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Hamoukar is a large archaeological site located in the Jazira region of northeastern Syria near the Iraqi border (Al Hasakah Governorate) and Turkey. The Excavations have shown that this site houses the remains of one of the world’s oldest known cities, leading scholars to believe that cities in this part of the world emerged much earlier than previously thought.

Traditionally, the origins of urban developments in this part of the world have been sought in the riverine societies of southern Mesopotamia (in what is now southern Iraq). This is the area of ancient Sumer, where around 4000 BC many of the famous Mesopotamian cities such as Ur and Uruk emerged, giving this region the attributes of “Cradle of Civilization” and “Heartland of Cities.” Following the discoveries at Hamoukar, this definition may have to extended further up the Tigris River to include that part of northern Syria where Hamoukar is located.

This archaeological discovery suggests that civilizations advanced enough to reach the size and organizational structure that was necessary to be considered a city could have actually emerged before the advent of a written language. Previously it was believed that a system of written language was a necessary predecessor of that type of complex city. Most importantly, archaeologists believe this apparent city was thriving as far back as 4000 BC and independently from Sumer. Until now, the oldest cities with developed seals and writing were thought to be Sumerian Uruk and Ubaid in Mesopotamia, which would be in the southern one-third of Iraq today.

The discovery at Hamoukar indicates that some of the fundamental ideas behind cities — including specialization of labor, a system of laws and government, and artistic development — may have begun earlier than was previously believed. The fact that this discovery is such a large city is what is most exciting to archaeologists. While they have found small villages and individual pieces that date much farther back than Hamoukar, nothing can quite compare to the discovery of this size and magnitude. Discoveries have been made here that have never been seen before, including materials from Hellenistic and Islamic civilizations.

Excavation work undertaken in 2005 and 2006 has shown that this city was destroyed by warfare by around 3500 BC., before writing was even invented, probably the earliest urban warfare attested so far in the archaeological record of the Near East. Contiuned excavations in 2008 and 2010 expand on that.

They were assaulted by a force armed with slingshots and clay balls. The attackers, possibly from a city named Uruk and perhaps motivated by Hamoukar’s access to copper, succeeded in taking the city, destroying part of it through fire.

Eye Idols made of alabaster or bone have been found in Tell Hamoukar. The eye is a recurrent and symbolic motif in the art forms from the pre-dynastic to neo-assyrian periods. However it is not possible to decide whether it is a decorative, magical or religious talisman. Eye symbols are found in nearly all ancient cultures, from the far flung corners of the globe. The emphasis of the all seeing eye, seems to portray in nearly all cultures, a sign of divinity and holiness.

The image of an eye has always been a powerful amulet in Mesopotamia and thousands of these eye idols, schematised humanoid figures have been found in and around the now called ‘Eye Temple’ at Tell Brak, the biggest settlement from Syria’s Late Chalcolithic period, dating to the late Uruk period.

These anthropomorphic lithic sculptures are fashioned from various materials, such as lime stone, soap stone, alabaster and baked clay. The simplest form of these graven images, is a flat trapezoid body, with a thin elongated neck, supporting an oversized pair of eyes. Other examples have multiple sets of eyes, some three eyes in a row, two pairs of eyes one above the other, and on occasions a smaller eye figure of a similar style is engraved within the trapezoid body. Family groups have also come to light. There are also more three dimensional versions which display a set of pierced eye forms on top of a conical body. This type are composed of natural stone and baked clay, and their broad bases enable them to stand upright unsupported.

Other eye talismans have been found depicting models of eyes cut into semi precious stones, these are known to date from Sumerian down to Neo-Assyrian periods. These artefacts are known as the ‘Eyes of Ningal’. The goddess Ningal was the wife of the god Nanna, also known as Sin and she was the mother of the sun god Shammash, who was worshiped at Ur. Her cult developed independently in Syria as early as the second millennium BC, where her name was changed to Nikkal. This form of her name was also used in Babylonia.

Other statuettes and figurines have been found, which depict worshipers, rather than Gods, looking into the heavens with wide staring eyes, at various other temple sites scattered across the Mesopotamian planes, throughout most periods. Although there is no evidence from any excavated materials that eye idols were made of perishable materials such as tamarisk wood, dough, bitumen or wax, this may have been done if the eye idols were votive offerings. However this practice is documented in cylinder seals and ritual inscriptions for other votive objects at other temple sites.

Note that eye idols of the form shown in figure 4 (below), would appear to display the horned cap denoting divinity. This form of head gear is seen on god figures from the early third millennium BC onwards. Originally it was a general indication of a divine status, its use as a symbol of a particular major deity was never consistent. The Kassite kudurrus contains an inscription that names this symbol as that of the supreme God Anu (An). However in Neo-Assyrian art it was transferred to the new national God Assur.

The style of the devine cap has changed from time to time according to fashion, it could be domed or flat topped as in the below examples, or may be depicted trimmed with feathers, surmounted by a knob or a fleur-de-lys. Caps today still seem to represent holiness and divinity, still worn by the pope and the cardinals of Rome, the Jewish scull cap and the turban, which are all modern day examples. It is hard to argue that they are not connected in some way to antiquity and mythology.

The basic iconography of the horned cap of divinity may be  linked to the Bull of heaven the destroyer of worlds (a mythological Titan, given to ishtar/inanna by her father the great god Anu/An). Read “the epic of gilgamesh” for more details. Or linked to Bos primigenius (a wild species of beast) that roamed the planes of Mesopotamia, standing six feet at the shoulder, with enormous horns, hunted by the Assyrian Kings is probably where the mythology of the heavenly Bull first originated, also ‘the zodiac sign Torus’ ? the Apis Bull of Egyptian mythology.

There are no concrete theories as to the purpose of the eye temple and the reason for the numerous graven eye images that were found there and therefore they appeal to a very broad section of mankind. Some because they collect antiquities, some because they believe that these idols may be indicative of alien activity on the earth in ancient times

It is clear why collectors of antiquities, especially those whose interest is centred around the cradle of civilisation would like to have a decent specimen for their collection as they are truly both fascinating and mysterious.

In the eyes of a forger, they appear to be easy to manufacture and as they exchange hands for quite sizable sums in the ebay community. But there seems to be a big problem! I have spoken to the BM regarding eye idols. The man there told me that as far as he was aware, these idols did not come with the horned cap of divinty. The reason why there are so many idols with hair dos or caps of divinity presenting to the market is any ones guess.

Tell Hamoukar

Artifacts from Hamoukar

The Eye Idols of Tell Brak


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