Teacher: Hi, welcome to the Art of the Ancient Near East. Now first I want you to just imagine it's a nice sunny day in Mesopotamia around 883 to 859 bc



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Section 1

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TEACHER: Hi, welcome to the Art of the Ancient Near East. Now first I want you to just imagine it's a nice sunny day in Mesopotamia around 883 to 859 BC. You and your family are just having a sightseeing time, walking, and you come upon a city gate that is guarded by this fellow. Now would you feel welcome into this city?

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Would you feel a little fearful? Would you be tempted to run up to this creature and jump on his back and say look at me, look at me? Hm, I don't know. Let's find out a little bit more about this figure and see if that would be a good idea or not. OK, this figure is known as a human-headed winged lion. It is colossal.

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It stands 10 feet, 3 1/2 inches tall. Its purpose was to let all who passed by know who was in charge. It symbolized the strength of the ruler it depicted, and the intention was to inspire civic pride, as well as fear. Something tells me that people didn't run up to it and jump up and down and say look at me, look at me. I don't think I would.

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What did these ancient people have to be prideful about? In order to understand this pride, we must take a look at the ancient Near East. The Art of the Ancient Near East, rather. All right, today's objectives are to be able to explain the development of the Fertile Crescent, list the types of art that flourished in the early cities, list some of the firsts achieved

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by the Sumerians, and explain some of the types of art that demonstrate the high level of sophistication by the Persians. Key terms you'll want to know today are Fertile Crescent, pottery kilns, cuneiform, stylus, cylinder, Code of Hammurabi, Persians, ornamented weapons, and refined coinage. Now, in order to understand the art of ancient Near East,

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we have to understand the geography of the Fertile Crescent. Notice this is the Fertile Crescent. I want you to look at that on the map and think about the word fertile. Why would they call this area the Fertile Crescent? Well, first of all, you notice you have one river on this side, right here, the Tigris

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River, and the Euphrates on this side. This lovely land had a waterflow right through the whole area. What do we know about that? Well, if crops have plenty of water, then they produce plenty of vegetation. So it's known as the Fertile Crescent. That's a positive of having all that water. What a negative?

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Well, with all of this water, sometimes the area would be flooded. And that posed a problem for these people of this area, because they'd either have too much water or enough to have crops that we're producing good fruit, but then they would flood and that would be bad. So it allowed them to water the crops, yet flooded periodically.

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This dynamic created a need for a system of water management, and it may have contributed to the development of the first cities. Because they needed a system of water management, more people came in to help fix it, and the area began to prosper as cities. It seems between 4000 and 3000 BCE, a major cultural shift takes place.

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These agricultural village-- agricultural just means they grew their own crops-- turned into prosperous cities with developed specialized skills. What kind of specialized skills? Well, we notice they had grain mills propping up, they had actual ovens to bake in, pottery kilns-- that's where they made their pots-- textile and metal workshops, and all of this, of course, pointed to increased trade.

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Increased trade means we have things coming in from all different countries and leaving this area. It was one happening place. But let's look at this place's art. First we're going to look at sculptures. Notice the mask above on the left. This first mask was actually life sized and represents a goddess.

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It is thought to have been attached to a wooden head on a full sized wooden body. In its day, it actually held paint and a golden wig, and inlaid brows eyes, probably some jewels. Those eyes were probably jewels. In its day, it was one beautiful piece of artwork. But even without the accessories, it's still very impressive.

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The middle sculpture was made of bronze, and it's the earliest major work of hollow cast copper sculpture known in ancient Near East. The enormous curling beard-- notice the curlng beard-- and the braided hair in the back actually indicate that it was either a royal person or just the ideal male appearance at that time. He must have been Mr. GQ, for sure.

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OK, to the right we see votives. Let me just write that in there-- votives figures. They are limestone statues that date from 2900 to 2600 BCE. They are dedicated to the gods and represent an early example of ancient Near East religious practice. The traditional ways Sumerians represented forms was with simplified faces and bodies with clothing that emphasized their cylindrical shape.

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So cylindrical-- a cylinder looks like this right here. So these are very cylindrical. Notice, too, that they have their hands in a very reverent way. Their eyes are just huge and bulging, which actually they did on purpose, because they wanted to communicate that whenever one was looking towards the gods, they

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needed to have their eyes open and ready. The importance of the God with an intense-- of staring at the god with the attentive gaze is how they put it. But notice the men are bare chested, the women are wearing dresses. And that those were called votives. On to textiles.

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Now, it's hard to have actual textiles that were spared from this time, so this is actually just a relief of a woman who is spinning yarn or thread. Now, a relief is just a shallow carving or a shallow sculpture into a rock or a wall. So this relief depicts a woman creating thread. Now one thing that we need to understand about creating the thread, or textile production,

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is this very, very difficult and complex production. They first had to gather the fibers, clean the fivers, combine and sort the fibers, and then they had to spin those fibers into to the thread. And we see here, she's doing that. So once they had the thread, then they had to take the thread and weave it into the fabric that they needed on a loom.

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Early fiber artists depended on the natural colors of the materials and the natural dyes from the earth or the ochres. They couldn't run down to Walmart and buy some dye to put into their thread. They had to just rely on what they had around them. This is very complex way of making textiles. It was usually a woman's job, but notice

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this being a very smart women, she has at least a fish in the basket beside her. She might-- if she gets hungry, she'll be able to have a little midday snack. Gotta love all of that work they did for textiles. Sumerian achievements, let's talk about these. Those Sumerians were quite the achievers. They were the first to have a written language.

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And if you look here, it's a clay tablet with pressed images. It's known as cuneiform. The Sumerians would use a stylus, right here, to press them into the clay tablet to communicate. Now in the very beginning, the whole purpose of this cuneiform was to have a record of business transactions. If someone bought a metal-- oh, I don't know-- sword,

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and they had to pay for it, this was a way for them to keep track of who paid what, who traded this, and who traded that. So that's how they would keep track of business records. Well, so smart were they it just developed. The earliest writing was more of a pictograph or a crude picture of an item. Later, writing evolved into more symbols and lines.

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So earliest of cuneiform with more symbols, and then later on it became more lines and arrows. Let me give you an example. A pictograph from 3100 BCE of a bull's head originally looked like this. They kind of tried to make it look like a bull's head and he has horns. There we go.

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So that was in the 3100 BCE, but as the cuneiform developed and evolved, they had more simple ways of drawing the bull. And so let me attempt to do this. Of course, my stylus-- notice, stylus-- thank you, Sumerians, is a little different. And, of course, the computer screen is a little different than ancient clay tablets.

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But we'll just attempt it here. Again, this is the symbol for bull in a little more sophisticated cuneiform writing. To lines going that way with a little triangle, a line coming up here with a triangle on the top, and these two little dudes right here. So this meant bullt in 3100 and this means bull in 700. So you see that it did evolve.

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From pictographs right here to more just symbols over here. One last thing we want to look at for Sumerian achievement is a cylinder seal. Wow, they were just so smart. They developed a sealed of identifying documents and establishing property ownership by 3300 to 3100 BCE. Record keepers redesigned the stamp seal as a cylinder. So, instead of just having a stamp that they stamped,

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now they could have a cylinder where they could kind of roll it onto the clay to make this image appear. When rolled across the clay and applied to the closure that was to be sealed, an impression was left. This ensured that no unauthorized person could open that-- whatever was being sealed. So if it was tampered with, it would be kind of messed up, and they would know-- hey, who's been getting get my package?

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So that is Sumerian achievements. Onto the Persian achievements. Wow, the Stele of Hammurabi. It was carved in diorite, a very, very hard substance, and stands approximately 7 feet tall. Here you can see it's a very tall piece of work. Now if you look at the top= of this form, you'll notice that there's a man standing right here.

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That's supposed to be a Hammurabi. That's Hammurabi, and this image right here, the gentleman sitting is actually Shamash, the sun god. So supposedly, Hammurabi went and talked to the sun god, and the sun god gave him laws. And it's hard to see here, but this whole area of this piece of artwork is actually the laws written in cuneiform and engraved

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into this piece of diorite. And right here you can see a little bit better, the cuneiform. They're the laws, and those Persians, they were pretty smart, because this is the first recorded laws of this kind, and it's known as the Code of Hammurabi. The laws flow in a horizontal engraved cuneiform fashion. So if you wanted to know if it was against the law

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to do something, you could walk up there and say, oh, I better not do that. Oh, that one would get me in big trouble. So Hammurabi was pretty smart in developing this idea. The Persians-- now they're known for the level of sophistication in their artwork. If you notice these two bracelets right here, there's an image that's formed.

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Nice little detail-- if we could get a little closer shot, you'd notice there's a very intricate design. Over here to the right, notice they actually created coins. And coins served two purposes-- you could actually use it to buy things, but also, the images on the coins were images of the rulers. So you could buy something and you could say, hey, this is money from my area, this is my ruler.

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So kind of an advertisement saying, we're wealthy and this is my ruler. Very, very impressive. They had been paying with gold and different items like that for a long time, but at this point, they actually measured out a certain amount of gold, impressed upon it the figures, and used it. So very, very impressive-- refined coinage.

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Now, the picture below has several purposes. First of all, we're going to look at the ornamental weapons. They weren't carving rocks into stones to be a weapon anymore. They were actually-- by this time the Bronze Age has happened, they have the alloy. Alloyed steel is a very, very hard substance, so they could actually make weapons that were a little bit more decorative and .

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Sophisticated you can't see it very well, but they have this shields and the swords here. And this piece of artwork, a relief, carved on the wall, shows the strength of the defenders of the wall of the kingdom. It also shows that these defenders are fearless. Notice the lions coming up to attack them. They're just standing there strong,

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with their ornamental weapons that are decorative. The ruler of that time was very smart in having this artwork put there to show that hey, I have defenders that are strong, that are not fearful. Even a lion could be attacking and they're still standing strong. Very, very impressive for those Persians. All right, let's take a look at the objectives

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we've covered today. First we explained the development of the Fertile Crescent, listed the types of art that flourished in the early cities, listed some of the firsts achieved by the Sumerians-- love the stylus-- and explained some of the types of art that demonstrated the high level of sophistication by those Persians.

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With those claims and all, and lovely jewelry. Now I'll leave you with this last image. Now you know why this winged creature stood so proud and defended its city gates. The art produced in these ancient cities was truly remarkable. Surely the people of the ancient Near East had something to be proud of.


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