Ubaid period
A clickable map of Iraq detailing important sites that were occupied during the Ubaid period.
Geographical rangeNear East
Datesc. 5500 – c. 3700 BC
Type siteTell al-'Ubaid
Major sites
Preceded by
Followed by

The Ubaid period (c. 5500–3700 BC)[1] is a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia. The name derives from Tell al-'Ubaid where the earliest large excavation of Ubaid period material was conducted initially in 1919 by Henry Hall and later by Leonard Woolley.[2]

In South Mesopotamia the period is the earliest known period on the alluvial plain although it is likely earlier periods exist obscured under the alluvium.[3] In the south it has a very long duration between about 5500 and 3800 BC when it is replaced by the Uruk period.[1]

In Northern Mesopotamia the period runs only between about 5300 and 4300 BC.[1] It is preceded by the Halaf period and the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period and succeeded by the Late Chalcolithic period.

History of research

The term "Ubaid period" was coined at a conference in Baghdad in 1930, where at the same time the Jemdet Nasr and Uruk periods were defined.[4]

Dating, extent and periodization

The Ubaid period is divided into six phases, styles, and/or periods:

Ubaid 0-1

Ubaid 2

Ubaid 3

Ubaid 4

Ubaid 5

Influence to the north

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A map of the Near East depicting the approximate extent of the:
  Eridu culture
  Pre-Pottery Neolithic Site

Around 5000 BC, the Ubaid culture spread into northern Mesopotamia and was adopted by the Halaf culture.[18][19] This is known as the Halaf-Ubaid Transitional period of northern Mesopotamia.

During the late Ubaid period around 4500–4000 BC, there was some increase in social polarization, with central houses in the settlements becoming bigger. But there were no real cities until the later Uruk period.

Ubaid influence in the Persian Gulf area

During the Ubaid 2 and 3 periods (5500–5000 BC), southern Mesopotamian Ubaid influence is felt further to the south along the coast of the Persian Gulf. Kuwait was the central site of interaction between the peoples of Mesopotamia and Neolithic Eastern Arabia,[20][21][22][23][24] including Bahra 1 and site H3 in Subiya.[20][25][26][27] Ubaid artifacts spread also all along the Arabian littoral, showing the growth of a trading system that stretched from the Mediterranean coast through to Oman.[28][29]

Spreading from Eridu, the Ubaid culture extended from the Middle of the Tigris and Euphrates to the shores of the Persian Gulf, and then spread down past Bahrain to the copper deposits at Oman.

Obsidian trade

A map of the Near East showing various prehistoric and ancient sites that may have been inhabited c. 5900 – c. 4300 BC.

Starting around 5500 BC, Ubaid pottery of periods 2 and 3 has been documented at site H3 in Kuwait and in Dosariyah in eastern Saudi Arabia.

In Dosariyah, nine samples of Ubaid-associated obsidian were analyzed. They came from eastern and northeastern Anatolia, such as from Pasinler, Erzurum, as well as from Armenia. The obsidian was in the form of finished blade fragments.[30]

Decline of influence

The archaeological record shows that Arabian Bifacial/Ubaid period came to an abrupt end in eastern Arabia and the Oman peninsula at 3800 BC, just after the phase of lake lowering and onset of dune reactivation.[31] At this time, increased aridity led to an end in semi-desert nomadism, and there is no evidence of human presence in the area for approximately 1,000 years, the so-called "Dark Millennium".[32] The increased aridity might have been due to the 5.9 kiloyear event at the end of the Older Peron.[31]

Numerous examples of Ubaid pottery have been found along the Persian Gulf, as far as Dilmun, where Indus Valley civilization pottery has also been found.[33]


Large buildings, implying centralized government, started to be made. Eridu Temple, final Ubaid.

Ubaid culture is characterized by large unwalled village settlements, multi-roomed rectangular mud-brick houses and the appearance of the first temples of public architecture in Mesopotamia, with a growth of a two tier settlement hierarchy of centralized large sites of more than 10 hectares surrounded by smaller village sites of less than 1 hectare. Domestic equipment included a distinctive fine quality buff or greenish colored pottery decorated with geometric designs in brown or black paint. Tools such as sickles were often made of hard fired clay in the south, while in the north stone and sometimes metal were used. Villages thus contained specialised craftspeople, potters, weavers and metalworkers, although the bulk of the population were agricultural labourers, farmers and seasonal pastoralists.

During the Ubaid Period (5000–4000 BC), the movement towards urbanization began. "Agriculture and animal husbandry [domestication] were widely practiced in sedentary communities".[34] There were also tribes that practiced domesticating animals as far north as Turkey, and as far south as the Zagros Mountains.[34] The Ubaid period in the south was associated with intensive irrigated hydraulic agriculture, and the use of the plough, both introduced from the north, possibly through the earlier Choga Mami, Hadji Muhammed and Samarra cultures.


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A map of the Near East detailing the expansion of the Ubaid culture from southern to northern Mesopotamia c. 5400 – c. 4000 BC.

The Ubaid period as a whole, based upon the analysis of grave goods, was one of increasingly polarized social stratification and decreasing egalitarianism. Bogucki describes this as a phase of "Trans-egalitarian" competitive households, in which some fall behind as a result of downward social mobility. Morton Fried and Elman Service have hypothesised that Ubaid culture saw the rise of an elite class of hereditary chieftains, perhaps heads of kin groups linked in some way to the administration of the temple shrines and their granaries, responsible for mediating intra-group conflict and maintaining social order. It would seem that various collective methods, perhaps instances of what Thorkild Jacobsen called primitive democracy, in which disputes were previously resolved through a council of one's peers, were no longer sufficient for the needs of the local community.

Ubaid culture originated in the south, but still has clear connections to earlier cultures in the region of middle Iraq. The appearance of the Ubaid folk has sometimes been linked to the so-called Sumerian problem, related to the origins of Sumerian civilisation. Whatever the ethnic origins of this group, this culture saw for the first time a clear tripartite social division between intensive subsistence peasant farmers, with crops and animals coming from the north, tent-dwelling nomadic pastoralists dependent upon their herds, and hunter-fisher folk of the Arabian littoral, living in reed huts.

Stein and Özbal describe the Near East oecumene that resulted from Ubaid expansion, contrasting it to the colonial expansionism of the later Uruk period. "A contextual analysis comparing different regions shows that the Ubaid expansion took place largely through the peaceful spread of an ideology, leading to the formation of numerous new indigenous identities that appropriated and transformed superficial elements of Ubaid material culture into locally distinct expressions."[35]

The earliest evidence for sailing has been found in Kuwait indicating that sailing was known by the Ubaid 3 period.[9]

There is some evidence of warfare during the Ubaid period although it is extremely rare. The "Burnt Village" at Tell Sabi Abyad could be suggestive of destruction during war but it could also have been due to other causes, such as wildfire or accident. Ritual burning is also possible since the bodies inside were already dead by the time they were burned. A mass grave at Tepe Gawra contained 24 bodies apparently buried without any funeral rituals, possibly indicating it was a mass grave from violence. Copper weapons were also present in the form of arrow heads and sling bullets, although these could have been used for other purpose; two clay pots recovered from the era have decorations showing arrows used for the purpose of hunting. A copper axe head was made in the late Ubaid period, which could have been a tool or a weapon.[36]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Carter 2006a, p. 2: "Radiometric data suggest that the whole Southern Mesopotamian Ubaid period, including Ubaid 0 and 5, is of immense duration, spanning nearly three millennia from about 6500 to 3800 B.C."
  2. ^ Hall & Woolley 1927.
  3. ^ Adams Jr. & Wright 1989.
  4. ^ Matthews 2002, pp. 1–7.
  5. ^ a b c d e Kuhrt 1995, p. 22.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Carter 2006a, pp. 1–22.
  7. ^ Roux 1966.
  8. ^ Wittfogel 2010.
  9. ^ a b Carter 2006b.
  10. ^ Ashkanani et al. 2019.
  11. ^ Raux 1989d.
  12. ^ Raux 1989a.
  13. ^ Raux 1989c.
  14. ^ Raux 1932d.
  15. ^ Raux 1931.
  16. ^ Raux 1932a.
  17. ^ Raux 1932b.
  18. ^ Pollock & Bernbeck 2009, p. 190.
  19. ^ Akkermans 2003, p. 157.
  20. ^ a b Carter, Robert (2019). "The Mesopotamian frontier of the Arabian Neolithic: A cultural borderland of the sixth–fifth millennia BC". Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy. 31 (1): 69–85. doi:10.1111/aae.12145.
  21. ^ Carter, Robert (25 October 2010). Maritime Interactions in the Arabian Neolithic: The Evidence from H3, As-Sabiyah, an Ubaid-Related Site in Kuwait. BRILL. ISBN 9789004163591.
  22. ^ Carter, Robert (2006). "Boat remains and maritime trade in the Persian Gulf during the sixth and fifth millennia BC" (PDF). Antiquity. 80 (307): 52–63. doi:10.1017/s0003598x0009325x.
  23. ^ Carter, Robert. "Maritime Interactions in the Arabian Neolithic: The Evidence from H3, As-Sabiyah, an Ubaid-Related Site in Kuwait".
  24. ^ "How Kuwaitis lived more than 8,000 years ago". Kuwait Times. 2014-11-25.
  25. ^ Carter, Robert (2002). "Ubaid-period boat remains from As-Sabiyah: excavations by the British Archaeological Expedition to Kuwait". Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies. 32: 13–30. JSTOR 41223721.
  26. ^ Carter, Robert; Philip, Graham. "Beyond the Ubaid: Transformation and integration in the late prehistoric societies of the Middle East" (PDF).
  27. ^ "PAM 22". pcma.uw.edu.pl.
  28. ^ Bibby 2008.
  29. ^ Crawford 1998.
  30. ^ Khalidi & Gratuze 2016.
  31. ^ a b Parker et al. 2017.
  32. ^ Uerpmann 2003, pp. 74–81.
  33. ^ Stiebing Jr. 2016, p. 85.
  34. ^ a b Pollock 1999.
  35. ^ Stein & Özbal 2006.
  36. ^ Hamblin, William J. (2006). Warfare in the ancient Near East to 1600 BC: Holy warriors at the dawn of history. Routledge. p. 28-29.
  37. ^ Raux 1932c.
  38. ^ Charvát 2002, p. 96.
  39. ^ Brown & Feldman 2013, p. 304.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]