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Book: Animal Iconography in the Archaeological Record

Chapter: Zoomorphic terracotta of Halaf - Mirroring realities of 6th millennium Upper Mesopotamian agricultural societies or imaginary flocks?

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.38874


The typological evidences of Late Neolithic material groups of the Near East are categorized by the appearance of fine ware painted pottery. The 6th millennium Halaf phenomena is furthermore characterized by settlements containing of round and keyhole shaped buildings, as well as by the occurrence of highly stereotype anthropomorphic clay figurines displaying presumably mainly females. These objects have been discussed comprehensively since their first appearance at the early excavations since the beginning of the 20th century. Much lesser attention was put on the zoomorphic figurines of the same dating and context, though they appear in similar number. Whilst the anthropomorphic figurines are interpreted as venerated items with a clear link to rituals, zoomorphic figurines where mostly unattended in publications, merely described and in many cases just mentioned by their number. Beside, displays of animals are also found on a high percentage of painted fine ware sherds.

The Halaf cultural group is considered as been carried by a society of farmers and foragers inhabiting villages in varying size and durability as well as living as seasonal pastoralists. For such a lifestyle animals must been considered as a main factor of subsistence, with an immanent impact on settlement patterns, as well as for social structures. Animal bone assemblages from various Halaf sites proof also a relevance of hunting for diet. Whilst the pottery examples show a huge variety of wild fauna, zoomorphic figurines seem to concentrate on domestic animals. This leads to the conclusion, that their main relevance has to be placed in the domestic surrounding.
Beside a number of fine ware vessels in zoomorphic shape occur in a number of sites. Two new examples from Tell Halaf representing bovines may show indices of a rising importance of cattle in the 6th millennium B.C. due to the learning process of taking advantage of the strength of domestic animals.

Chapter Contributors

  • Nicola Scheyhing ( - nscheyhing) 'Independent Scholar'