Biblical Paleoarcheology

The Halaf Generation (G5)

Article #36

Several quality pottery styles took the world by storm. They were named after settlements in the Fertile Crescent, as seen on the map below: Tell Halaf, Tell Hassuna, and Samarra. These three types of pottery were so popular that they were adopted by surrounding localities. The reason why this happened is highly debated, but a Biblical explanation would include family ties and tribal traditions. Of these three, Halaf was by far the most widespread. “The most remarkable aspects of these cultures are their wide geographical coverage and their long-distance contacts. Keeping in mind the fact that these were small communities without any organization beyond the village level, the spread of a cultural assemblage such as that of Halaf from the central Zagros to the Mediterranean coast is astonishing.”(1) In other words, Halaf pottery was used throughout most of the Fertile Crescent, which is identified by the blue line below.

Secular archeology places great importance on pottery, since it’s one of the few keys it has to link sites together and create a chronology. Conventional history imagines that there were between 4 and 20 million people scattered across all the continents when a few of them came to the Middle East and invented pottery. After using stone for millions of years, this would have truly been revolutionary. A better explanation is that Noah’s children were very creative and were able to make pottery as soon as they found clay. Cayonu, for instance, didn’t have clay, so they built with stone there. Tell Halaf and Samarra had the right resources. Pottery breaks easily, so it was only desirable for people who lived in permanent settlements throughout the year. Migrating tribes did not use pottery until they settled. The map below depicts the care and detail that went in to decorating pottery in different regions.

In the fifth generation (G5 see chart below), the population would have grown to 24 thousand. Whereas in the third generation, almost everyone in the world was a sibling, first cousin, or second cousin of everyone else. Now, each one is only that closely related to 1% of the population. Most people are now strangers. They all spoke the same language, but they could only keep up with those close at hand. Tribes became distinguished by region. Family ties is the best explanation for the spread of regional pottery styles. Pottery is a way of mapping family ties.

How much do we really know about pottery? Sadly, great conclusions have been draw from limited facts. Most sites only have a small portion that is excavated or archeologists just examine what is lying on the surface. Much work remains unpublished or the interpretation may be contested. For instance, an entire Halaf village has never been excavated, even though it’s the key to an entire period. Very few sites really show a clear record of change over time, so the knowledge of many sites does not necessarily mean we have great certainty. The average person can’t get to the facts, which is why we need to make the facts more accessible.

The first thing thrown in our face is that the first settlements are dated to 9000 BC and pottery to 6000 BC, which are both before the Flood even happened. We’re expected to accept these dates without question and reject the Bible or adjust it accordingly. Carbon dating, however, is not conclusive, but that’s an entirely different discussion. When we forego rate-based dating methods, there is nothing else that prevents pottery from having begun almost immediately after the Flood. The key pottery sites do not have significant building layers without pottery. Many begin with pottery, and they are close to the Middle Euphrates where we believe Noah started farming. Tell Halaf, Tell Aqab, Tell Brak, Tell Arpachiya, Tepe Gawra, Tell Sotto, and Yarim Tepe all began with pottery. Tell Hassuna began as a campsite and then produced pottery, but it’s the exception.

The map below gives the impression that every settlement had pottery, but it is based on only a limited number of sites. Still, why would any town want to copy another town’s artwork instead of creating their own? The rapid spread of culture was truly amazing. The Bible explains the motivation. It tells us that they all spoke the same language and were closely related. As the world population grew, people feared losing touch with each other. Even before Babel happened, we see a desperate attempt to keep people from being scattered all over the world and losing touch. Genesis 11:4 says that the motivation of Babel was “lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” The Halaf pottery culture was a prelude to Babel.

As we begin looking at the second half of the first century after the Flood, archeology tells us that a revolutionary social change was about to take place, coming out of Southern Mesopotamia. A class system that privileged a rich ruling minority was going to break down the traditional family values that characterized the world up to then. The role model for all the tyrannical empires of the world was the city of Eridu, home of Ubaid pottery and the invasive Ubaid culture. Eridu was a real city, the first settlement large enough to be called a city, having influence over others in a way that has never been seen before. With religious zeal, the Ubaid model for economic success would transform traditional settlements into demoralizing walled urban centers filled with disease and the abuse of power.

Eridu had three phases of growth that are reflected, not only in its strata, but also in the extent of its growing influence on the world. The earliest phase, Ubaid I, was contemporary with the Halaf culture. Ubaid I became a local success through its use of irrigation for farming and its segregation of occupations under strong management. Archeologists are puzzled about where the people originated who caused its spectacular growth. The birth rate alone could not explain it. People from the north may have moved to join this new movement. At the same time, we don’t know why so many entire settlements in the North were suddenly abandoned. Where did they go? Some of them may have migrated down to join the building frenzy at the city of Eridu.

When the population grew beyond that of an extended family, people collected themselves together in regions, as seen by pottery styles. The central area of Halaf pottery was probably predominantly Semite, i.e., the sons of Shem. The desire to “fill the earth” was balanced by the desire to stay in contact with others. Tribes from the Zagros Mountains then found the plain of Shinar and transformed the immense dry land into an irrigation marvel with unlimited potential. The next phases of the Ubaid culture would bring God down from heaven and find their way into the pages of the Bible.

(1) A History of the Ancient Near East: ca. 3000-323 BC by Marc Van De Mieroop 2016 p. 15.

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