The Tell Billah Expedition

Originally Published in 1931

View PDF

THE painted pottery of the Hurrian period continues to hold the center of interest at Tell Billah. As Dr. Speiser points out in his last report, this is not due solely to the fact that painted ware of the second millennium B.C. is so far unique in Iraq. Quite as much is it because of the intrinsic beauty of the decoration and the fineness of the ware itself. The scheme of decoration is usually red or bistre on a buff background, or black on a creamy surface. The latter is particularly reminiscent of Anatolia, which is not surprising in view of the fact that the Hurrians are known to have been the eastern neighbors of the Hittites. Dr. Speiser thinks, indeed, that there is no longer any doubt that the Hurrians formed the main bridge between the Aegean and the Mesopotamian worlds of the second millennium.

Three cups pieced together from pieces, with painted organic patterns on them
Plate II — Hurrian Pottery from Tell Billah, Iraq

Three examples of this pottery are shown in Plate II. Among the more prominent designs which have been found are ibexes, herons and flying geese, spirals, and other geometric figures. The pattern is frequently as complicated as that of a rare Oriental rug. Such objects-of a ware barely two millimetres in thickness and adorned with designs frequently bewilderingly involved-can only have been made by a people who had an instinctive sense of beauty and an uncommon mastery of technical detail.

The pottery, however, has not been the exclusive reward for the excavations of recent weeks. A variety of tombs have been discovered in the upper layers of what is known as Area III. Some of the burials are in tombs made entirely of stone with a floor of baked brick; other tombs are constructed wholly of sun-dried brick from floor to roof, the roofs being sometimes flat and sometimes tent-shaped; while a third type of burial was made merely in large urns or jars, or in pairs of them with the openings facing one another. The periods of these three types vary from Hurrian to Achaemenian, that is, from the middle of the second to the middle of the first millennium B.C. Their contents are naturally far from uniform, but nearly always there is at least a jug or a bowl to accompany the deceased. One tomb had a splendid string of beads; among them was a little amulet in the shape of an opened hand, a miniature swan, and a small lion with an incised decoration. In another tomb, of the Achemenian period, were two very fine blue-glazed jugs, both with little lug handles and both perfectly preserved.

Cite This Article

"The Tell Billah Expedition." Museum Bulletin II, no. 5 (March, 1931): 142-146. Accessed May 26, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

Report problems and issues to