From Art of the Ancient Near East

Does the painting on this 12-inch-high vase, dating around 2800 B.C., show a hunt? Or possibly preparations for a sacrifice? Although we cannot “read” the scene, it does present some kind of narrative—and that was a revolutionary development in the Near East. For thousands of years vases were only decorated with geometric or animal designs; then, in the early third millennium B.C., artisans began producing vase paintings with narrative scenes. Why then? Author Denise Schmandt-Besserat suggests that they learned the tricks of the trade from early cuneiform writing. (This scarlet ware vase, found in central Iraq, is part of the Baghdad Museum’s collection. According to Zainad Bahrani, a senior consultant to the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, its location is now unknown.)