5th-4th Millenium BC
Research at Tell Brak since the late 1990s has revealed that the
site is urban in scale and economic complexity from the early 4th
millennium BC, contemporary with, or even slightly earlier than, the
better-known early cities of southern Mesopotamia, such as Uruk.
The earliest levels so far excavated date to the mid-fifth
millennium BC (Late ‘Ubaid and LC1, Area CH). These levels, to
be published in Brak Vol. 3 (forthcoming), include monumental
buildings dating to at least as early as the end of the Ubaid Period.
View of Area TW from the west.
Better-preserved evidence for the 5th-4th millennium cities comes
from Area TW, excavated from 1997-2011. This includes
unparalleled monumental buildings of late 5th and early 4th millennia
date (LC2), succeeded by evidence for a south Mesopotamian Late Uruk
colony. The upper levels in Area TW include examples of Jemdet Nasr
pottery, indicating continuing contact with southern Mesopotamia after
the Late Uruk ‘abandonment’ of the region.
(For more information on TW Levels 21 through 19, see the current research page.)
TW Level 20
Obsidian and shell
The most important building in TW is a Level 20 monumental
structure, dated to the late 5th millennium BC (Late Chalcolithic 2,
the “Basalt Threshold Building”). Owing to its limited exposure, the
building’s function is unclear, but its scale, careful construction,
and clean floors imply that it was an administrative building of some
The area exposed of this building comprises the fore-court, entrance
and parts of two rooms. It has a massive basalt threshold measuring
1.85 x 1.52 m and 29 cm thick. No comparable building has as yet been
found elsewhere. A fore-court with sequential white plastering layers
lies to its north, and in the final phase of use, a row of small rooms
was built against its northern façade.
An industrial area lies to its west, comprising a complex of rooms
with at least four sub-phases of alteration and adaptation. Features
include large ovens, bins and evidence for manufacture of flint and
obsidian tools and decorative objects of obsidian and shell. A street
further west connects this area to the north entrance of Brak.
TW Level 19
The monumental building of Level 20 continued in use in the
following level, and the industrial complex of Level 20 was succeeded
by a more imposing–but similarly industrial– building in Level 19 (LC
2-3). Its walls were over a metre wide, and its four rooms contained
large ovens, bins and grain-grinding features. Clusters of spindle
whorls, grinding-stones, a sack of sling bullets abandoned in a corner,
flint and obsidian tools and objects, and both unworked shells and
mother-of-pearl inlay testify to the range of manufacturing that took
Stamp-impressed clay sealings from containers (jars and baskets)
imply a tiered hierarchy of economic control was at work in this area,
while seal imagery of lions is reminiscent of Mesopotamian royal
symbols from the Late Uruk through Neo-Assyrian Periods.
TW Levels 18-15
Early in the 4th millennium BC, another public building was
constructed. This consisted of a formal, tripartite building together
with a large courtyard, with ornamentally niched walls. In this were a
variety of ovens which may have served for the cooking of large
quantities of meat. This complex was situated next to a street leading
from the nearby north entrance of the settlement (the same street
persisted from Level 21), and the complex remained in use for a
considerable period of time (Levels 18-14, LC 3).
To the east of and contemporary with this ‘roadside steak-house’
were several levels of houses, from which were recovered large
quantities of faunal and botanical data, in particular from Level 16,
which seems to have suffered a major destruction. It was in this level
and Level 17 that objects of early 'Eye Temple type' were discovered in
situ, allowing us to re-date Mallowan’s temple sequence to a period
earlier than had previously been suspected.
During this period (Middle Northern Uruk or LC3), we see the use of
increasingly complex recording devices, including two small dockets
apparently recording a number and a pictograph of a type of animal. A
large numerical tablet was also found.
A hoard of c 3600 gold, silver, carnelian, amethyst, rock crystal
and other stone beads was found beneath the floor of a Level 16
layer of Level 16 building, c 3600 BC.
TW Level 16 Plan (click to enlarge).
buildings, rooms 1 and 5-8 in the centre of the plan opposite.
Early Pictographic objects
One of the many
ovens associated with the Level 18 Building (photo: David Thomas).
TW Levels 14-13
In Level 14, this area of the settlement was levelled and rebuilt,
although the continuity of pottery types suggests little if any change
in the population itself. In the succeeding Level 13 (LC 4), however,
South Mesopotamian Middle Uruk pottery and other artefacts appear for
the first time.
Southern and Northern ‘Middle
Uruk’ pottery on a Level 13 sherd pavement.
style cylinder seal, TW Level 13. The design includes a dancing bear
and other animals.
TW Levels 12-11
In Level 12, this area of the site was again levelled and rebuilt.
In this and the succeeding level, the archaeological materials
recovered were entirely of Southern Late Uruk types. We believe that
Brak was a true southern Mesopotamian colony at this time, and evidence
for metal- and flint-working reflects at least two of the local
products desired by the new inhabitants of the site. It is clear also
that wool was an important product, and the proportion of sheep/goat
rises to as much as 90% of the faunal material at this time.
Part of a large house was excavated, of which room 6 (centre) was a
flint-knapping area. Rooms 1-3 (on the west) may have been a row of
shops or work-rooms. The pipe drain at the south comes from an unknown
structure further to the east.
of Late Uruk level (12-11) (click to enlarge).
Late Uruk pottery types from Level 11.
Canaanean blade cores, the blades themselves and raw obsidian were
found in Room 6; this lump of obsidian weighed over 2 kg.
clay microblade-holder from a Late Uruk house proves that small
microlithic blades were still being manufactured at this time.