Samarra Culture {Mesopotamia Unit}

Samarra Culture

The Samarra culture is a prehistoric period of history which developed from the pottery neolithic era of the Natufians. There are three such cultures (Halaf, Sumarra and Ubaid), Halaf being the oldest.  These three cultures comprise the very beginnings of the Mesopotamian Civilisation which followed.

Read More: Natufian People – the very first known settled hunters and gatherers, who lived in the Levant region of Mesopotamia during the pre-pottery Neo-lithic Era

Dig Deeper: Learn how to make both the stamp seals and pottery of the Halaf Culture which predated the Samarra Culture. See if you can see the similarities and the developments in the creation of pottery through time.

Also, do check out my MEGA Mesopotamia Unit Study post to find out just where the Natufian people 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.

Where Was the Samarran Culture?

Although there is a modern day Islamic town called Samarra in Iraq, situated on the Tigris River just north of Bagdad, it is not this Samarra we will be studying. Instead, we will be looking at the prehistoric culture of Samaria. The Samarra Culture were some of the first people to move into Mesopotamia, living here between 5500 and 4800 BCE.

These people may have moved there, travelling south towards the basin of Mesopotamia, or they may have been foragers who began settling and farming.

As you can see from the map below, the Samarra Culture flourished further South than the Halaf Culture we studied last week. The Samarra Culture describes a time in history as well as a cultural ethnic group.

Samarra Culture on the Map

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Samarra Culture

The Samarran People

The Samarrans lived in large mud brick, T-shaped, multiroomed houses containing nooks and crevices. Otherwise known as niches and buttresses, these became characteristic of future Mesopotamian architecture. 

Each family had their own dwelling and each dwelling was much the same as the next. In this way, there seemed to be no signs of differing wealth, standing or segregation. The houses were build around a central courtyard.

The houses, built in close proximity to one another, formed a village. Being further south, there was less rainfall and so the Samarran people needed to harness water from the nearby rivers. These villages farmed and utilised planned irrigation channels to maximise crops.

This was the beginning of urban organisation and suggests that these villages were permanent settlements which prospered as a result of these agricultural advances. They grew wheat and barley.  Sheep and goats provided them with milk and wool, and they hunted wild gazelle, boar and fished.

The Pottery of the Samarra Culture

The pottery shards show a distinctive matt finish, decorated with animals, people and intricate geometric designs. This style of pottery was contemporary to the style of the Halaf Culture. Potters made their pots on a Tourette or slow wheel.

Read More: Learn all about the Halaf Culture and watch my video describing how to make coil pottery in the style of the Halaf Culture

One unusual characteristic of some Samarran pottery was the presence of marks which were possibly made by the potters themselves. This suggests that specific artisans created the pottery and that it may have been traded between cultural settlements.

The pottery suggests that the Samarra Culture was the forerunner for the later Ubaid Culture, which eventually led to the well known Sumerian Civilisation. This style of pottery was the first fairly uniform style and was found over a relatively widespread area. This supports the supposition that their pottery may have been traded, with or without contents, throughout the Fertile Crescent. This trade would have likely led to the sharing of design ideas and methods.

Other signs of trade include the presence of ovens, granaries and kilns and finding of stamp seals and limited stocks of copper.

How to Make Samarra Culture Pottery

I have made a video showing how to make a coiled pottery:

If you’d like to see how to paint it in the Samarra style then please do take a look at my video below:

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