Luca Volpi

Title:The “Ubaid” pottery in a regional perspective. Proposals for a re-evaluation of the pottery repertoire of central-southern Mesopotamia and for the identification of pottery regional groups within the “black-on-buff horizon” between the VI and the V millennium BC.

University: Sapienza University, Rome

Supervisor: Prof. Davide Nadali


The work aims to analyse in detail the phenomenon known as the “Ubaid phenomenon”‘ or “Black-on-buff phenomenon”, characterised by the diffusion of some shared formal traits over a wide geographical area including the entire “Greater Mesopotamia” between the Early and Middle Chalcolithic periods (late 7th – 5th Mill. BC). Specifically, the focus is the analysis of the ceramic repertoire, ubiquitous and present in large quantities, through which it is possible to investigate similarities and differences between different areas of Greater Mesopotamia. The study follows a pyramidal logic, starting from the top (representing the in-depth study of a limited repertoire) and widening the perspective to the base (representing the “Black-on-buff” repertoire of the Greater Mesopotamian regions), and was conducted through four consecutive steps: 1) the morphological, technological and decorative-based study of the ceramic repertoire being excavated from the site of Tell Zurghul (Lagash region) in southern Mesopotamia. 2) The analysis of the repertoire of the entire central-southern Mesopotamia undertaken on the basis of available publications and of a selection of repertoires analysed directly by the author from the sites of Tell al-Muqayyar – Ur, Warka – Uruk, Tell al-Ubaid, Nuffar – Nippur and Qal’at Hajji Muhammad. 3) The first-hand analysis of the published and unpublished ceramic repertory from the site of Tepe Gawra, considered as the key-site of the northern Mesopotamian region, with the aim of investigating the characteristic and distinctive local features of the ceramic repertoire of northern Mesopotamia in comparison with the central-southern Mesopotamia. 4) Once established the possibility of identifying local distinctive traits at morphological, technological and decorative level within the “Black-on-buff” repertoires of the Greater Mesopotamia regions, the repertoires of the Hamrin region, Iraqi Kurdistan, Jezirah and the Khabur area, the Balikh area, the Middle Euphrates area of Syria and the area of north-western Syria and south-eastern Anatolia have been analysed on the basis of the published data of selected key-sites. As regards central-southern Mesopotamia, the research led to a complete study of the “Ubaid” pottery found at Tell Zurghul, to a reassessment of the contexts and coeval ceramic repertories currently known for the sites in the region, and to an updated periodization of the ceramic repertories based on morphological aspects. As regards the other regions of “Greater Mesopotamia”, the study outlined the existence of a number of “ceramic regions” with distinctive local characters (morphological, technological and/or decorative) that differentiate these assemblages from the one of central-southern Mesopotamia.

Keywords: Ubaid pottery, “Black-on-buff” pottery, ceramic regions, Greater Mesopotamia, Early and Middle Chalcolithic periods, Prehistory  of ANE