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A unique Halafian ceramic object from Shams ed-Din Tannira, Syria

Jörg Becker, Alwo von Wickede et Friederike Bachmann
p. 19-31

Résumés

Cet article s’intéresse à une œuvre unique de culture Halaf datant du milieu du VIe millénaire av. J.-C., découverte en 1990 à Shams ed-Din Tannira. Initialement exposée au musée archéologique de Raqqa, elle fait malheureusement partie, depuis, des pertes culturelles causées par la guerre civile en Syrie. Cette contribution est destinée à présenter cet objet de culte inédit et richement paré de bucranes et de symboles géométriques. Le contexte de la découverte, dans une fosse peu profonde, remplie de terre noire cendrée et qui ne comprenait pas d’autres débris, ainsi que la taille extraordinaire de ce récipient orné de motifs hautement symboliques, indiquent qu’il ne s’agissait pas d’un objet ordinaire. Il faisait plus probablement partie d’un dépôt rituel. En effet, le contexte et l’état de conservation de cet objet de culte, presque complet, nous amènent à penser que cet objet a été intentionnellement fracassé et brûlé dans la fosse après son utilisation, peut-être dans le cadre d’une « cérémonie de clôture ». Mais la fonction de cet objet ne peut pas être déterminée avec certitude. Nous pouvons supposer qu’il était utilisé comme récipient ou comme tambour lors de rites.

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Texte intégral

We thank our colleague E. Schalk (Prehistoric Archaeology, Berlin) for reading through manuscript, and especially for her suggestion as to the possible use of the object as a drum. We would also like to take the opportunity to thank N. Scheyhing (M.A., Halle), R. Polak (Max Planck Institute for Aesthetics, Frankfurt) and R. Eichmann for their comments and discussions on that topic. The ink drawings were made by J. Wollenweber (M.A., Halle). The co-authors are very grateful to F. Bachmann (Berlin), who provided them with the documentation of the cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira for this publication.

1Manuscript received the 10th April 2019, accepted the 27th May 2019

Origin and context

2The object presented here was found in September 1990 during an excursion of the Tell Sheikh Hassan excavation team to the nearby Halafian site of Shams ed-Din Tannira, originally located on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River (fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – Distribution map showing the location of sites mentioned in the text

Fig. 1 – Distribution map showing the location of sites mentioned in the text

Map J. Becker

  • 1 The archaeological site once lay on the eastern bank of the middle course of the Euphrates River. S (...)
  • 2 The description of the object and its find spot was made by the head of the excavations at Tell She (...)

3The object was discovered at Shams ed-Din Tannira close to the shore of the Tabqa Lake, when the lake was at a low water-level.1 It was embedded under the recent alluvial mud of the lake in a shallow pit that was filled with black ashy soil. The pit contained only the pottery sherds of this unique object. Thereafter, the sherds were taken to the excavation house at Halawa and were restored almost entirely from numerous pieces. Afterwards, it was drawn, photographed and transferred to the Archaeological Museum at Raqqa, where it was exhibited in a showcase since autumn 1990 under the inventory number SMD 90:1 (fig. 2).2

Fig. 2 – Former showcase in the Archaeological Museum at Raqqa in the year 1990

Fig. 2 – Former showcase in the Archaeological Museum at Raqqa in the year 1990

Presentation of the cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira (left), together with finds from Tell Sheikh Hassan (right)

Archives of Tell Sheikh Hassan 1990

  • 3 For the actual state of cultural heritage in the Archaeological Museum at Raqqa, see for example: A (...)

4In consequence of the civil war in Syria starting in 2011, the removal of precious archaeological inventories to the central bank in Raqqa took place. With the expansion of the civil war and the occupation of the region by ISIS, accompanied by the plunder and destruction of cultural heritage from 2013 onwards, the ceramic object found in Shams ed-Din Tannira became one of the approximate 6000 objects of the Archaeological Museum in Raqqa, whose whereabouts is unclear. Many of the objects were apparently destroyed or looted.3

5The provenience of the object from the Halafian site at Shams ed-Din Tannira leaves no doubt as to the dating. The original find spot at the site could only be approximately described because of the lack of survey equipment and GPS system at that time. Nonetheless, aside from the location near the shore of Lake Tabqa, J. Boese described the context of the cult object as coming out of a pit that was filled with burnt debris.

  • 4 The plan reproduced here was drawn after Azoury et al. 1980: fig. 29, and the reconstructed find s (...)

6The figure 3 shows a view of the site of Shams ed-Din Tannira in autumn 1990 on the day of the object’s discovery, with Djebel Aruda as an impressive landmark on the opposite side of Lake Tabqa. The hook of land (in fig. 3 on the left) could be identical with the headland north of the former village of Shams ed-Din Tannira, and west of the Halafian settlement. This view corresponds with published photographs, which were made during (1974) and after (1982) the excavations at Shams ed-Din Tannira (Azoury et al. 1980: fig. 2, 5 and 29). Considering the topography and the find spot of the pottery object in the vicinity of the lake shore, it can be concluded that our artefact was found on the north-western flank of the Halafian settlement at Shams ed-Din Tannira, i.e., on the western shore of that site located on the middle Euphrates (fig. 4 and 5).4

Fig. 3 – Shams ed-Din Tannira in the foreground and view towards Djebel Aruda in the background

Fig. 3 – Shams ed-Din Tannira in the foreground and view towards Djebel Aruda in the background

Archives of Tell Sheikh Hassan 1990

Fig. 4 – Shams ed-Din Tannira. Topographic map with excavation areas and the reconstructed later find spot of the Halafian cult object

Fig. 4 – Shams ed-Din Tannira. Topographic map with excavation areas and the reconstructed later find spot of the Halafian cult object

After Azoury et al. 1980: fig. 29

Fig. 5 – A. Find area on the eastern bank of the Euphrates; B. Find spot of the numerous fragments of the ceramic object

Fig. 5 – A. Find area on the eastern bank of the Euphrates; B. Find spot of the numerous fragments of the ceramic object

Archives of Tell Sheikh Hassan 1990

  • 5 The excavations of the Halaf settlement at Shams ed-Din Tannira in the year 1974 were followed in 1 (...)
  • 6 For the current sequence of the Halaf cultural stages and its absolute chronology see Campbell 1992 (...)
  • 7 The larger round houses with diameters of 3 to 5 m have the standard dimensions of Halafian domesti (...)

7The main occupation levels in Shams ed-Din Tannira dates to the Late Neolithic Halaf period. In the year 1974 the site was the subject of archaeological rescue excavations, conducted by S. al-Radi and H. Seeden (American University of Beirut, AUB).5 The finds were scattered over an area of ca. 240 × 220 m. Thus, this site on the south-western border of the Halaf culture seems to have been a small hamlet or a seasonal station. Based on the pottery, the settlement was occupied during the developed stages of the Halaf period during the mid 6th millennium BC (Halaf IIa/b6). Revealed in the larger excavation area A were the typical round houses (“tholoi”) of the Halaf period together with smaller silos and ovens (Azoury et al. 1980: fig. 29 and 31-327). Excavated 60 m eastwards in area B were ovens and silos, which seem to have been in a more communal area, perhaps for pottery production, baking and storage.

  • 8 For Shams ed-Din Tannira, see Uerpmann 1982: 9, table 1, 11, 17, 44-46. For Yarimtepe II, see Bibik (...)
  • 9 Corresponding to the regional ecosystems, animal husbandry with sheep and goat played a more import (...)

8With respect to its location at the south-western margin of the Halaf culture and at the same time along a passage through the Euphrates River, it is interesting important to note that the inhabitants of Shams ed-Din Tannira were specialised in hunting onagers. With a percentage of 56% wild animals found there, Shams ed-Din Tannira is one of the few Halafian sites for which a specialisation in the hunt of onagers (40%) is attested, followed by gazelles (7%), similar, for example, to Yarimtepe II (12.5%), Tell Tawila (on average 20%), Khirbet esh-Shenef (ca. 36%) or Tell Umm Qseir (on average ca. 55%; Becker and von Wickede 2018: 267-271, fig. 758). All these Halafian sites have in common that they are located on the southern border of the dry-farming belt. Their subsistence is therefore distinguishable from numerous other Halafian settlements within the dry-farming belt, which display high percentages of domesticated animals.9

Description

9The cylindrical, flat based vessel with a maximum height of 48.8 cm and a diameter of 18.1 to 20 cm is handmade with a fine, chaff-tempered clay. Traces of secondary burning in the form of scorch marks are to be found on most of the inner and outer surfaces of the vessel. In addition, scorch marks appear on the fractures of the sherds which is a strong argument that the object was smashed first and then burnt in the pit.

10For the shaping process, the flat base was most likely made first with the body of the vessel then built up by coiling inner and outer surface were smoothed. In addition, the outer surface was covered with a whitish slip and thereafter painted (see also the pottery description of J. Boese, fig. 6).

Fig. 6 – Find sheets with description of find spot and ceramic object

Fig. 6 – Find sheets with description of find spot and ceramic object

Archives of Tell Sheikh Hassan 1990

  • 10 The exact number of these studs cannot be found in the description of the vessel, but was calculate (...)
  • 11 The holes have a diameter of ca. 3 mm. On the outside they are conically widened to 7-8 mm.

11The walls of the lower part of the vessel are parallel, tapering slightly in the upper part towards the rim. Below the rim is a thickened, horizontal band (ca. 2.0 cm wide) made separately from a strip of clay and attached to the outer wall. Directly below this band small flat studs are applied all around the rim of the vessel at a regular distance of ca. 1.5 cm. The studs, almost cylindrical in shape, have an average diameter of ca. 1 cm and protrude almost 1 cm from the body of the vessel. Their mean distance is ca. 2.4 cm, so that about a total of 24 to 26 studs can be expected.10 Four small, conical holes opposite one another are located above the row of studs and directly below the rim and were possibly used to suspend the vessel or to fix a lid.11

12The exterior of the vessel is covered completely by painting in red and brown colour, which was executed before firing. The decoration is composed of three larger friezes, and one small frieze directly below the rim, each of them separated by a small horizontal band (fig. 7-9). The lowest frieze (at the base) shows two rows of concentrically arranged lozenges. In both upper friezes bucrania are depicted within metopes. Each metope displays one larger bucranium, and between its S-curved horns a smaller bucranium with inward U-curved horns. Several vertical lines are painted between the U-curved horns of the smaller bucrania. The number of lines framing a metope varies from one to three vertical lines. Head and ears of the smaller bucrania appear in a more stylised way with linear faces and more upright ears. By contrast, the heads and ears of the larger bucrania are painted in a more naturalistic manner with hanging rounded ears and broad rounded, almost lozenge-shaped faces. Both of the upper friezes originally contained eight metopes, each with one larger and one smaller bucrania, always combined as a pair of double bucrania. The circumference was ca. 60 cm and the width of the metopes is on average ca. 7.5 cm. Altogether, the vessel in its original state showed sixteen larger and sixteen smaller bucrania (fig. 7-9).

Fig. 7 – Cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira in the excavation house at Halawa after its restoration in the year 1990

Fig. 7 – Cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira in the excavation house at Halawa after its restoration in the year 1990

Archives of Tell Sheikh Hassan 1990

Fig. 8 – Drawing of the Halafian cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira (scale 1:3)

Fig. 8 – Drawing of the Halafian cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira (scale 1:3)

Drawing J. Wollenweber after Tatjana Hüther-Popova

Fig. 9 – Detail of one metope with double bucrania on the Halafian cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira (scale 1:1)

Fig. 9 – Detail of one metope with double bucrania on the Halafian cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira (scale 1:1)

Drawing J. Wollenweber after Tatjana Hüther-Popova

13Finally, a small frieze of standing triangles or zigzag-lines was painted on the flat surface of the upper part of the enclosing rim band.

Comparisons of shape and motifs

14With respect to its shape the tall cylindrical ceramic object has no parallels in the Halafian pottery. Hence, this large pottery object and its shape is unique and represents a special type.

  • 12 Altogether, the percentage for design A-10 is not larger than 1% on vessels, which were primary dec (...)

15Regarding the decorative motifs that are used, there are abundant parallels in the Halafian ceramic art. Zigzag-lines composed in bands, for example, are found in Shams ed-Din Tannira as part of the decoration on the exterior body of vessels (design A-10b) combined with other band motifs (Gustavson-Gaube 1981: 40 [design A-10b], fig. 211 and 215, pl. III, 20).12 Comparable zigzag-lines between horizontal bands can also be found, for example, from Levels 3-1 at Çavi Tarlası belonging to the same phase of the Halaf culture (Halaf IIa/b; Becker and von Wickede 2018: 135 = design group 2C, table 4, 13, here design B 29).

  • 13 That motif conforms with band design B 134 (Becker and von Wickede 2018: fig. 38a), a motif that oc (...)

16Bucrania are represented in Shams ed-Din Tannira by just a small number. They are primarily found in design series C, in which both the exterior and interior surface are extensively painted. Popular exterior motifs here are rows of vertical bucrania along the exterior rim of small “cream bowls” (Trichterrandbecher) decorated along the interior rim with other, mostly geometric motifs (see Gustavson-Gaube 1981: 42 f, fig. 247-250a-b, 492-493). Vertical bucrania on the outside of both small and larger cream bowls are well documented for the region at the Syrian Euphrates, for example in Tell Halula (Cruells 2013: pl. 7-9; Goméz Bach 2011: 691) for Tell Amarna (Cruells 2004: pl. 5.18-22), while they are less frequently documented as external motifs on other vessel forms (for Tell Halula, see Goméz Bach 2011: 613, 697; for Tell Amarna, see Cruells 2004: pl. 5.12).Similarly decorated small “cream bowls” are geographically distributed primarily in the western part of the Halaf culture, in particular along the Euphrates River, for example, at Çavi Tarlası (Becker and von Wickede 2018: table 2, 10-12; 3, 2.8.11.14-15) and Yunus (Dirvana 1944: lev. LXXI, 1-3) and also at Tell Tawila (Becker 2015: table 1, 15-16.18; 23, 8.13.16.) and Tell Halaf itself (Schmidt 1943: table VII, 1-2.10-11; LXII, 1.3.). In several examples such vertical bucrania are separated by dotted lines or simple lines (Becker and von Wickede 2018: 404, fig. 121.6, 9-10, 13). Bucrania on the exterior surface of other vessel types, again depicted as rows of bucrania, are rare. Included in that group are also some examples with bucrania depicted over each other, and—similar to our object—displayed within metopes (Gustavson-Gaube 1981: 38, fig. 146-147 [rows of bucrania]; in particular fig. 148a-b = pl. I.6 [two bucrania in vertical orientation one above the other and encircled bymetopes]; all design A-5c). A similar arrangement is also attested on a singular fragment of a goblet from Tell Tawila (Becker 2015: fig. 80a, 23 = table 9.9 = table D.6 [fragment of a goblet, type Pk 1]). In all of the aforementioned cases bucrania of the same type are shown one over the other and not—as in the case of our cult object—depicted as large and small bucrania. In the case of the small bucrania with U-shaped horns, no comparisons from Shams ed-Din Tannira itself can be cited. Thus, in contrast to the larger bucrania with their long curved horns, the motif of small bucrania is a singular motif on the Halaf pottery of Shams ed-Din Tannira, found only on our cult object. Yet, the depiction of these smaller bucrania has good parallels at Çavi Tarlası, but there without the vertical lines between the small inward-directed horns (Becker and von Wickede 2018: fig. 37, no. 11.8).13 Large, naturalistic bucrania are also well known from Arpachiyah (Mallowan and Rose 1935: 155 f, fig. 74.1, 14-15), starting with the stage Halaf Ib onwards; in vertical orientation and in a more stylised manner, we find them there only in the younger Levels TT 8-7 and TT 6, which correspond with the stages Halaf IIa/b of the Halaf settlement at Shams ed-Din Tannira.

  • 14 The interspace of the angles of the lozenges are filled above and below by a row of hanging, respec (...)

17Finally, concentric lozenges at Shams ed-Din Tannira are a rare motif, which occurs occasionally in the design series A and C (Gustavson-Gaube 1981: 40, design series A-11a [complex geometric design]; and 43, design series C-3d [lozenges, here on the interior of a vessel]; fig. 219 and 252). Similar motifs of lozenges on the exterior of closed vessels (“jars”) can also be cited, for example, in sites like Girikihaciyan, Tell Turlu, Tell Halaf or Arpachiyah (LeBlanc and Watson 1973: fig. 3-4. For the same motif also Davidson 1977: table 3, motif 53). Concentrically arranged rows of lozenges of the developed Halaf period also decorate the shoulder of a small four-lugged vessel with polychrome painting at Tell Tawila (Becker 2015: table 71.12).14 They are likewise found as a motif in Yunus (Dirvana 1944: lev. LXXVIII, 27-28; for the dating of the site, see also Matthews 2000: 101) near Karkemish, whose settlement dates mostly to the stage Halaf IIb and the succeeding Halaf-Ubaid-Transitional phase.

Function

18Thus far, we have described the piece from Shams ed-Din Tannira as a “cult object”. It might have been used either as a large vessel or container for special occasions, and not daily use.

19On the other hand it cannot be excluded that this object was used functionally as a drum in rituals and not as a vessel. In this case, the wreath of studs would have served to stretch the animal skin over the opening. In addition, the painted zigzag line above the studs might reflect the string fastening the skin.

  • 15 For a detailed analysis of clay drums, see Scheyhing 2016: 67, f. 72, fig. 2.

20Typologically, the shape would correspond to a cylindrical drum with only one membrane (percussion skin) and a closed soundboard, similar to a kettle drum (“timpani”). Examples of clay drums are attested in other prehistoric cultures, as for example the Salzmünder and Bernburger culture in Germany of the 4th millennium BC. Here, the studs are also an occurring feature, despite the difference in shape (hourglass or beaker and not cylindrical).15

Find context and Interpretation

  • 16 Tobler 1950: 48-50 with the description of the “Death Pit” in Area A.
  • 17 Found under the floor of tholos 67 from the oldest level IX at Yarimtepe II was a foundation depot, (...)

21The archaeological context of the ceramic object from Shams ed-Din Tannira drew our attention, because the find spot in a shallow pit, hardly larger than the vessel, and filled with black ashy soil (fig. 5) would fit well with being part of a “ritual deposit”. It may be clearly stated here, that there were no other finds in the pit, e.g., bones, pottery sherds, or other artefacts. Ritual deposits are well attested for the Late Neolithic Halaf culture (Garfinkel 1994). Examples are found at Yarimtepe II, where—besides other objects—anthropomorphic and zoo-morphic vessels together with animal bones were broken and burned by fire in pits (Merpert et al. 1981: 26; Merpert and Munchaev 1993a: 144 f, fig. 8.13-15). Also, at Yarimtepe II (Merpert and Munchaev 1993b: 212-217) and at Tepe Gawra16 the destruction of ceramic vessels is documented in the context of human burials. At Tell Sabi Abyad I the destruction of buildings set under fire, again in contexts with human burials, is repeatedly attested; this was interpreted as being part of an “extended death ritual” (Verhoeven 2000; Akkermans 2008: 627-631; Verhoeven 2008: 773). In addition, the long known “Burnt House” at Arpachiyah seems to have been intentionally burnt down by fire within the context of ritual practices, after precious objects had been deposited in the house and deliberately destroyed (Campbell 1992: 184-204; Campbell 2000: 1-40). Further foundation deposits are also known from several Halafian sites, as for example Yarimtepe II (Merpert and Munchaev 1987: 22 f, fig. 11:1-717) or Khirbet esh-Shenef (Verhoven 2008: 777). Ritual deposits were also found at Tell Tawila (Becker and Helms 2013; Becker 2015: 459-462) and Tell Zeidan (Stein 2010: 107, fig. 5), in both cases with mace-heads. In the case of Tell Tawila the deposit included a lithic assemblage as part of a “hunter’s equipment” consisting of trapezoid arrow-heads and blades that were broken burnt by fire.

22One of the main ritual activities known from the archaeological record is the breaking and burning by fire of such objects. With reference to fire, a cleansing effect, including some sort of “ordeal by fire” has been discussed (Campbell 1992: 202-204; Charvát 1993: 112 f). However, we should also consider that the existing finds are perhaps only a part of the material record, which originally may have included perishable materials, such as flowers, etc.

  • 18 For rites of passing (“rites de passage”), see Van Gennep 1986; for ritual practices of the Halaf p (...)

23These deposit maybe considered within the context of “rites de passage”, i.e., birth, puberty, marriage or death, which were accompanied by comparable ritual practices in prehistoric societies.18 Other examples of material culture reflecting ritual practices, most likely within the realm of hunting, are attested by zoomorphic terracotta figurines spiked with small flint fragments and known for example from PPNB layers at ‘Ain Ghazal (Rollefson 1986: 50, pl. II.4) and from Proto-Halaf layers at Tell Sabi Abyad I (Collet 1996: 406, fig. 6.4:10). Furthermore, foundation deposits in the context of house construction are attested—as cited above—from sites like Yarimtepe II or Khirbet esh-Shenef.

24In contrast to the Early Neolithic, where we find special cult buildings, often with large stone sculptures, both in settlements (e.g., Çayönü Tepesi, Jerf el Ahmar, Tell Qaramel or Nevalı Çori) and in primarily ritually used sites (e.g., Göbekli Tepe), settlements of the Halaf period consist of villages, small hamlets and seasonal stations without any evidence for sacred buildings. The Halafian ritual practices took place in the sphere of individual households or small kinship groups. Moreover, based on the settlement structure, the size of the houses, the distribution of finds in such settlements, and burial records, there is no evidence for a clearly stratified social society. Instead, regarding the Halaf culture we have to refer to more “egalitarian” communities (Akkermans 1993: 288-293; Frangipane 2007, especially p. 154-164; Becker 2015: 465 f).

25In the case of the cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira, we may assume that—in view of the find spot and the cited comparisons—this artefact was intentionally broken after its use and burnt inside a pit. The greyish-black scorch marks on most parts of the surface, in particular on the fractures of the sherds, as well as the black ashy fill of the pit most likely suggest such a ritual practice. Furthermore, the rich decoration with bucrania underscores the symbolic value of this cult object.

26The bucranium motif and the role of cattle for the Halaf culture are complex and can be regarded under different aspects.

27Cattle in the Halaf period were primarily used for meat consumption, whether the wild or the domesticated species, in particular during rituals and feastings, as is well attested, for example, in the so-called “death pit” at Domuztepe (Carter et al. 2003: 120-128, fig. 4a-b, 10-15; Kansa et al. 2009, especially p. 163 and 171). Here, numerous bones of domesticated cattle were found in the context of human burials deposited in a large pit. This indicates that a significant amount of cattle was slaughtered and perhaps eaten as part of ritual activities.

28The extensive representations of bucrania in the Halafian art, especially in pottery painting, underscore the popularity and highly symbolic value of this motif. The bucrania are rendered in a naturalistic or more stylised manner and show a great variety. While other animals depicted on pottery vessels are all wild species, without exception, it appears that bucrania can represent both wild and domesticated cattle (for interpretation as a wild species, see Erdalkiran 2017: 152, 158-159). The representation of the bucrania with hanging ears or inbound horns as shown on our cult object is more likely an indication for domesticated cattle.

  • 19 For the role of the bucranium motifs and the relationship of naturalistic versus stylised represent (...)

29Representations of bulls are also well documented in the Halaf culture through stamp amulets in the shape of a bull and through terracotta figurines (Mallowan and Rose 1935: 96, 154-158, fig. 73–75,pl. VI (a), no. 895; von Wickede 1990: 112, table 163).19 The figurines of cattle, along with those of sheep/goat, dog and other animals, seem to represent domesticated species (Erdalkiran 2017: 159). Nonetheless, all of these cattle representations underscore the significant symbolic role played especially by the bull due to its power. It seems likely to postulate a “cult of the bull” for the Halaf culture comparable to the well-known cult at the Late Neolithic site of Çatal Höyük in Central Anatolia (ca. 6800-6200 cal. BC) with its plastered cattle skulls and horn cores in the context of human burials underneath the floors of the houses (Mellaart 1967: 95-155, 241-248; Hodder 2006: 195-198, fig. 3 and pl. 17, in particular p. 198-204 [for hunting and feasting]; Lichter 2007: 254 f [for burial practices]).

30Cattle bones in the context of human burials during the Halaf period appear to have held a special significance as is attested at several sites. For example, in the “burnt village” of Level 6 at Tell Sabi Abyad I (Proto-Halaf), a male and female human being (both ca. > 30 years old) were laid upon the roof of building V, surrounded by ten oval-shaped clay torsi. Inserted into each torso, up to 62 cm long, were the skulls and horn cores of wild sheep, and cattle bones. Perhaps the deceased persons were prepared on the roof for their final burial. With the extensive conflagration of Level 6, these persons together with all of the objects fell into the rooms below after the roof collapsed (Akkermans and Verhoven 1995: 16, fig. 7-8; Verhoeven 2000; Akkermans and Schwartz 2003: 145; Akkermans 2008: 627 f; Verhoeven 2008: 773). The highly symbolic value of cattle is also manifested, for example, in the burial of a child at Çavi Tarlası (grave 11), where the skull of the child was found together with horn cores of cattle deposited on both sides of the head (von Wickede and Herbordt 1988: 18; Becker and von Wickede 2018: 53, 153). This underlines the important role played by cattle throughout the Halaf culture.

Summary

31We have argued here that the unique ceramic artefact from Shams ed-Din Tannira was a designated cult object with highly symbolic value. This assessment is based on its unusual size, the unparalleled cylindrical shape, and the extensive painted decoration with numerous metopes of bucrania. The find spot of this object in a shallow pit filled with black ashy soil suggests its use in ritual activities. While the shape is singular, the motifs, in particular the bucrania, have numerous parallels in Late Neolithic Halafian art. The roots of bull symbolism are far reaching, as early as the Epi-Palaeolithic and Early Neolithic periods based on several millennia-old traditions. Moreover, connections with the well-known site of Çatal Höyük in Central Anatolia are attested in the form of similar representations and belief systems. It can be assumed that myths and histories were transmitted over centuries, not only in oral form, but also through works of art. The object itself expresses its symbolism through the paintings as a means of “external storage” of symbols.

32Although the exact reason for the deposit of this artefact remains unknown, we may assume that—whether vessel or drum—it was intentionally broken in the context of a ritual.

33The evidence indicates that the vessel or drum was smashed, burnt by fire, and finally “buried” in the pit, bringing to mind some kind of “closing ceremony”. Whether or not this was associated with a human burial nearby is unclear due to lack of evidence. However, there are several comparisons and parallels for both of these possibilities, in particular for the Late Neolithic Halaf period in other sites, which are mentioned and discussed above.

34In conclusion, this exceptional artefact from Shams ed-Din Tannira with its rich decoration of bucrania has added to our knowledge about ritual deposits during the Late Neolithic Halaf period at the middle of the 6th millennium cal. BC.

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Notes

1 The archaeological site once lay on the eastern bank of the middle course of the Euphrates River. Shams ed-Din Tannira is located ca. 6.5 km in a straight line north of Tell Sheikh Hassan (Azoury et al. 1980: fig. 2).

2 The description of the object and its find spot was made by the head of the excavations at Tell Sheikh Hassan, J. Boese (†). The pencil drawings of the pottery object were made in 1990 in the excavation house by the staff member Tatjana Hüther-Popova in the scale of 1:1.

3 For the actual state of cultural heritage in the Archaeological Museum at Raqqa, see for example: ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiatives (2018), Planning for safeguarding heritage sites in Syria and Iraq. Special report. Current status of the Raqqa Museum [URL: www.asor-syrianheritage.org/special-report-status-raqqa-museum/]; Nieuwenhuyse O.P. (2016), Focus Raqqa project receives funding [URL: www.globalheritage/nl/news/focus-raqqa-project-receives-funding].

4 The plan reproduced here was drawn after Azoury et al. 1980: fig. 29, and the reconstructed find spot of the object is marked in red.

5 The excavations of the Halaf settlement at Shams ed-Din Tannira in the year 1974 were followed in 1981-1982 by examinations on the living environment as well as ethno-archaeological studies. The excavation report is published by Azoury et al. 1980 (see also Seeden 1979). The pottery from area A was presented by Gustavson-Gaube 1981. For the lithic material, see Azoury and Bergman 1980; Miller et al. 1982. For the fauna, see Uerpmann 1982; especially for equids at Shams ed-Din Tannira, see Uerpmann 1986. For an ethno-archaeological reconstruction of daily life in this small Halafian settlement see Seeden 1982. See also the synopsis by Matthews 2000: 100.

6 For the current sequence of the Halaf cultural stages and its absolute chronology see Campbell 1992, 61-97; Cruells and Nieuwenhuyse 2004: table 2; Campbell 2007: 103-136.

7 The larger round houses with diameters of 3 to 5 m have the standard dimensions of Halafian domestic dwellings that were usually inhabited by a nucleus family. For synopses of Halafian round houses, see Bréniquet 1996: 79-96, pl. 32-46; Tsuneki and Miyake 1998: 164-176; Becker and von Wickede 2018: 40-50.

8 For Shams ed-Din Tannira, see Uerpmann 1982: 9, table 1, 11, 17, 44-46. For Yarimtepe II, see Bibikova 1981: 301, table 2. For Tell Tawila, see Vila 2007: fig. 35 and 37. For Khirbet esh-Shenef, see Cavallo 2000: 22; Akkermans 1993: 209 f. For Tell Umm Qseir, see Zeder 1994: 97-126.

9 Corresponding to the regional ecosystems, animal husbandry with sheep and goat played a more important role in the steppe-like areas of the Jezirah, while cattle and pig husbandry played a more important role in the subsistence of northern sites of the Halaf culture, i.e., the animals were used for meat consumption. See Akkermans 1993: 204-268; Cavallo 2000: 23 f; Becker 2007: fig. 41; Erdalkiran 2017; Becker and von Wickede 2018: 253; fig. 70 and 75.

10 The exact number of these studs cannot be found in the description of the vessel, but was calculated based on diameter, circumference and distance.

11 The holes have a diameter of ca. 3 mm. On the outside they are conically widened to 7-8 mm.

12 Altogether, the percentage for design A-10 is not larger than 1% on vessels, which were primary decorated on the exterior of a vessel (= design series A; Gustavson-Gaube 1981: 31).

13 That motif conforms with band design B 134 (Becker and von Wickede 2018: fig. 38a), a motif that occurs at Çavi Tarlası only two times as an exterior motif, and consists on rows of vertical bucrania, whose interspace was filled with dotted lines.

14 The interspace of the angles of the lozenges are filled above and below by a row of hanging, respectively standing triangles, painted in red colour and easy to distinguish from the black coloured lozenges.

15 For a detailed analysis of clay drums, see Scheyhing 2016: 67, f. 72, fig. 2.

16 Tobler 1950: 48-50 with the description of the “Death Pit” in Area A.

17 Found under the floor of tholos 67 from the oldest level IX at Yarimtepe II was a foundation depot, which also contained a stamp seal made of cupper. See von Wickede 1990: 121 f, table 174.

18 For rites of passing (“rites de passage”), see Van Gennep 1986; for ritual practices of the Halaf period, see Akkermans and Schwartz 2003: 83 f, 141-145: In Halafian times such rites seem to have taken place mainly on a private, intimate level, within the confines of individual households, rather than on a public level, so characteristic of the Early Neolithic period.

19 For the role of the bucranium motifs and the relationship of naturalistic versus stylised representations, see Goff 1963: 14 f. For terracotta figurines, see the synopsis by Becker 2010, 6-8.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – Distribution map showing the location of sites mentioned in the text
Crédits Map J. Becker
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/528/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 193k
Titre Fig. 2 – Former showcase in the Archaeological Museum at Raqqa in the year 1990
Légende Presentation of the cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira (left), together with finds from Tell Sheikh Hassan (right)
Crédits Archives of Tell Sheikh Hassan 1990
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/528/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 551k
Titre Fig. 3 – Shams ed-Din Tannira in the foreground and view towards Djebel Aruda in the background
Crédits Archives of Tell Sheikh Hassan 1990
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/528/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 817k
Titre Fig. 4 – Shams ed-Din Tannira. Topographic map with excavation areas and the reconstructed later find spot of the Halafian cult object
Crédits After Azoury et al. 1980: fig. 29
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/528/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 458k
Titre Fig. 5 – A. Find area on the eastern bank of the Euphrates; B. Find spot of the numerous fragments of the ceramic object
Crédits Archives of Tell Sheikh Hassan 1990
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/528/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 450k
Titre Fig. 6 – Find sheets with description of find spot and ceramic object
Crédits Archives of Tell Sheikh Hassan 1990
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/528/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 683k
Titre Fig. 7 – Cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira in the excavation house at Halawa after its restoration in the year 1990
Crédits Archives of Tell Sheikh Hassan 1990
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/528/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 864k
Titre Fig. 8 – Drawing of the Halafian cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira (scale 1:3)
Crédits Drawing J. Wollenweber after Tatjana Hüther-Popova
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/528/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M
Titre Fig. 9 – Detail of one metope with double bucrania on the Halafian cult object from Shams ed-Din Tannira (scale 1:1)
Crédits Drawing J. Wollenweber after Tatjana Hüther-Popova
URL http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/docannexe/image/528/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 114k
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Jörg Becker, Alwo von Wickede et Friederike Bachmann, « A unique Halafian ceramic object from Shams ed-Din Tannira, Syria »Paléorient, 45-1 | 2019, 19-31.

Référence électronique

Jörg Becker, Alwo von Wickede et Friederike Bachmann, « A unique Halafian ceramic object from Shams ed-Din Tannira, Syria »Paléorient [En ligne], 45-1 | 2019, mis en ligne le 08 septembre 2021, consulté le 20 juillet 2024. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/paleorient/528 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/paleorient.528

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Auteurs

Jörg Becker

Seminar for Oriental Archaeology and Art History, Martin Luther-University, Halle – Wittenberg, Emil-Abderhalden Str. 28, D-06108 Halle (Saale) – Germany

Alwo von Wickede

Wielandstr. 26, D-12159 Berlin – Germany

Friederike Bachmann

Vorderasiatisches Museum zu Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Geschwister-Scholl Str. 6, D-10117 Berlin – Germany

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