Tell Brak - Mesopotamian Capital in Syria

Northern Mesopotamian Center

Area TW at Tell Brak from the West
Tell Brak, Area TW from the West. Bertranz

Tell Brak is located in northeastern Syria, on one of the ancient major Mesopotamian routes from the Tigris river valley north to Anatolia, the Euphrates, and the Mediterranean Sea. The tell is one of the largest sites in northern Mesopotamia, covering an area of about 40 hectares and rising to a height of over 40 meters. In its heyday during the Late Chalcolithic period (4th millennium BC), the site covered an area of some 110-160 hectares (270-400 acres), with a population estimate of between 17,000 and 24,000.

Structures excavated by Max Mallowan in the 1930s include the Naram-Sin palace (built about 2250 BC), and the Eye Temple, called that because of the presence of eye idols. The most recent excavations, led by Joan Oates at the McDonald Institute at Cambridge University, have re-dated the Eye Temple to ca 3900 BC and identified even older components at the site. Tell Brak is now known to be one of the earliest urban sites in Mesopotamia, and thus the world.

Mud Brick Walls at Tell Brak

The earliest identified non-residential structure at Tell Brak is what must have been an enormous building, even though only a small portion of the room has been excavated. This building has a massive entrance way with a basalt door-sill and towers on either side. The building has red mud brick walls which are 1.85 meters (6 feet) thick, and even today stand 1.5 m (5 ft) tall. Radiocarbon dates have placed this structure securely between 4400 and 3900 BC.

A workshop of craft activities (flint-working, basalt grinding, mollusc shell inlay) has been identified at Tell Brak, as has a large building which contained mass-produced bowls and a unique obsidian and white marble chalice held together with bitumen. A large collection of stamp seals and so-called 'sling bullets' were also recovered here.

A 'feasting hall' at Tell Brak contains several very large ​hearths and a quantity of mass-produced plates.

Tell Brak's Suburbs

Surrounding the tell is an extensive zone of settlements covering an area of about 300 hectares, with evidence of use between the Ubaid period of Mesopotamia through the Islamic periods of the mid-first millennium AD.

Tell Brak is connected by ceramic and architectural similarities to other sites in Northern Mesopotamia such as Tepe Gawra and Hamoukar.

Sources

This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to Mesopotamia , and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Charles M, Pessin H, and Hald MM. 2010. Tolerating change at Late Chalcolithic Tell Brak: responses of an early urban society to an uncertain climate. Environmental Archaeology 15:183-198.

Oates, Joan, Augusta McMahon, Philip Karsgaard, Salam Al Quntar and Jason Ur. 2007. Early Mesopotamian urbanism: A new view from the north. Antiquity 81:585-600.

Lawler, Andrew. 2006. North Versus South, Mesopotamian Style. Science 312(5779):1458-1463

Also, see the Tell Brak home page at Cambridge for more information.