Reference Entry

Sawwan, Tell es-

Joan Oates

in Oxford Art Online


Published online January 2003 | e-ISBN: 9781884446054 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T076272

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[Arab. Tall Sawwan]

Ancient Mesopotamian site just south of modern Samarraا in Iraq. Tell es-Sawwan flourished in the 6th millennium bc and is noted for its prehistoric cemetery with unique alabaster grave goods. It was excavated by the Directorate-General of Antiquities, Baghdad (1964–72), and the objects are all in the Iraq Museum, Baghdad. Five archaeological levels have been identified, the third dated by radiocarbon to the early 6th millennium bc. Several large buildings were found in the earliest two levels. For their relatively early date these were unusually large (c. 200 sq. m) and complex. However, their most important feature was the large number of shallow graves found beneath them. Although over half of these were infant burials, a significant proportion contained adults or adolescents.

All the graves contained comparable objects: a variety of extraordinary ground stone pieces, including alabaster female figurines unique to the site, together with beautifully worked vessels of the same material, usually two or three objects in each grave. The figurines vary in height from 50 to 120 mm. Most are standing squat females, often with bitumen wigs and inlaid shell eyes, a style that presages later Sumerian sculpture. Occasionally they wear necklaces of imported exotic stone such as turquoise. The alabaster vessels, in a variety of shapes including anthropomorphic forms, were carved with an extraordinarily sensitive use of the natural graining of the stone, producing objects of great inherent beauty. Perhaps the most striking is a simple cup, with human legs subtly carved at the sides. The pottery associated with the earliest level is apparently undecorated, but from level III onwards the style is classical Samarran (...

Reference Entry.  565 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Art ; Prehistoric Art ; Art of the Middle East and North Africa

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