Tell Halaf is the type site of the Halaf culture (6500 to 5500 BC), a late Neolithic culture spreading over northern Mesopotamia and Syria. Tell Halaf is located near the city of Ra’s al-‘Ayn in the Khabur-valley (Nahr al Khabur), close to the modern border of Syria with Turkey. It was discovered in 1899 by Baron Max von Oppenheim , a German diplomat, while he was surveying the area to build the Bhagdad railway.
Halafian sites are primarily confined to areas of rainfall agriculture and are generally seen as village-based societies with a mixed dry-farming/pastoral economy. The Halafian is characterized by beautifully painted polychrome pottery, which is among the finest ever made in the Near East. Their pots were built up by hand as the potter’s wheel was not invented until over 1000 years later. This distinctive pottery has been found from south-east Turkey across to Iran, but has its origins in the region of the Nahr al Khabur.
Ceramic paste studies (neutron activation) demonstrated that economic centers, such as Chagar Bazar, exported finished ceramics to smaller sites and that pots from a single clay source may be found as much as 1000 kilometers apart. It is highly probable that the Halafian high-quality pottery was exchanged as a prestige goods between the regional elites, which certainly indicates a higher level of social differentiation and specialization compared to earlier Neolithic communities.
In addition, the Halaf communities made highly standardized female figurines of partially baked clay and stone that often emphasize the sexual features. The naked Halafian femal figurines present seated with both hands supporting the breasts, and the pelvic area emphasized. The heads on these figurines are rather shematic, sometimes portrayed as a simple peg. The precise meaning of these figurines is most probably lost for ever.