Altar frieze

From the Eye Temple, Tell Brak, north-eastern Syria
About 2900-2700 BC

An early example of interior decoration

This frieze assembled from different materials is an example of early interior decoration. Originally it decorated the upper part of an altar in a temple. The individual pieces were once mounted on a wooden backing, of which nothing remained when it was excavated. The edges at the top and bottom formed a moulding which was covered with gold foil nailed into place with gold-headed silver nails. The different coloured stone bands were put together with rectangular strips that had perforations at the back so that thin copper wire could be threaded through them and attached to the wooden backing.

It has been suggested that the frieze was not only a decorative ornament but that it also depicted a type of façade, common on temples and public buildings at the time, where the plain wall made of mud brick was relieved by niches and mosaic decoration.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the site of Tell Brak had been an important centre from at least the fifth millennium. From around 3500 BC there is indications of strong contacts with the culture of southern Mesopotamia; elements of the decoration within the temple are also found in Sumerian temples.

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More information


M.E.L. Mallowan, 'Excavations at Tell Brak', Iraq-16, 9 (1947)

C. Trümpler (ed.), Agatha Christie and archaeolog (London, The British Museum Press, 2001)

H. Weiss (ed.), Ebla to Damascus (Smithsonian Institute, 1985)


Length: 113.000 cm

Museum number

ME 127430


Excavated by M.E.L. Mallowan


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