An ancient Mesopotamian vase
dating from the Late Uruk Period
, about 3500 BCE – 3300 BCE. This item was found in the city of Uruk
, which is in Southern Mesopotamia
. The city of Uruk
is also known by the Sumerian
name of Uru, the modern name of Warka
and the Biblical
name of Erech
Occupation of Uruk dates back to the early third millennium (roughly 4000 BCE). This vast site had 9.5 km walls surrounding it, and portions of the site lay outside the walls. The origins of urbanization are evident at this early site, and writing originated here during the Uruk Period, 4000 BCE – 3000 BCE. The site was excavated by an archaeologist named Lenzen in the 1950’s and 60’s.
The site has two main temple complexes, named Eanna and Kullaba. Kullaba was the first site of temples, and was dedicated to Anu, the god of the sky. The Eanna complex was dedicated to the goddess Inanna, who is later known as Ishtar. Ishtar is the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war, and is present in the Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian, and Babylonian cultures.
The vase itself is a 4 foot high limestone sculpture. Only one remains, but it is part of a pair. The pair is depicted on the vase itself, but only small fragments of the second one remain.
The layout consists of 4 registers, or horizontal strips of narrative artwork. The bottom register shows running water and growing plants, most likely wheat and grains. The next register shows livestock. This represents the Mesopotamian view of the natural ordering of plants and animals, at the lowest strata and only to serve humans.
The third register from the bottom shows nude figures carrying large jars and pots of food, grains, and beverages. In Mesopotamian artwork, there are two terms to describe unclothed figures. The term naked is used to denote unclothed slaves; nude is used to describe ritually pure, clean, unclothed people associated with the temple.
The top register presents the most interesting subject matter. Unfortunately, vital portions have been damaged. The scene depicts another nude presenting a seated woman with the offerings, on behalf of another figure.
The woman is believed to be Inanna for numerous reasons. First of all, this item came from the Eanna complex dedicated to Inanna. Secondly, behind the woman, two bundles of reeds are depicted. These reeds are known from other pieces of artwork and textual evidence to represent Inanna. Unfortunately, the woman’s headdress has been damaged and repaired in antiquity, obscuring a vital piece of information. In Mesopotamian art, the headdress signifies social standing, whether it be the horned headdress of a god or the special headgear of a king.
The important male figure is also damaged. He may have been damaged accidentally, or vengefully chiseled out. We know his importance for due to a few clues. First, he takes up more space than any other figure except the seated woman. Also, we see an attendant behind him, holding what seems to part of his robe. Finally, part of one leg remains. This reveals a netted robe. Not only is he the only dressed male, but in other artowrk of the period we see an important figure saluting gods, defeating enemies, killing animals, and always wearing the signature netted skirt. This is not always the same person, but represents an office, possibly kingship.