Late Chalcolithic

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.

Area CH

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
View of Area TW from the west.

Area TW

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 artefactsObsidian 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 importance.

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.

Level 20 architectureTW Level 20 plan (click to enlarge).
Level 20 architectureThe Level 20 Building, shown in the lower right of the plan to left.

TW Level 19

TW Level 19 PlanTW Level 19 plan.

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 place there.

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 courtyard.

Level 16 Destruction LayerDestruction layer of Level 16 building, c 3600 BC.
TW Level 16 Plan
TW Level 16 Plan (click to enlarge).
Level 16 BuildingsLevel 16 buildings, rooms 1 and 5-8 in the centre of the plan opposite.

Level 16 bead hoardLevel 16 bead hoard
Early Pictographic objectsEarly Pictographic objects
Level 18 OvenOne 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.

Level 13 pottery on sherd pavementSouthern and Northern ‘Middle Uruk’ pottery on a Level 13 sherd pavement.
Cylinder SealDrilled 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.

TW Level 12-11 planPlan of Late Uruk level (12-11) (click to enlarge).
Late Uruk PotterySouthern Late Uruk pottery types from Level 11.
Blade Core and Raw Obsidian
Large Canaanean blade cores, the blades themselves and raw obsidian were found in Room 6; this lump of obsidian weighed over 2 kg.
microblade holderThis clay microblade-holder from a Late Uruk house proves that small microlithic blades were still being manufactured at this time.