Thursday, October 8, 2015

Lost Culture of the Akkadians

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Part Two: Lost Culture of the Akkadians
 Damien F. Mackey



Some of the effects of wrongly identifying (according to Anne Habermehl) the biblical “plain in the land of Shinar” of Genesis 11:2

    קְעָה בְּאֶרֶץ שִׁנְעָר

with ancient Sumer, in southern Mesopotamia, have been to prevent archaeologists, to this day, from being able to identify the famous capital city of Akkad, but also from being able to assign a relevant archaeology and culture to the Akkadian dynasty. 



The Halaf Culture



“Uncertainty in identifying exclusively Akkadian pottery has made it impossible to reconstruct Akkadian settlement patterns with any confidence (Nissen 1993: 100)”.



Most interesting, now, that Anne Habermehl’s geographical re-location of the Babel incident:


Where in the World Is the Tower of Babel?



finds a most significant and sophisticated ancient culture to accompany it: namely, Halaf.

Habermehl argues for re-identifying “Shinar” with the Sinjar region of NE Syria, thereby now providing an opportunity also for the proper identification of the so far un-located city of Akkad. Habermehl thinks that “the missing city of Akkad” may actually be Tell Brak.

I have come to accept substantially (though not every detail of) Habermehl’s intriguing thesis and have subsequently written, with regard to it:  


Tightening the Geography and Archaeology for Early Genesis



The long Akkadian empire phase of history (c. 2350-2150 BC), so admired by subsequent rulers and generations, is remarkably lacking in archaeological data. I noted this, along with a peculiarity associated with Ur III, at the beginning of my:


Sargon of Akkad (Nimrod) as ‘Divine’ Shulgi of Ur III



“The Akkadian kings were extensive builders, so why, then, so few traces of their work?

Not to mention, where is their capital city of Akkad?

The Ur III founder, Ur-Nammu, built a wall at Ur. Not a trace remains”.


This was the biblical era of Babel and Nimrod according to my reconstructions.

My proposed initial solution to the problem of a lack of appropriate data was to attempt to fuse the Akkadian dynasty with that of Ur III (as in the above, and in Part Two:

But here I want to highlight the enormity of the problem.

Archaeologists have actually failed to identify a specific pottery for the Akkadian era!

This is, of course, quite understandable given that they (indeed, we) have been expecting to discover the heart of the Akkadian kingdom in Sumer, or Lower Mesopotamia.

We read of this incredible situation of a missing culture in the following account by Dr. R. Matthews, from his book, The Archaeology of Mesopotamia: Theories aand Approaches (


The problems of fitting material cultural assemblages, especially pottery, into historical sequences are epitomised in the ongoing debate over what, if anything, characterises Akkadian material culture in Lower Mesopotamia (Gibson and McMahon 1995; Nissen 1993; J. G. Westenholz 1998). Uncertainty in identifying exclusively Akkadian pottery has made it impossible to reconstruct Akkadian settlement patterns with any confidence (Nissen 1993: 100). The bleakest view has been put thus: ‘If we didn’t know from the texts that the Akkad empire really existed, we would not be able to postulate it from the changes in settlement patterns, nor … from the evolution of material culture’ (Liverani 1993: 7-8). The inference is either that we are failing to isolate and identify the specifics of Akkadian material culture, or that a political entity apparently so large and sophisticated as the Akkadian empire can rise and pass without making a  notable impact on settlement patterns or any aspect of material culture.

[End of quote]


Obviously, that “a political entity apparently so large and sophisticated as the Akkadian empire can rise and pass without making a  notable impact on … any aspect of material culture” is quite absurd. The truth of the matter is that a whole imperial culture has been almost totally lost because - just as in the case of so much Egyptian culture, and in its relation to the Bible - historians and archaeologists are forever looking in the wrong geographical place at the wrong chronological time.

It is my view that, regarding the Akkadian empire (and following Habermehl), one needs to look substantially towards Syria and the Mosul region, rather than to “Lower Mesopotamia”. And that one needs to fuse the Halaf culture with the Akkadian one. The most important contribution by Anne Habermehl has opened up a completely new vista for the central Akkadian empire, and for the biblical events associated with it. The potentate Nimrod, one might now expect, had begun his empire building, not in Sumer, but in the Sinjar region, and had then moved on to northern Assyria.

Thus Genesis 10:10-11: “The beginning of [Nimrod’s] kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went forth into Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah—which is the great city”.

And these are precisely the regions where we find that the spectacular Halaf culture arose and chiefly developed: NE Syria and the Mosul region of Assyria.

Understandably once again, in a conventional context, with the Halaf cultural phase dated to c. 6100-5100 BC, there can be no question of meeting these dates with the Akkadian empire of the late C3rd millennium BC. That is where Dr. Osgood’s


A Better Model for the Stone Age



becomes so vital, with its revising of Halaf down to the Late Chalcolithic period in Palestine, to the time of Abram (Abraham):


1.                                 In 1982, under the title 'A Four-Stage Sequence for the Levantine Neolithic', Andrew M.T. Moore presented evidence to show that the fourth stage of the Syrian Neolithic was in fact usurped by the Halaf Chalcolithic culture of Northern Mesopotamia, and that this particular Chalcolithic culture was contemporary with the Neolithic IV of Palestine and Lebanon.5:25


Figure 5. Diagram showing compatability of a sertial and parallel arrangement (mushroom effect) of Mesopotamian Chalcolithic cultures.


This was very significant, especially as the phase of Halaf culture so embodied was a late phase of the Halaf Chalcolithic culture of Mesopotamia, implying some degree of contemporaneity of the earlier part of Chalcolithic Mesopotamia with the early part of the Neolithic of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, as illustrated in Figure 6.

This finding was not a theory but a fact, slowly and very cautiously realized, but devastating in its effect upon the presently held developmental history of the ancient world. This being the case, and bearing in mind the impossibility of absolute dating by any scientific means despite the claims to the contrary, the door is opened very wide for the possible acceptance of the complete contemporaneity of the whole of the Chalcolithic of Mesopotamia with the whole of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic of Palestine. (The last period of the Chalcolithic of Palestine is seen to be contemporary with the last Chalcolithic period of Mesopotamia.)

[End of quote]


Dr. John Osgood has written further of Halaf in


A Better Model for the Stone Age Part 2



but he regards the Halaf people as the biblical “Aramites” [Aramaeans].

Since the Aramaeans, though, tended to be a wandering nomadic people (Deuteronomy 26:5), I would not expect their existence to be reflected in a culture as sophisticated as Halaf. Though they themselves may have absorbed some of it. My preference, therefore, is for Halaf to represent the Akkadians, especially as Halaf was the dominant culture when Osgood’s Jemdat Nasr pertaining to the Elamite Chedorlaomer, arose. This is how Dr. Osgood sees it:


Now if we date Babel to approximately 2,200 B.C. (as reasoned by implication from Noah's Flood 3) and if Abraham came from Mesopotamia (the region of Aram) approximately 1875 B.C., then we would expect that there is archaeological evidence that a people who can fit the description generally of the Aramites should be found well established in this area .... What in fact do we find? Taking the former supposition of the Jemdat Nasr culture being identified with the biblical story of Genesis 14 and the Elamite Chedarloamer,4 we would expect to find some evidence in Aram or northern Mesopotamia of Jemdat Nasr influence, but this would only be the latest of cultural influences in this region superseding and dominant on other cultures.

The dominant culture that had been in this area prior to the Jemdat Nasr period was a culture that is known to the archaeologist as the Halaf culture, named after Tell Halaf where it was first identified. One of the best summaries of our present knowledge of the Halafian culture is found in the publication, 'The Hilly Flanks'5. It seems clear from the present state of knowledge that the Halaf culture was a fairly extensive culture, but it was mostly dominant in the area that we recognise as Aram Naharaim.

It is found in the following regions. First, its main base in earliest distribution seems to have been the Mosul region. From there it later spread to the Sinjar region to the west, further westward in the Khabur head-waters, further west again to the Balikh River system, and then into the middle Euphrates valley. It also spread a little north of these areas. It influenced areas west of the Middle Euphrates valley and a few sites east of the Tigris River, but as a general statement, in its fully spread condition, the Halaf culture dominated Aram Naharaim ….

The site of Arpachiyah just west of Nineveh across the Tigris River appears to have been the longest occupied site and perhaps the original settlement of the Halaf people. This and Tepe Gawra were important early Halaf towns.

The settlement of the Halaf people at these cities continued for some considerable time, finally to be replaced by the Al Ubaid people from southern Mesopotamia. When Mallowan excavated the site of Tell Arpachiyah, he found that the top five levels belonged to the Al Ubaid period. The fifth level down had some admixture of Halaf material within it. He says:

‘The more spacious rooms of T.T.5 indicate that it is the work of Tell Halaf builders; that the two stocks did not live together in harmony is shown by the complete change of material in T.T.l-4, where all traces of the older elements had vanished. Nor did any of the burials suggest an overlap between graves of the A 'Ubaid and Tell Halaf period; on the contrary, there was evidence that in the Al 'Ubaid cemetery grave- diggers of the Al 'Ubaid period had deliberately destroyed Tell Halaf house remains.’6

He further comments the following:

‘It is more than probable that the Tell Halaf peoples abandoned the site on the arrival of the newcomers from Babylonia; and with the disappearance of the old element prosperity the site rapidly declined; for, although the newcomers were apparently strong enough to eject the older inhabitants, yet they appear to have been a poor community, already degenerate; their houses were poorly built and meanly planned, their streets no longer cobbled as in the Tell Halaf period and the general appearance of their settlement dirty and poverty stricken in comparison with the cleaner buildings of the healthier northern peoples who were their predecessors.’7

He further says:

‘The invaders had evidently made a wholesale destruction of all standing buildings converted some of them into a cemetery.’8

It is clear from the discussion of Patty Jo Watson9 that the later periods of the Halaf people were found in the other regions, particularly in a westward direction across the whole area of Aram Naharaim, namely the Sinjar region, the Khabur head-waters, the Balikh River system and the middle Euphrates. While the site of Arpachiyah had been destroyed by the Al Ubaid people and the former inhabitants either dispersed or destroyed, it seems clear that the Al Ubaid culture had not been so devastating upon other areas where the Halaf people were but had been assimilated in some way into their culture even though the Al Ubaid culture became dominant later. We find this particularly suggested by Mallowan while discussing findings at Tell Mefesh in the Balikh region (Balih).

He says:

‘The pottery discovered in the house was particularly interesting, although unmistakably of the Al Ubaid period, it revealed certain characteristics of the T. Halaf phase of culture suggesting that the Al Ubaid period occupants at Mefesh were, at all events in their ceramic, considerably influenced by their predecessors.’10

He goes on in speaking of the ceramics by saying:

‘But I believe on grounds of the style of painting and the fabric that this is a hybrid ware, and that it may indicate a fusion on the Balih of the peoples representing the intrusive Al 'Ubaid culture with those of the older T. Halaf stock. Elsewhere, the evidence generally indicates that with the intrusion of the Al Ubaid peoples, the ceramic of T. Halaf rapidly disappeared but at Tepe Gawra Dr E.A. Speiser indicates that he has found evidence of a pottery representing a fusion of the two cultures and it is possible that when this detailed evidence is finally published, it may tally with that obtained at T. Mefesh.’11(emphasis ours>

So it seems that the culture of Upper Mesopotamia, previously Halaf, became affected by the Al Ubaid culture from the south resulting in a continuous but changed culture, with no doubt an admixture of the population in some way and in some proportion.

I will later attempt to show that the Al Ubaid culture is deeply associated with the name of the Chaldeans, and that the Halaf people were subjected to a northern migration and conquest as evidenced by the presence of southern names (from Southern Mesopotamia) in the north. Such an example may be found at the site of Harran, which represents a southern name and a religion that essentially had its roots in the south, but was in fact a city in the north. This point becomes greafly significant when we come to the migration of Abraham from Ur of the Chaldees in the south up to the city of Harran and finally to Canaan. The way had already been prepared by migration of Chaldean peoples who apparently had attacked the major stronghold of the Halaf peoples in the north (which here I am equating with the Aramites), but finally to dominate them in the Aram Naharaim area culturally at least for some time to come.

There is now no question that the early Halaf people in the north were contemporary with the early Al Ubaid people in the south, here equated with a contemporaneity of the Aramites with the Chaldeans.

Joan Oates discusses this fact:

‘It is quite clear that in the Hamrin at this time there were potters working in both the Halaf and Ubaid traditions, perhaps even side by side in the same villages. Certainly, the contemporaneity of these two very distinctive ceramic styles cannot be in doubt. Such contemporaneity has always seemed a possible explanation of certain chronological anomalies (Oates 1968 p. 1973, p.176) and is indeed the only explanation that makes sense of the late Halaf 'intrusion' at Choga Mami, where the Samarran and early Ubaid materials are very closely related. The modern situation may perhaps provide a relevant parallel in that villages of Arabs, Kurds, Lurs and Turcomans exist side by side, their inhabitants often distinguishable by their dress and other cultural appurtenances. In the Hamrin we have the first unequivocal evidence of such a situation in near Eastern pre-history, where previously we had assumed a 'chest-of-drawers' sequence of cultures.’12

There is a need, of course, to show that there was a general continuity of the culture from the days of Halaf in the majority of Aram Naharaim through to at least the days of Jemdat Nasr.

[End of quote]


Now that we have our chronology and geography in proper place, we can expect to find a convergence between the high quality Halafian and Akkadian cultures. Art, for example (


A finely executed bas relief representing Naram-Sin, and bearing a striking resemblance to early Egyptian art in many of its features, has been found at Diarbekr, in modern Turkey. Babylonian art, however, had already attained a high degree of excellence; two cylinder seals of the time of Sargon I are among the most beautiful specimens of the gem-cutter's art ever discovered.


And in an article, “Samarra culture, Tell Halaf and Tell Ubaid”, we read (


In the period 6500–5500 B.C., a farming society emerged in northern Mesopotamia and Syria which shared a common culture and produced pottery that is among the finest ever made in the Near East. This culture is known as Halaf, after the site of Tell Halaf in northeastern Syria where it was first identified.

The Halaf culture is a prehistoric period which lasted between about 6100 and 5500 BC. The period is a continuous development out of the earlier Pottery Neolithic and is located primarily in the Euphrates valley in south-eastern Turkey, the Balikh valley and the Khabur in Syria, and the Upper Tigris area in Iraq, although Halaf-influenced material is found throughout Greater Mesopotamia.

The term «Proto-Halaf period» refers to the gradual emergence of the Halaf culture. It reformulates the «Halafcultural package» as this has been traditionally understood, and it shows that the Halaf emerged rapidly, but gradually, at the end of 7000 BC.


Dr. Matthews’ “… problems [above] of fitting material cultural assemblages, especially pottery, into historical sequences …”, are, I think, solved by the following ‘assemblages’:


The term refers to a distinct ceramic assemblage characterised by the introduction of painted Fine Ware within the later Pre-Halafceramic assemblage. Although these new wares represent changes in ceramic technology and production, other cultural aspects continue without abrupt change.

The recent discoveries at various Late Neolithic sites in Syrian and elsewhere that have been reviews here are really changing the old, traditional schemes, which often presupposed abrupt transitions from one culture-historical entity to another. At present, there is growing evidence for considerable continuity during 7000-6000 BC.

At the northern Syrian sites, where the Proto-Halaf stage was first defined, there is no perceptible break and at several sites (Tell Sabi Abyad, Tell Halula) the Proto-Halaf ceramic assemblage appears to be closely linked to the preceding late Pre-Halaf.

The key evidence for the Proto-Halaf period is the appearance of new ceramic categories that did not existed before, manufactured according to high technological standards and complexly decorated.

The similarities of these new painted wares from one Proto-Halaf site to another points to strong relationships between different communities. On the other hand, the evidence of local variety in ceramic production would indicate a certain level of independence of local groups.


The Halaf culture as it is traditionally understood appears to have evolved over a very large area, which comprises the Euphrates valley (until recently considered to be a peripheral area), the Balikh valley and the Khabur in Syria but also northern Iraq, southern Turkey and the Upper Tigris area.

The Halaf potters used different sources of clay from their neighbors and achieved outstanding elaboration and elegance of design with their superior quality ware. Some of the most beautifully painted polychrome ceramics were produced toward the end of the Halaf period. This distinctive pottery has been found from southeastern Turkey to Iran, but may have its origins in the region of the River Khabur (modern Syria).

How and why it spread so widely is a matter of continuing debate, although analysis of the clay indicates the existence of production centers and regional copying. It is possible that such high-quality pottery was exchanged as a prestige item between local elites.


“From that land [Nimrod] went forth into Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah—which is the great city”.


The most important site for the Halaf tradition was the site of Tell Arpachiyah located about 4 miles from Nineveh, now located in the suburbs of Mosul, Iraq. The site was occupied in the Halaf and Ubaid periods. It appears to have been heavily involved in the manufacture of pottery. The pottery recovered there formed the basis of the internal chronology of the Halaf period. The Halaf culture was eventually absorbed into the so-called Ubaid culture, with changes in pottery and building styles.

Early in the chalcolithic period the potters of Arpachiyah in the Khabur Valley carried on the Tell Halaf tradition with a technical ability and with a sense of artistry far superior to that attained by the earlier masters; their polychrome designs, executed in rous paint, show a richness of invention and a painstaking skill in draughtsmanship which is unrivaled in the ancient world.

The best known, most characteristic pottery of Tell Halaf, called Halaf ware, produced by specialist potters, has been found in other parts of northern Mesopotamia, such as at Nineveh and Tepe Gawra, Chagar Bazar and at many sites in Anatolia (Turkey) suggesting that it was widely used in the region.

Arpachiyah and Tepe Gawra have produced typical Eastern Halaf ware while a rather different Western Halaf version is known from such Syrian sites as Carchemish and Halaf itself.

Hassuna or Tell Hassuna is an ancient Mesopotamian site situated in what was to become ancient Assyria, and is now in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq west of the Tigris river, south of Mosul and about 35 km southwest of the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh.

[End of quote]

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