical and painstaking excavations have given us a fairly clear picture of peacetime life in those days. The sum of the many scattered reports emphasizes that the eco nomic and social life of the period centered about the temple. The Early Dynastic period reveals itself to us in more than one type of temple. The one chosen for illustration here has been recovered from the oblivion of nearly 5,000 years by the excavations of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago conducted atKhafaje, some 10miles to the east of Baghdad. The general arrangementofthe enclosure isthat ofa temple oval, and we have chosen tocompress several features of the everyday life of the times ontheupper platform of the oval, which was crownedbythe temple itself. The economy was essentially rural and agricultural, with sheep breeding and dairy farming playing important roles. The cows were milked from behind. The attendants areoften portrayed wearing a curiousfeathered headdress notother wise in common use, the normal type being acloth turban. The typical male garmentwas theflounced skirt, which varied in length according tothe owner's prosperity and station in life. The upper part ofthebody was often left bare. Women's skirts appeartobeless elaborate incutbut more varied in color than those ofthemen. Except for the days givenover tostated major festivals, which were numerous and solemn, thetemple courtyard could be the scene of considerable gaiety and social pastimes. The visitors might be entertained byanoccasional musician strumming on a lyre. Wrestling and boxing wererecognized forms ofskill, but they were obviously associated also with thereligious and mythical lore of the age. This pair ofwrestlers, copied from a contemporary bronze composition which was dis covered in a dig under theauthor's direction, portray the match of semidivine beings, such asthecombat between the hero Gilgamesh and his rival Enkidu, which iscelebrated in one of the great epics of Mesopotamia (page 76).