The cone mosaics of Urek are thought to be some of the earliest examples of mosaic art in the world. This post will cover what they are, how they were produced and why. It will culminate in a video showing you how to make your own from polymer clay.
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What Are Cone Mosaics?
The cone mosaics of Urek are a very early example of architectural enrichment. Instead of the usual square coloured tesserae, cone mosaics as the name suggests tend to have a circular face. However, occasionally they are also found with different shapes such as an elongated or hollow face.
These cones are painted red, black or white and pushed into wet clay or plaster to create decorative geometric mosaic patterns.
Where Are They Found?
Originating in Southern Mesopotamia between 3300 BC and 3000 BC, they have been found on the walls and pillars of buildings in Urek, Ur, Eridu and, also, Habuba Kabila in modern day Syria.
Read More: Check out my MEGA Mesopotamia Unit Study post to find out just where Proto-cuneiform fit into the history of Mesopotamia. This huge post has lots of printable, videos, science experiments and, as always, stacks of suggestions for easy hands on activities you can do with your children! I am always adding new stuff to this post so do go and check it out.
How Are They Made?
The cone tesserae are made from oven baked clay or stone. These cones are about 10cm long with round heads which are painted either with black or red paint or left buff. No other colours have been found.
Once baked, cone mosaics are considerable harder than their sun baked cousins. The Sumerian builders coated the wall with thick layer of wet plaster. They then pushed the cones, pointed end first, into the plaster, ensuring they were embedded tightly together, forming a pattern.
The decorative patterns seem to replicate the geometric patterns found in wicker work, reed mats and other textiles. Patterns consisted of lozenges, triangles, straight lines and zigzag bands. These geometric patterns were often repeated over and over again. A dominant pattern, seen frequently, is a row of black triangles.
Why Were Cone Mosaics Made?
Cone mosaics seemed to have a duel function. First and foremost, they added a decorative touch to monumental mud brick religious and royal architecture. Consequently, this naturally marked these buildings as superior compared to regular mud brick houses.
Secondly, they were used as a protection against erosion. Because stone was not readily available to the Mesopotamians, they built with the material they found in abundance thanks to the rivers: clay. Most buildings were built of raw sun baked clay bricks. Unfortunately, clay bricks did not offer the same hardness as oven baked clay. Therefore, using the oven baked cones as a covering for the walls provided excellent protection against weathering.
Make Your Own
I have made a quick video showing you how to make your own cone mosaics using polymer clay and air dry clay: