The pottery of ancient Tell Halaf, in Syria, and my ceramics

The love affair between me and the ancient pottery of Tell Halaf started when a friend of mine, a fellow potter and a university lecturer lent me some of his books about ancient Mesopotamia and the history of archaeological   excavations there. It was then that I began a serious study of arguably the finest pottery in the Neolithic produced.

Tell Halaf pottery

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We, the Syrians,  belong to a country which was a cradle of civilization, taking  part in creating the first civilizations known to mankind. Even in prehistoric times and before the invention of writing, Syria recorded in the amazing pottery of Tell Halaf (circa 7000 BC onward), the awakening of the artistic spirit in mankind and their early attempts to express themselves in images, patterns and shapes. Our lands witnessed in the Neolithic, the human revolution which introduced the first agricultural settlements and the domestication of animals.  The first settlements or small villages led gradually to the building of the first cities, Damascus is the oldest existing city, some say Aleppo. Civilization and humanity will not depart from Syria. Even if the world chooses to forget Syria or tries to distort its picture in order to ease its conscience, even if the Super powers continue to stand  aside, just watching emersed in an ambivalent stupour or resort to support the regime against the people, thinking  that by doing this they might deceive themselves and deceive history. Why will  civilization not forsake its birthplace no matter what transpires, no matter the destruction and the annihilation?  It is because Syria knows Syria and knows that the whole world is indebted to its cradles and because the Syrians know Syria and its great heritage and indeed what is greater than that: its human legacy. 

 

Tell Halaf pottery

Tell Halaf pottery

Looking at the pottery of Tell Halaf from a potter’s point of view, was exciting and revealing.I was still learning the techniques of the potter at that stage with a passion that coloured everything I did or learnt.

The Tell Halaf culture, which was succeeded by Ubaid culture and the civilization of Sumer, produced, in my opinion, some of the most elegant and refined pottery of the Neolithic ancient world.  The delicacy of the best examples of this pottery is breathtaking, the dexterity and intricacy puzzling and the craftsmanship of a very high quality.  The Halaf culture covered the geographical expanse between upper Iraq and Syria reaching as far as Ras Shamra, Ugarit, on the Syrian coast, and spreading its influence even further to Anatolia.  However, the main centers were to be found in Mesopotamia.

Tel Halaf pottery

Tell Halaf pottery

 The final phase of Halaf culture, about 4900 – 4500 BC, displays in its pottery an accumulation of skills learned and tested.  The  vividly painted ware using mainly red and black paint over the common apricot slip or grayish background enhanced by the use of details in white over darker paints, shows vivid reliance on balance and symmetry.  By now, the geometric design of Halaf which started simple and tentative in the earlier phases has multiplied to include cruciform shapes, fish scales, dotted circles, wavy patterns, also double ax, herringbone and small diamond patterns.  In addition, multiple rows of hatching and cross hatching, a variety of ornament, including the very popular chequer design and many textile-like motifs were also in vogue. The splendid thin plates of this period are among the most beautiful products of the Tell Halaf kilns, probably the first of their kind in the world.

Images of houses painted on the pot

Images of houses painted on the pot

On a visit the British Museum, I had the opportunity to see some of the pottery and shards of Tell Halaf.  What impressed me most was the breath-taking quality of the brushwork.  How did they do it?  What methods of preparing and mixing the colours did they develop in order to produce such consistency, and what kind of brushes did they use to achieve this complex, sophisticated quality which I and many fellow potters can only dream of achieving? In describing the Halaf Pottery, Some archaeologists tend to emphasize qualities like static and formal in order to mean lacking in vigour and inventiveness.  However, what I see is beauty of composition and a sensitive admirable control.  James Mellart, the archeologist, commented, “Precise and neat, minute but repetitive, the Halaf designs formed an overwhelming rich brocade’.

Tel Halaf

Tell Halaf

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Tell Halaf

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Tell Halaf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After  reading and studying the shapes and techniques  of Tel Half poetry, it was time for me to  become pre-historic myself and sit down with the clay in order to try my luck. I had to live up to the name I called myself archaeological potter. In many ways, the potters of Tell Halaf were cleverer than me and more accomplished because they made everything themselves, while I had to depend on modern technology in my use of tools, clay and paints. In the pots I made, I attempted to summarize and condense most of the vocabulary of patterns the Halaf potters developed over the  centuries. Never the less, I was creating modern contemporary pots decorated with designs derived from the Tell Halaf culture of clay.

Porcelain pot painted with underglazes, after Tell Halaf, by Alisar Iram

Porcelain pot inspired by Tell Halaf pottery and painted with underglazes, by Alisar Iram

 

Porcelain bowl inspired by Tell Halaf pottery and painted with undeglazes  by Alisar Iram

Porcelain bowl inspired by Tell Halaf pottery and painted with underglazes by Alisar Iram

Porcelain pot inspired by Tell Halaf pottery, decorated with underglazes and luster by Alisar Iram

Porcelain pot inspired by Tell Halaf pottery, decorated with underglazes and luster by

Porcelain pot inspired by Halaf pottery, not in shape, decorated with underglazes by Alisar Iram

Porcelain pot inspired by Halaf pottery, not in shape, decorated with underglazes by Alisar Iram

Porcelain jug inspired by Halaf pottery, not in shape, decorated with underglazes by Alisar Iram

Porcelain jug inspired by Halaf pottery, not in shape, decorated with underglazes and luster by Alisar Iram

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©Alisar Iram 

http://alisariramart.wordpress.com/the-pottery-of-ancient-tell-halaf-of-mesopotamia-and-my-ceramics/

About alisariram

I am an artist, a writer and a researcher. I know Arabic and English . I am interested in music and art of every description. I like to describe myself as the embodiment of a harmonious marriage between two cultures which I value and treasure.
This entry was posted in Alisar Iram's art, Alisar Iram's pottery and ceramics, Alisar Iram: articles and notes, Archaeology, Ceramics, Civilization, Cradle of Civilization, Images, Pottery, Starvation and malnutrition in Syria, Syria's cultural heritage, Syrian ceramics, Tell Halaf, Tell Halaf pottery, The Neolethic and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The pottery of ancient Tell Halaf, in Syria, and my ceramics

  1. Hamsa Kurth Newmark says:

    Dear Alisar, thank you so much for sending me the beautiful writing and amazing images of the Tell Halaf pottery of ancient Syria. Was Syrian then not called Asyria? Anyway I appreciate your art and writing tremendously , it truly enriches my life. Was Syria once part of the Babylonian Empire? Last time I was in Berlin, I saw a very special exhibit/installation of the beautiful Blue Tiled Entrance Gate to Babylon at the Pergamon Museum. In Friendship and Solidarity Hamsa

    Sent from Hamsa’s iPhone

    • alisariram says:

      Tell Halaf predates Assyria and Babylon. Halaf culture belongs to the Neolithic. It is prehistoric, It even predated Sumer. It is a Mesopotamian culture, in the Syrian part although its influence spread widely. Halaf was a city state or settlement and part of an empire.If you click on the link to Wikipedia provided, you can get more information.

  2. Emma Cunliffe says:

    Those really are beautiful. Thank you for sharing them

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