YOU ARE HERE>>Real of Fake>>Tell Halaf "mother godddess" figurines


21st November 2005

These "mother goddess" figurines appear frequently for sale, especially on eBay and many people ask about them.


This site, Tell Halaf,  in modern day Syria is near the village of R'as al 'Ayn in the Khabur valley through which the Khabur river flows. It was discovered in 1899 by Baron Max von Oppenheim, a German engineer, while he was surveying the area in preparation the now non existent Berlin-Baghdad railway. He excavated the site from 1911 to 1913, and took many of the artifacts foundback to Berlin where he established a Tell Halaf museum to show the pieces found during excavation . There were further French  excavations in 1927 and1929.


The museum  von Oppenheim established was destroyed in aerial bombing  in World War II and many of the  artifacts were damaged or totally destroyed. However a large number of basalt fragments were later rescued and stored away in the Pergamon Museum. Since 2001  there has been a  restoration project  to reconstruct some of the damaged artifacts.


Female figurines have been found at many Halaf sites. They are generally squatting or sitting with their arms around the torsoand the hands in between pendulous breasts. They sometimes have large and oval-shaped eyes with "pinched" faces.  Mallowan and Perkins described them as belonging to the "mother-goddess" tradition. Mallowan further suggested that the figurines were depictions of women in childbirth. However, some authorities (Ucko) believe they may have been children's toys. Ucko rejected Mallowan's suggestion of childbirth ase the figurines have flat stomachs and are seated  with knees raised which is not a position for childbirt, and furthermore, because there are no known no Halaf figurines of a mother and child.



Map showing the location and a pic of Mallowan and his wife, the author, Agathe Christie at Tell Halaf


Map showing the area in which such so called "mother goddess" figurines  have been found.



Before we take a look at some examples of these pieces, here are some which are in museums and are more likely than those seen on eBay to be genuine.

These black and white pics are of fragmentary figurines in the Ashmolean Museum





And this one on the left  below is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The example in the middle was excavated at Tell Brak.

The one on the right is in the British Museum




About about the repertoire.

This is from "Ladders to Heaven" by Oscar White-Muscarella




There are many images of examples for sale.


One of these is definitely genuine.

We will come to that on the next page .






More about Tell Halaf figurines