Halaf culture

The Halaf culture is a prehistoric period which lasted between about 6100 BC and 5100 BC.[1] The period is a continuous development out of the earlier Pottery Neolithic and is located primarily in south-eastern Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq, although Halaf-influenced material is found throughout Greater Mesopotamia.

While the period is named after the site of Tell Halaf in north Syria, excavated by Max von Oppenheim between 1911 and 1927, the earliest Halaf period material was excavated by John Garstang in 1908 at the site of Sakce Gözü, then in Syria but now part of Turkey.[2] Small amounts of Halaf material were also excavated in 1913 by Leonard Woolley at Carchemish, on the Turkish/Syrian border.[3] However, the most important site for the Halaf tradition was the site of Tell Arpachiyah, now located in the suburbs of Mosul, Iraq.[4]

The Halaf period was succeeded by the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period which comprised the late Halaf (c. 5400-5000 BC), and then by the Ubaid period.

Halaf culture
Kultura Halaf zasieg
Geographical rangeMesopotamia
PeriodNeolithic 3 – Pottery Neolithic (PN)
Datescirca 6,100 B.C. — circa 5,100 B.C.
Type siteTell Halaf
Major sitesTell Brak
Preceded byPre-Pottery Neolithic B, Yarmukian culture
Followed byHalaf-Ubaid Transitional period, Hassuna culture, Samarra culture
Map of Iraq showing important sites that were occupied during the Halaf culture (clickable map)
The Neolithic
Fertile Crescent
Heavy Neolithic
Shepherd Neolithic
Trihedral Neolithic
Pre-Pottery (A, B)
Qaraoun culture
Tahunian culture
Yarmukian Culture
Halaf culture
Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period
Ubaid culture
Nile valley
Faiyum A culture
Tasian culture
Merimde culture
El Omari culture
Maadi culture
Badari culture
Amratian culture
Arzachena culture
Boian culture
Butmir culture
Cardium Pottery culture
Cernavodă culture
Coțofeni culture
Cucuteni-Trypillian culture
Dudeşti culture
Gorneşti culture
Gumelniţa–Karanovo culture
Hamangia culture
Linear Pottery culture
Malta Temples
Ozieri culture
Petreşti culture
San Ciriaco culture
Shulaveri-Shomu culture
Sesklo culture
Tisza culture
Tiszapolgár culture
Usatovo culture
Varna culture
Vinča culture
Vučedol culture
Neolithic Transylvania
Neolithic Southeastern Europe
Peiligang culture
Pengtoushan culture
Beixin culture
Cishan culture
Dadiwan culture
Houli culture
Xinglongwa culture
Xinle culture
Zhaobaogou culture
Hemudu culture
Daxi culture
Majiabang culture
Yangshao culture
Hongshan culture
Dawenkou culture
Songze culture
Liangzhu culture
Majiayao culture
Qujialing culture
Longshan culture
Baodun culture
Shijiahe culture
Yueshi culture
South Asia
Philippine Jade culture
Capsian culture
Savanna Pastoral Neolithic

farming, animal husbandry
pottery, metallurgy, wheel
circular ditches, henges, megaliths
Neolithic religion



Previously, the Syrian plains were not considered as the homeland of Halaf culture, and the Halafians were seen either as hill people who descended from the nearby mountains of southeastern Anatolia, or herdsmen from northern Iraq.[5] However, those views changed with the recent archaeology conducted since 1986 by Peter Akkermans, which have produced new insights and perspectives about the rise of Halaf culture.[6] A formerly unknown transitional culture between the pre-Halaf Neolithic's era and Halaf's era was uncovered in the Balikh valley, at Tell Sabi Abyad (the Mound of the White Boy).

Currently, eleven occupational layers have been unearthed in Sabi Abyad. Levels from 11 to 7 are considered pre-Halaf; from 6 to 4, transitional; and from 3 to 1, early Halaf. No hiatus in occupation is observed except between levels 11 and 10.[5] The new archaeology demonstrated that Halaf culture was not sudden and was not the result of foreign people, but rather a continuous process of indigenous cultural changes in northern Syria,[7] that spread to the other regions.[1]



Entrance of the National Museum Aleppo Syria
A reconstruction of a Halaf temple, now the facade of the National Museum of Aleppo

Although no Halaf settlement has been extensively excavated some buildings have been excavated: the tholoi of Tell Arpachiyah, circular domed structures approached through long rectangular anterooms. Only a few of these structures were ever excavated. They were constructed of mud-brick sometimes on stone foundations and may have been for ritual use (one contained a large number of female figurines). Other circular buildings were probably just houses.

Halaf pottery

The best known, most characteristic pottery of Tell Halaf, called Halaf ware, produced by specialist potters, can be painted, sometimes using more than two colors (called polychrome) with geometric and animal motifs. Other types of Halaf pottery are known, including unpainted, cooking ware and ware with burnished surfaces. There are many theories about why the distinctive pottery style developed.

The theory is that the pottery came about due to regional copying and that it was exchanged as a prestige item between local elites is now disputed. The polychrome painted Halaf pottery has been proposed to be a "trade pottery"—pottery produced for export—however, the predominance of locally produced painted pottery in all areas of Halaf sites including potters settlement questions that theory.

Halaf pottery 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. In addition, the Halaf communities made female figurines of partially baked clay and stone and stamp seals of stone, (see also Impression seal). The seals are thought to mark the development of concepts of personal property, as similar seals were used for this purpose in later times. The Halaf people used tools made of stone and clay. Copper was also known, but was not used for tools.

Bowl fragment MET DP368821

Fragment of a bowl; 5600-5000 BC; cermaic; 8.2 cm; Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York City)


Halafian ware

Syrian - "Tel Halaf" Fertility Figurine - Walters 482741 - Three Quarter

Fertility figurine (maybe a goddess?); 5000-4000 BC; terracotta with traces of pigment; 8.1 × 5 × 5.4 cm; by Halaf culture; Walters Art Museum (Baltimore, USA)

Stamp seals

The Halaf culture saw the earliest known appearance of stamp seals in the Near East.[8] They featured essentially geometric patterns.[8]

Loop-handled rectangular seal MET ss93 17 109

Loop-handled rectangular seal, Halaf culture.

Loop-handled circular seal MET ss1985 192 20

Loop-handled circular seal.

Stamp seal and modern impression- geometric pattern MET DP104233

Stamp seal and modern impression- geometric pattern. Halaf culture


Dryland farming was practiced by the population. This type of farming was based on exploiting natural rainfall without the help of irrigation, in a similar practice to that still practiced today by the Hopi people of Arizona. Emmer wheat, two-rowed barley and flax were grown. They kept cattle, sheep and goats.

Halaf's end (Northern Ubaid)

Halaf culture ended by 5000 BC after entering the so-called Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period.[9] Many Halafians settlements were abandoned, and the remaining ones showed Ubaidian characters.[10] The new period is named Northern Ubaid to distinguish it from the proper Ubaid in southern Mesopotamia,[11] and two explanations were presented for the transformation. The first maintain an invasion and a replacement of the Halafians by the Ubaidians, however, there is no hiatus between the Halaf and northern Ubaid which exclude the invasion theory.[10][12] The most plausible theory is a Halafian adoption of the Ubaid culture,[10] which is supported by most scholars including Oates, Breniquet and Akkermans.[11][12][13]

See also



  1. ^ a b Mario Liverani (2013). The Ancient Near East: History, Society and Economy. p. 48.
  2. ^ Castro Gessner, G. 2011. "A Brief Overview of the Halaf Tradition" in Steadman, S and McMahon, G (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Ancient anatolia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 780
  3. ^ Castro Gessner, G. 2011. "A Brief Overview of the Halaf Tradition" in Steadman, S and McMahon, G (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Ancient anatolia. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 781
  4. ^ Campbell, S. 2000. "The Burnt House at Arpachiyah: A Reexamination" Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research no. 318. pp. 1
  5. ^ a b Maria Grazia Masetti-Rouault; Olivier Rouault; M. Wafler (2000). La Djéziré et l'Euphrate syriens de la protohistoire à la fin du second millénaire av. J.C, Tendances dans l'interprétation historique des données nouvelles, (Subartu) - Chapter : Old and New Perspectives on the Origins of the Halaf Culture by Peter Akkermans. pp. 43–44.
  6. ^ Peter M. M. G. Akkermans, Glenn M. Schwartz (2003). The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies (c.16,000-300 BC). p. 101.
  7. ^ Peter M. M. G. Akkermans, Glenn M. Schwartz (2003). The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies (c.16,000-300 BC). p. 116.
  8. ^ a b Brown, Brian A.; Feldman, Marian H. (2013). Critical Approaches to Ancient Near Eastern Art. Walter de Gruyter. p. 304. ISBN 9781614510352.
  9. ^ John L. Brooke (2014). Climate Change and the Course of Global History: A Rough Journey. p. 204.
  10. ^ a b c Georges Roux (1992). Ancient Iraq. p. 101.
  11. ^ a b Susan Pollock; Reinhard Bernbeck (2009). Archaeologies of the Middle East: Critical Perspectives. p. 190.
  12. ^ a b Peter M. M. G. Akkermans, Glenn M. Schwartz (2003). The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies (c.16,000-300 BC). p. 157.
  13. ^ Robert J. Speakman; Hector Neff (2005). Laser Ablation ICP-MS in Archaeological Research. p. 128.


  • Akkermans, Peter M. M. G.; Schwartz, Glenn M. (2003). The Archaeology of Syria: From Complex Hunter-Gatherers to Early Urban Societies (c.16,000-300 BC). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-52179-666-8.
  • Liverani, Mario (2013). The Ancient Near East: History, Society and Economy. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-134-75091-7.
  • Masetti-Rouault, Maria Grazia; Rouault, Olivier; Wafler, Markus (2000). La Djéziré et l'Euphrate syriens de la protohistoire à la fin du second millénaire av. J.C, Tendances dans l'interprétation historique des données nouvelles, (Subartu). Brepols. ISBN 978-2-50351-063-7.

External links

Ard Tlaili

Ard Tlaili or Tell Ard Tlaili is a small tell mound archaeological site in a plain at the foot of the Lebanon Mountains 11 km (7 mi) northwest of Baalbeck, in the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon.IIt was first surveyed and studied in 1965–66 by Lorraine Copeland and Peter Wescombe with excavations later in the 1960s by Diana Kirkbride. The perimeter of the mound was buried under a metre of soil but the remains of rectangular buildings were found in 2 phases. Building walls were of wall made of stiff earth or clay with pebble bases and large stones in the upper layers. The floors were layered with white plaster with plastered and even burnished walls. Hearths and other areas were constructed of plaster or clay.

The wide variety of materials recovered included a stone assemblage of tools, obsidian blades, basalt bowls and hammers, clay sling ammunition, finely denticulated flint blades, scrapers, borers and a few axes. Pottery included Halafian painted shards both pattern and plain burnished with incised decoration including horizontal or vertical lines with dots, waves, zig-zags and cross-hatched designs. some with an application of red wash. These finds were significant as they represented the most southerly Halaf type painted pottery yet found. Red, orange, brown and black burnished bowls and jars were found in upper levels, with lower levels showing more coarse shards smoothed by hand or with straw. This little farming village shares the material culture of Byblos and southern Syrian and Halaf sites to the north.The carbon 14 dating of charcoal from the different levels at Ard Tlaili gave a short date range between c. 5710 until c.5780 BC.

Art of Mesopotamia

The art of Mesopotamia has survived in the archaeological record from early hunter-gatherer societies (8th millennium BC) on to the Bronze Age cultures of the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Assyrian empires. These empires were later replaced in the Iron Age by the Neo-Assyrian and Neo-Babylonian empires. Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia brought significant cultural developments, including the oldest examples of writing.

The art of Mesopotamia rivalled that of Ancient Egypt as the most grand, sophisticated and elaborate in western Eurasia from the 4th millennium BC until the Persian Achaemenid Empire conquered the region in the 6th century BC. The main emphasis was on various, very durable, forms of sculpture in stone and clay; little painting has survived, but what has suggests that, with some exceptions, painting was mainly used for geometrical and plant-based decorative schemes, though most sculptures were also painted. Cylinder seals have survived in large numbers, many including complex and detailed scenes despite their small size.

Mesopotamian art survives in a number of forms: cylinder seals, relatively small figures in the round, and reliefs of various sizes, including cheap plaques of moulded pottery for the home, some religious and some apparently not. Favourite subjects include deities, alone or with worshippers, and animals in several types of scenes: repeated in rows, single, fighting each other or a human, confronted animals by themselves or flanking a human or god in the Master of Animals motif, or a Tree of Life.Stone stelae, votive offerings, or ones probably commemorating victories and showing feasts, are also found from temples, which unlike more official ones lack inscriptions that would explain them; the fragmentary Stele of the Vultures is an early example of the inscribed type, and the Assyrian Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III a large and well preserved late one.

Chagar Bazar

Chagar Bazar (Šagir Bazar, Arabic: تل شاغربازار) is a tell, or settlement mound, in northern Syria.

Coba Höyük

Coba Höyük, also known as Sakçe Gözü or Sakçagözü, is an archaeological site in southeastern Anatolia. It is located about three kilometres north-west of the modern village of Sakçagözü. The site was occupied in the Pottery Neolithic, Halaf, Ubaid, Late Chalcolithic/Uruk and Neo-Hittite periods.


Domuztepe (meaning Pig Hill in Turkish) was a large, late Neolithic settlement in south east Turkey, occupied at least as early as c.6,200BC and abandoned c.5,450BC. The site is located to the south of Kahramanmaraş. Covering 20 hectares, it is primarily a Halaf site of the 6th millennium BC and is the largest known settlement of that date.

The site was investigated between 1995 and 2006 by a team from the University of Manchester and the University of California, Los Angeles. Work resumed in 2008, since when the excavation has been a joint project between the University of Manchester and the British Museum.

Godin Tepe

Godin Tepe is an archaeological site in western Iran, situated in the valley of Kangavar in Kermanshah Province. Discovered in 1961, the site was excavated from 1965 to 1973 by a Canadian expedition headed by T. Cuyler Young Jr. and sponsored by the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Ontario, Canada). The importance of the site may have been due to its role as a trading outpost in the early Mesopotamian trade networks.


Hacilar is an early human settlement in southwestern Turkey, 23 km south of present-day Burdur. It has been dated back 7040 BC at its earliest stage of development. Archaeological remains indicate that the site was abandoned and reoccupied on more than one occasion in its history.

Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period

The Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period (ca. 5500/5400 to 5200/5000 BC) is a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia. It lies chronologically between the Halaf period and the Ubaid period. It is still a complex and rather poorly understood period. At the same time, recent efforts were made to study the gradual change from Halaf style pottery to Ubaid style pottery in various parts of North Mesopotamia.


Kültəpə (also Aşağı Gültəpə, Gültəpə, Kyul'tepe, Kul'tepe, and Kultepe) is a settlement dated from the Neolithic Age, a village and municipality in the Babek Rayon of Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan. It has a population of 1,859.

Stamp seal

The stamp seal is a carved object, usually stone, first made in the 4th millennium BC, and probably earlier. They were used to impress their picture or inscription into soft, prepared clay.

Seal devices have seldom survived through time; it is usually only their impressions. A major exception are the cylinder seals made of stone, of which examples of their ancient impressions have survived as well, the majority being of clay tablets sealed as an authentication.

The Halaf culture saw the earliest known appearance of stamp seals in the Near East.

Tell Aqab

Tell Aqab is an ancient Mesopotamian settlement located in northeastern Syria, occupied from the early Halaf period (c. 6000 BCE) to c. 3800 BCE. It is situated at the northern edge of the Khabur Plain near the headwaters of the Khabur tributary of the Euphrates, 6 km south-southeast of the town of Amuda in Jazira Canton. It is one of the few sites that contain material relating to the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period, c. 5500–5000 BCE.

Tell Arpachiyah

Tell Arpachiyah (outside modern Mosul in Ninawa Governorate Iraq) is a prehistoric archaeological site in Nineveh Province (Iraq). It takes its name from a more recent village located about 4 miles (6.4 km) from Nineveh. The proper name of the mound on which the site is located is Tepe Reshwa.

Tepe Gawra is also a contemporary neolithic site located in the Mosul region.

Tell Bazmusian

Tell Bazmusian is an archaeological site on the right bank of the Little Zab in the Ranya Plain (Sulaymaniyah Governorate, Iraq). The site was excavated between 1956 and 1958 by Iraqi archaeologists as part of a salvage operation to document cultural remains that would be flooded by Lake Dukan, the reservoir created by the Dukan Dam which was being built at that time. Apart from Tell Bazmusian, four other sites were excavated during this operation: ed-Dem, Kamarian, Qarashina and Tell Shemshara. Bazmusian is a tell, or settlement mound, with a circumference of 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) and a height of 23 metres (75 ft). Together with Tell Shemshara, it is one of the largest archaeological sites in the Ranya Plain. When the excavations started, the southeast flank of the mound was occupied by a village that was only established at the beginning of the 20th century. The site is now submerged under Lake Dukan.The excavations have revealed 16 occupation layers, ranging from the Samarra culture (sixth millennium BCE) up to the ninth century CE. The finds of level I consisted of a fragmented pebble foundations, ninth-century CE pottery and mudbricks. Level II also contained Islamic material. Level III, to be dated to the late second millennium BCE, contained a single-room temple with thick mudbrick walls. Pottery dated to the mid- to late-second millennium BCE. In a pit outside of this temple, several clay tablet fragments were found. Although they were too damaged to be read, based on stylistic details they could be dated to the Middle Assyrian period. An earlier version of this temple was uncovered in level IV. In level V, plastered mudbrick walls were found. Levels VI–XVI contained material dating to the third millennium BCE, the Uruk period and of the Samarra and Halaf cultures but this has not yet been published.

Tell Begum

Tell Begum is a tell, or archaeological settlement mound, in Iraq. It is located near Said Sadiq in the Shahrizor Plain in Iraqi Kurdistan. The archaeological site consists of a steep conical mound 9 metres (30 ft) high, and a lower mound. It covers an area of 5 hectares (12 acres). The site was first investigated in 1960 by a team of Iraqi archaeologists. In 2013, a new excavation was carried out by archaeologists from Leiden University. This project restudied the older excavations and also conducted limited new excavations.The oldest excavated layers date to Late Halaf period. After an apparent hiatus in occupation, the site was resettled in the Late Chalcolithic 1 (LC1) period and continued to be in use into the Late Chalcolithic 3 (LC3) period (4300-3600 BC). Medieval occupation has also been attested.

Tell Halaf

Tell Halaf (Arabic: تل حلف‎) is an archaeological site in the Al Hasakah governorate of northeastern Syria, near the Turkish border, just opposite Ceylanpınar. It was the first find of a Neolithic culture, subsequently dubbed the Halaf culture, characterized by glazed pottery painted with geometric and animal designs. The site, which dates to the 6th millennium BCE, was a Hittite ruling city at first and was later the location of the Aramaean city-state of Guzana or Gozan in the 10th century BCE. By the end of 9th century BCE the city and its surrounding area was incorporated into the Assyrian Empire. During the Syrian Civil War, People's Protection Units took control of the area.

Tell Halula

Tell Halula is a large, prehistoric, neolithic tell, about 8 hectares (860,000 sq ft) in size, located around 105 kilometres (65 mi) east of Aleppo and 25 kilometres (16 mi) northwest of Membij in the Raqqa Governorate of Syria.

Tell Sabi Abyad

Tell Sabi Abyad (Arabic: تل صبي أبيض‎) is an archaeological site in the Balikh River valley in northern Syria. The site consists of four prehistoric mounds that are numbered Tell Sabi Abyad I to IV. Extensive excavations showed that these sites were inhabited already around 7500 to 5500 BC, although not always at the same time; the settlement shifted back and forth between these four sites.The earliest pottery of Syria was discovered here; it dates at ca. 6900-6800 BC, and consists of mineral-tempered, and sometimes painted wares.

Tepe Gawra

Tepe Gawra (Kurdish for "Great Mound") is an ancient Mesopotamian settlement in the Mosul region of northwest Iraq that was occupied between 5000 and 1500 BC. It contains remains from the Halaf period, the Ubaid period, and the Uruk period (4000–3100 BC). Tepe Gawra contains material relating to the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period c. 5,500–5,000 BC.

Yarim Tepe

Yarim Tepe is an archaeological site of an early farming settlement that goes back to about 6000 BC. It is located in the Sinjar valley some 7km southwest from the town of Tal Afar in northern Iraq. The site consists of several hills reflecting the development of the Hassuna culture, and then of the Halaf and Ubaid cultures.

The settlement was investigated between 1969 and 1976, and later by the Soviet archaeological expedition under the leadership of Rauf Munchaev and Nikolai Merpert.

Culture / Society
Bronze Age

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.