SUMER: FROM THE BEGINNINGS OF ART TO THE END OF THE EARLY DYNASTIC PERIOD
Civilisation began in the Euphrates delta. It has already been explained how the very limitations of that country led to the development of urban life and to foreign trade; the wealth and leisure, and the differentiation of classes that resulted, made of lower Mesopotamia a natural forcing-bed of art.
THE AL 'UBAID PERIOD
The earliest settlers were possessed of a neolithic culture of no mean order. As farmers, they were breeders of domestic cattle and growers of domesticated grain; their pottery was excellent, and their handmodelled clay figurines, the only free works of art of the period that are known to us, have distinct merit. The figures, nearly always nude female figures, are very carefully made and highly finished; the bodies, subject to certain conventions, such as the marked angularity of the shoulders, are realistic, whereas the heads, with their high headdresses of bitumen, are more reptilian than human, a quality which is perhaps due to the artist's lack of skill, but may equally well have been intentional.
These minor arts are characteristic of the al 'Ubaid period only and, so far as we can see, had no direct influence upon later ages, though they do bear witness to an artistic sense without which Sumerian art would not have come to fruition. It was to architecture that the al 'Ubaid people made an immediate and a lasting contribution.
In a land with no stone and no hard timber the only building materials supplied by nature were mud and reeds. Such might seem a poor basis for a school of architecture. The immigrants into the delta appear to have brought with them the knowledge of the making of mud bricks1 -- crude mud bricks were used for the earliest of the sixteen superimposed al 'Ubaid temples excavated at Eridu -- and had they employed only those they might well never have progressed beyond the primitive hut. But a nimble-minded people took advantage of the immensely tall and stout reeds that cover the Mesopotamian marshlands, and most of their building was done with those. Of this there is no doubt. In the Sumerian legend of Gilgamesh the hero lives in a reed house: remains of reed houses were found at Ur below