North Mesopotamian Jewellery during the Third Millennium B.C.: Some Considerations. (Fabrice De Backer)


home list theses contence previous next  


Volume I: Catalogue




1. General


            As we have been asked to do so, and because the pages number is limited, we have to restrict our subject, here are some explanations.

            Firstly, we have to confine us to discuss only about the third millennium B.C., which will deprive us of any evolution chapter or to look a while about the origins and consequences of jewellery adornment in North Mesopotamia. Moreover, we will not have all the necessary room to explain deeply how the jewellery and cities are related to the control of the precious materials sources roads at any periods.

            Secondly, as an internal study has been asked, we do not have the room to mention some important clues about the historical context, such as the power quest of the cities or the attempts to dominate the metal trade, which is, at least to our advice, closely related to jewellery.

            Thirdly, we are just supposed to work on northern mesopotamian sites, which does not allow us to treat some southern sumerian cities, by far better documented and useful for our topic. Neither will we study the decorative patterns origins, international contacts or the raw materials provenance, which would have been useful to establish a kind of contact pattern map of the studied time-periods.


Fig. 1: The Ancient Near East: map showing the sites which yielded the jewellery studied in this thesis.


            Lastly, we have been asked to concentrate on the groups, i.e. tombs, deposits or hoards, better than on the lonely objects found in excavations. This is also a kind of bias as we might lack some specific shapes of object found in specific context, i.e. a bronze toggle-pin with a winged head found in the palace of Naram-Sin at Tell Brak. Furthermore, tombs, deposits and hoards have all three a different, specific function, which is still hardly to compare one with another, and concerned with the material they contain.


            This work would have surely been more complete whether we would have chosen it as a Ph. Dis. Thesis topic, which is not the case but neither a bad idea.  We hereby express our gratitude to our supervisors to have given us such an interesting topic of research.


2. Problems of the research


            Originally, we were supposed to study the jewellery coming from seven sites in Northern Mesopotamia, but some events happened and forced us to restrain our choice to two of them. Tepe Gawra and Tall Munbaqa publications were neither very clear about the chronology of the third millennium levels nor about the contextual data of the objects recovered there[1]. Concerning Tall Banat, we could not find the book of the excavator and, for Umm el-Marra, the simple publications we found gave such a hazy chronology that we chose not to take it in account[2]. Tell Mardikh is located on the boundary of the chosen area of this study, but we will use it as a comparison element because the archives recovered there will be very precious for our analysis of the jewellery.

            Finally, the only sites we could use for the study of northern mesopotamian jewellery at this time are Tell Hariri and Tell Brak, still it is a large heap of materials.


3. Cautions to take


a. About the contexts:


                  Tombs and organic remains are subjected to taphonomy laws, this is why we have to keep in mind that the objects might not be in their original places. Following the decaying process, flesh and organic materials can move or change their shapes, moving from the breast to the waist, for example.

                  The same is true for the deposits and hoards, the objects are mixed up and it is sometimes hard to identify one specific type of jewel when the shape is very similar to another, i.e. hair-locks and finger-rings. In other instances, there might be no relation between the objects, as it is the case for hoards.

                  Tombs, deposits and hoards can all be looted, which can lead to removal, displacement or disappearance of some items from the heap and context they were in.


b. About the objects:


                  Decaying process also attacks objects, making it quite difficult to identify some particular item when the support, i.e. leather or cloth, or string have decayed, furthermore when it is corroded in a hazy mass or that just fragments remain. This could also lead us to some problems of terminology for some jewels but this study is just one step more in what we think is the right way. Further researches will certainly precise its good and weak points.


c. About the humans:


                  The human factor is the essential bias source of Archaeology, this is why we would like to attract the attention of our readers on this point. First, the internment or deposit ritual, which can be a reason for the objects might not be in the place they were worn during the life time of their owner, whether the adorned body is their owner’s. Additionally, the jewels might have been placed just for a special event, i.e. funerals or war, in a hurry or not. Finally, the objects recovered might be of external origin to the body or the civilization they were found with, i.e. other members of a same society, international diplomatic gift, foreign artists or artisans.


4. Aim of this study


            What can the difference be between a prehistoric person covered with shell beads and a contemporary person, wearing gold brandebourgs over his gown, except the time, space, civilization and material ?[3] Nothing, their richly decorated clothes certainly tend to indicate something about them, maybe part of their identity or functions.

            As a starting point for our research, we will be interested in the way jewellery can reveal parts of the status or the human or object it adorns, in which way we might see whether there is a kind of hierarchy in the jewels or not. For this, we will use the texts from the

proto-syrian archives of Ebla, the relative quality and value of the materials used to produce jewels.

            We will also attempt to realise a list of the objects and see whether each has a specific place over the body or not[4].            Finally, we will try to identify some more specific jewels, i.e. religious, military, economical, politic, cultural and social power indicators.


5) Some practical notes


            As we mentioned it some lines above, this work have a limited amount of sheets to respect, this is why, with the agreement of our supervisor, we chose to divide it into two parts.

            The first one will include much more of the essential data bank needed as a basis of the study, as nobody can claim to be scientific when explaining things derived from unknown neither unidentified objects.

            The second volume will be concerned with the analysis and discussion of the items we have descripted in the first one.

            Still, if any interrogation subsists for the reader at the end of this thesis, we divided the bibliography in chapters according to the essential themes reached within this work, such as Trade, Catalogue or History.


            We sincerely hope our readers will enjoy this thesis as much as we enjoyed writing it.


Fabrice De Backer





            The larger part of our documentation comes from old excavations and, this is also true for the recent ones, the recording quality of the excavated objects studied in this thesis varies a lot. We had to deal with old, bad or event absent pictures, drawings or data. Each time we could, we tried to correct or fill them up but we could not do that for every item:  we managed to be as complete as possible.

            We have chosen to name the elements according to their «standardposition» over a human body or to the place they were recovered at.

The following lines and picture will help the reader to understand what we mean by “standard position”, with the exceptions and hazy items.

Fig. 2: «Standard Position» of jewellery when adorning a human body.


            This part of our thesis is divided into three parts, according to the chronological periods we had to deal with: Early Dynastic Period (A), Akkadian Period (B), and Ur III Period (C).

            We chose to give the actual and ancient names of the sites, or the contemporary identification proposed in their excavator’s books, then divided the data into three larger units: tombs, deposits and hoards. Each structure, i.e. tomb or “treasure”, belonging to a specific group, has been numbered and the objects it contained as well. For each, we chose to keep the identification of the excavators on the site plan, or to correct it when the mistake seemed obvious. Then, a small word, mentioning the general context and peculiarities follows. Each lonely object, or quite surely identified group[5], received a number for this catalogue, only used in this one and the sole purpose of our thesis. Next to this number stand the references of the concerned figures and the nature of the item. After that, we wrote some more useful informations about the object, such as material, shape, structure and a short bibliography.

            To facilitate the task of the reader, we decided to put the illustrations next to the referred items; to gain room, we chose to use face and reverse sides of the sheets.


The catalogue can only be viewed in pdf


home list theses contence previous next  


[1] For all references to those sites, see bibliography at the end of this thesis.

[2] McClellan, T., Euphrates Salvage Project: The Early State, under press in 1999 (Excavations at Tell Banat).

[3] See Fig. 265–266.

[4] A statistical analysis, summing up the occurrences of each type of jewel which each other in each kind of context would have been very useful for this type study, but the pages number is limited and, for some reasons mentioned above, the catalogue is not complete.

[5] A «group» is formed when we have quite enough elements to think so; some elements of that kind: same shape, same place of when recovered, …