Theses Doctoral

Embodiment of the Halaf: Sixth Millennium Figurines from Northern Mesopotamia

Belcher, Ellen H.

This dissertation answers the question, "What are Halaf figurines?" In response to that question, this study examines a corpus of anthropomorphic figurines from archaeological sites dating to the Halaf period (Sixth Millennium cal BCE) known from excavations in Turkey and Syria. Included in this dissertation is a detailed catalog of 197 figurine examples, both whole and fragmented, and analysis of their excavated contexts from seven Halaf sites in Turkey and nine sites in Syria.
The study also reviews and discusses existing literature on Halaf and figurine studies and examines and critiques modern biases, assumptions, and influences, especially as related to the interpretive concepts mother goddess and steatopygous. It proposes a different methodological approach to prehistoric figurines based upon morphology and typology rather than interpretation. It argues that this methodology of recording and analyzing figurine morphology, typology, and archaeological context brings the field closer to four points of human interaction in the object biographies of figurines including: conceptualization, making, use, and discard. This approach to the evidence, the dissertation suggests, can support theoretical ideas about how the lived body was conceptualized and adorned in the Halaf and allows consideration of ways that these embodied ideas and imagery were shared across settlements. A constructed typology consists of five overall types further divided by subtype and Halaf phase, based upon pose, technology, and morphology. Two appendices present the data associated with each figurine in catalog form. A final appendix presents the data condensed to 12 comparable elements.
The results of this research are that the typology of Syrian and Anatolian Halaf figurine assemblages are quite different. While the well-known seated clay figurines are indeed most plentiful, they come from only a very tight geographic area in northeast Syria and only from late Halaf contexts. Standing figurines, by contrast, are known from all areas and phases but occur in lesser numbers and in great variety. Analysis of the archaeological contexts reveals that nearly all the figurines in the corpus were isolated finds amidst unremarkable fill contexts. Therefore, it can be concluded that, when Halaf figurines were no longer needed or wanted by the community, they were discarded without special circumstances amongst regular domestic refuse.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Boyd, Brian
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 14, 2014