Since redundancy characterizes oral thought and speech, it is in a profound sense more natural
than is sparse linearity. Sparsely linear and analytical thought and speech is an artificial creation,
structured by the technology of writing.
— WALTER J. ONG, S.J.1
BEGINNING IN THE seventh millennium B.C., pottery painting became a major form of art in the ancient Near East. This chapter will show that a fundamental change in pottery painting compositions coincided with the invention of writing. Geometric designs or lines of repeated animal and human figures are typical of prehistoric painted potteries— before writing—whereas narrative scenes occur on Early Dynastic potteries — after writing. I credit writing for this change. By borrowing strategies of writing, art increased its capacity to communicate information and thus became narrative.
A description of the characteristics of preliterate pottery paintings will help place the discussion in context. Narrative compositions are practically nonexistent in preliterate Near Eastern pottery paintings. Among the exceedingly rare examples, Telul ethThalathat produced a singular Ubaid sherd (fig. 1.1) showing a calf following a cow (perhaps, in fact, a mere animal line),2 and a painting inside a Susa I bowl3 features a hunter sporting an impressive hairdo or headdress who aims his bow toward an ibex located on the other side of a set of sweeping broken lines (fig 1.2). Also, a Halaf vase from an unusual context at Arpachiyah4 displays a series of scenes. Inside, a frieze shows two women holding a quadrangular object next to an archer facing a ferocious