Whilst studying the rituals of worship associated with eye temples, one place that captured my heart is Tell Brak in Syria. There are several excellent sites dedicated to the archaeology and history of Tell Brak, including the fascinating Tell Brak Project. I am particularly interested in the lives of those who lived there through time, particularly those skilled people working with glass, stone and ceramics. Workshop space and ovens, beads and eye votive offerings, have all been uncovered on this site and its surroundings, and I await more peaceful harmonious times in present-day Syria to see more. I hope that day comes soon.

In the meantime, we can enjoy some of the findings as we browse the British Museum in London, as I did some months ago!

I adore these “eye idols”, as discovered in the Tell Brak “Eye Temple”. I imagine these to have been humbly commissioned by local residents, handcrafted as personal votive offerings to represent their family or special beloved, and perhaps later to be blessed before placing inside the Eye Temple to bring harmony and protection or to celebrate an occasion. Archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of these little sculptures so I imagine workshops were pretty busy at the time!

Eye idols of Tell Brak

Eye idols of Tell Brak

I also read somewhere that the Eye Temple would have been quite dark inside, with few light sources to illuminate these divine offerings. Visually very spiritual I should think! I also came across this website which explains more of the decorative detail to note on genuine eye idols from this temple (and what the fakes may look like!)

Other interesting items found in the Tell Brak temple are these beads, presented as divine offerings.

Tell Brak beads

Tell Brak beads

And more curious little carvings produced in stone and ivory found at Tell Brak…

Tell Brak artefacts

Tell Brak artefacts

Shown below are objects from an altarpiece in the Tell Brak “Eye Temple”, dated the same time as the beads shown above.

The 8-petal rosette represents fertility and divinity, used often in Mesopotamian art. I don’t know if this relates to the equally important 8-pointed star also worshiped in Mesopotamia.

Tell Brak artefacts from the Eye Temple altar

Tell Brak artefacts from the Eye Temple altar

On this site archaeologists have discovered the Mitanni Palace, where glass ingots were found in a workshop. Evidence of metal working, both copper and iron, is also cited. As quoted in the Wikipedia article on Tell Brak, “Tell Brak provided great knowledge on the culture of Mitanni, which produced glass using sophisticated techniques, that resulted in different varieties of multicolored and decorated shapes. Samples of the elaborate Nuzi ware were discovered, in addition to seals that combine distinctive Mitannian elements with the international motifs of that period”. [Joan Aruz, Kim Benzel, Jean M. Evans (2008) in ‘Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C.’]

In recent times, it was been reported that the archaeologists camp at Tell Brak was looted during combat (including tools and ceramics kept in it) around 2014. I refrain from expressing how sad I feel… 🙁

To see more historical artefacts from this part of the world, I share more of my thoughts on Babylonia.

Originally published: Sunday, January 3rd, 2016 at 03:32 in Celebrating Art, Inspiration


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2 Responses to “Tell Brak and votive offerings”

  1. Coach M says:

    It’s always nice to be reminded that we don’t already know everything about earlier civilisations and those eye idols of Tell Brak are great examples.

    Hear hear on the situation in Syria. I hope to visit there too. There are several places in that region I would love to see and perhaps someday tourism could become one of the economic growth areas that helps Syria rebuild.


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