Tell Halaf (Akkadian: Guzana; Arabic: تل حلف‎, Syria) is an archaeological site in the Al Hasakah governorate of northeastern Syria, near the Turkish border, just opposite Ceylanpınar. It was the first find of a Neolithic culture, subsequently dubbed the Halaf culture, characterized by glazed pottery painted with geometric and animal designs. The site dates to the 6th millennium BCE and was later the location of the Aramaean city-state of Guzana or Gozan.

Discovery and excavation

The site is located near the city of Ra's al-'Ayn in the fertile Khabur valley (Nahr al Khabur) through which the Khabur river flows, close to the modern border with Turkey. The name Tell Halaf is a local Aramaic placename, tell meaning "hill" in Aramaic, and Tell Halaf meaning "made of former city"; what its original inhabitants called their settlement is not known. It was discovered in 1899 by Baron Max von Oppenheim, a German diplomat, while he was surveying the area to build the Baghdad Railway. At the time, Syria was under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. He returned to excavate the site from 1911 to 1913 and then again 1929, now under French stewardship following the creation of modern Syria. Oppenheim took many of the artifacts found to Berlin. In 2006, new Syro-German excavations have started under the direction of Lutz Martin (Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin) and Abd al-Masih Bagdo (Directorate of Antiquities Hassake).

Von Oppenheim founded the Tell Halaf museum in Berlin to house his discoveries from the site. The museum was wrecked in a massive aerial bombardment in World War II, and many of the irreplaceable artifacts were damaged or destroyed, in what is considered one of the worst losses to have occurred in Near Eastern archaeology. However, eighty cubic meters of basalt fragments were later rescued and stored away in the Pergamon Museum. In 2001, a restoration project commenced in Germany that has made some headway in reconstructing many of the damaged artifacts. This project has now been completed.


Tell Halaf is the type site of Halaf culture, which developed from Neolithic III at this site without any strong break. The Tell Halaf site flourished from about 6100 to 5400 BCE, a period of time that is referred to as the Halaf period. The Halaf culture was succeeded in northern Mesopotamia by the Ubaid culture. The site was then abandoned for a long period.

In the 10th century BC, the rulers of the small Aramaean kingdom Bit Bahiani took their seat in Tell Halaf, which was re-founded as Guzana. King Kapara built the so-called hilani, a palace in Neo-Hittite style with a rich decoration of statues and relief orthostats.

In 894 the Assyrian king Adad-nirari II recorded the site in his archives as a tributary Aramaean city-state. In 808 the city and its surrounding area was reduced to a province of the Assyrian Empire. The governor's seat was a palace in the eastern part of the citadel mound. Guzana survived the collapse of the Assyrian Empire and remained inhabited until Roman-Parthian Period.


Dryland farming was practiced by the population. This type of farming was based on exploiting natural rainfall without the help of irrigation, in a similar practice to that still practiced today by the Hopi people of Arizona. Emmer wheat, two-rowed barley and flax were grown. They kept cattle, sheep and goats.


Although no Halaf settlement has been extensively excavated some buildings have been excavated: the tholoi of Tell Arpachiyah, circular domed structures approached through long rectangular anterooms. Only a few of these structures were ever excavated. They were constructed of mud-brick sometimes on stone foundations and may have been for ritual use (one contained a large number of female figurines). Other circular buildings were probably just houses.

In historical periods the mound itself became the citadel of the Aramaean and Assyrian city. The lower town extended to 600m N-S and 1000m E-W. The citadel mound housed the palaces and other official buildings. Most prominent are the so-called Hilani or Western Palace with its rich decor, dating back to the time of King Kapara, and the North-Eastern Palace, the seat of the Assyrian governors. In the lower town a temple in Assyrian style was discovered.

Halaf pottery

The best known, most characteristic pottery of Tell Halaf, called Halaf ware, produced by specialist potters, can be painted, sometimes using more than two colors (called polychrome) with geometric and animal motifs. Other types of Halaf pottery are known, including unpainted, cooking ware and ware with burnished surfaces. There are many theories about why the distinctive pottery style developed. The theory is that the pottery came about due to regional copying and that it was exchanged as a prestige item between local elites is now disputed. The polychrome painted Halaf pottery has been proposed to be a "trade pottery"—pottery produced for export—however, the predominance of locally produced painted pottery in all areas of Halaf sites including potters settlement questions that theory.

Halaf pottery has been found in other parts of northern Mesopotamia, such as at Nineveh and Tepe Gawra, Chagar Bazar and at many sites in Anatolia (Turkey) suggesting that it was widely used in the region. In addition, the Halaf communities made female figurines of partially baked clay and stone and stamp seals of stone, (see also Impression seal). The seals are thought to mark the development of concepts of personal property, as similar seals were used for this purpose in later times. The Halaf people used tools made of stone and clay. Copper was also known, but was not used for tools.



  • Abd el-Mesih Baghdo, Lutz Martin, Mirko Novák, Winfried Orthmann: Ausgrabungen auf dem Tell Halaf in Nordost-Syrien. Vorbericht über die erste und zweite Grabungskampagne, Harrasowitz, Wiesbaden 2009. ISBN 978-3-447-06068-4
  • Hijara, Ismail. The Halaf Period in Northern Mesopotamia London: Nabu, 1997.
  • Axe, David. "Back from the Brink." Archaeology 59.4 (2006): 59-65.
  • Winfried Orthmann: Die aramäisch-assyrische Stadt Guzana. Ein Rückblick auf die Ausgrabungen Max von Oppenheims in Tell Halaf. Schriften der Max Freiherr von Oppenheim-Stiftung. H. 15. Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2005. ISBN 3-447-05106-X
  • U. Dubiel – L. Martin, Stier aus Aleppo in Berlin. Bildwerke vom Tell Halaf (Syrien) werden restauriert, Antike Welt 3/2004, 40–43.
  • G. Teichmann und G. Völger (ed.), Faszination Orient. Max Freiherr von Oppenheim. Forscherm Sammler, Diplomat (Cologne, Max Freiherr von Oppenheim-Stiftung 2003).
  • Nadja Cholidis, Lutz Martin: Kopf hoch! Mut hoch! und Humor hoch! Der Tell Halaf und sein Ausgräber Max Freiherr von Oppenheim. von Zabern, Mainz 2002. ISBN 3-8053-2853-2
  • Bob Becking: The fall of Samaria: an historical and archeological study. 64–69. Leiden 1992
  • Gabriele Elsen, Mirko Novak, Der Tall Halāf und das Tall Halāf-Museum, in: Das Altertum 40 (1994) 115–126.
  • Alain Gaulon, "Réalité et importance de la chasse dans les communautés halafiennes en Mésopotamie du Nord et au Levant Nord au VIe millénaire avant J.-C.", Antiguo Oriente 5 (2007): 137-166.
  • Mirko Novak, Die Religionspolitik der aramäischen Fürstentümer im 1. Jt. v. Chr., in: M. Hutter, S. Hutter-Braunsar (ed.), Offizielle Religion, lokale Kulte und individuelle Religion, Alter Orient und Altes Testament 318. 319–346. Munster 2004.
  • Johannes Friedrich, G. Rudolf Meyer, Arthur Ungnad et al.: Die Inschriften vom Tell Halaf. Beiheft 6 zu: Archiv für Orientforschung 1940. reprint: Osnabrück 1967
  • Max Freiherr von Oppenheim: Der Tell Halaf. Eine neue Kultur im ältesten Mesopotamien. F. A. Brockhaus, Leipzig 1931. (reprint de Gruyter, Berlin 1966.)

External links

Coordinates: 36°50′N 40°06′E / 36.833°N 40.1°E / 36.833; 40.1

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