Persian Gulf 10,000 years Before Present
The Ubaid are named after the archaeological site where their artifacts were first identified as unique, a place in the Iraqi desert near Ur called Tell al-`Ubaid. The Wiki for The Ubaid Period is a good starter, if you’re unfamiliar with the subject. You can also insert “Ubaid” in the Search bar at the top right of this page and you’ll get links to my many posts on this subject. If you really want to get the latest comprehensive analysis of the Ubaid, the Oriental Institute published the speakers’ papers (Beyond the Ubaid) of a conference held at Grey College, University of Durham, England in 2006 dedicated to the Ubaid, and you can view the entire document (or download it) by clicking here.
In the OI paper, they treat the Ubaid as a phenomena or material horizon of artifacts ranging from pottery with similar fabrics and decoration to a manner of building homes and temples called “the tripartite house.” You can study this in as much detail as you like via the OI document and/or go through my collection of posts containing the word “Ubaid” from the oldest to the latest.
However, today, I want to give a broad summary of what I envision as the world of these Ubaid.
First, I believe the Ubaid’s awesome irrigated agricultural revolution (their highest achievement) was developed gradually in the lower Persian Gulf valley, starting when Sea Level was 400 feet lower than it is today and the Valley’s delta was east of the Strait of Hormuz. This region was a livable refuge for tribes migrating from Africa which were being overwhelmed by the tumultuous weather (high, dry killer-winds with blowing dust and shifting dunes) as the last ice age bottomed out and the ice mountain began melting—triggered by the latest global warming cycle, much like those which ended each of the cyclical ice ages over the past million years.
Second, the Ubaid were probably a mixed people formed from the scraps of migrating “out of Africa” tribes which ran into the global warming buzzsaw and were mostly exterminated in the extreme weather, with a few making their way into this valley “refugia.” But these valley dwellers were forced together and mixed over about 14,000 years from the Last Glacial Maximum until sea level had risen 400 feet to today’s level around 6,000 BC. There were probably lots of tribes when the sea level topped out, but they shared the best they had learned from each other in pottery and other tool and construction techniques. While the rising sea shrank the valley, some migrated north into the Zagros mountains and developed a flocks and herds culture (highlands in hot summers, lowlands and seashore in winter). Other herdsmen migrated south into the then well-watered Arabian savannah. But, the sod-busting riverine farmers stuck close to fresh water and alluvial soil above the delta, while it migrated upriver with the rising sea level. These sod-busters were the roots which formed the Ubaid of Southern Mesopotamia, but many common material artifacts were shared among all four of these divergent groups.
Third, when the sod-busters were concentrated in the present delta and immediately upriver—and the sea level stabilized—they began to stabilize themselves, and really began maximizing the agricultural output of grains by managing crop irrigation through canals and ditches. Their output skyrocketed and the population of these best-fed of their generations attracted a lot of immigrants from regions which were primarily dependent upon rain to irrigate their crops.
Fourth, abundant food, stable water supplies, and global warming led to geometric growth in their numbers. Burgeoning populations would have been an increasing source of friction and violence, until leaders emerged as those who assembled their own gangs of thugs and could offer protection to those who couldn’t—and undoubtedly began to earn their living by taking a tithe of the food production of those who did the manual labor of tilling, planting, irrigating, digging canals, harvesting, grinding, baking and fermenting grain.
Fifth, these leaders who lived off the farmers would have separated their dependent workers into villages, then towns, and finally cities. This growth in concentrations behind stockades, and later walls, was a progression we’ve seen occurring all over the world. And with the surplus of food, the farmers began to support craftsmen who specialized in tool fabrication and repair, potters, carpenters, builders etc. The craftsmen would have been paid in grain and beer in the earliest days. And of course, the elites would have figured how to tithe these craftsmen in exchange for protection, until their income came from all.
At this point, you can see the natural progression. But, the big deal was that large-scale agriculture in the world started in Southern Mesopotamia with the Ubaid. All future progress was subsequently made possible when these Ubaid figured out how to progress from hand-to-mouth to agricultural surpluses.
All subsequent advances, even the gee whiz technology of today, would never have happened if these folks hadn’t produced the first agricultural surpluses. That they did it first, on a large scale, long before the rest of the world, is their undeniable accomplishment.
As the cherry on the cake, out of these Ubaid and their neighbors came the cultural revolution that has never stopped, including the roots of all modern religions, written languages, and rapacious governments.
There remains an insoluble mystery about what happened under the Persian Gulf. But, we know that good came out of it. And so did evil.
That’s why my interest remains fixated on investigating that Gulf’s sea floor for artifactual clues. And that’s why I’m writing my next novel about the Ubaid and the legends and myths originating from them, and about their final days.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke