Ubaid Period: Culture & Explanation

Instructor: Jessica Elam Miller

Jessica has taught college History and has a Master of Arts in History

This lesson describes the culture of one of the earliest groups of people to establish urban living and agricultural techniques, the Ubaids. The Ubaids developed farming techniques, constructed cities, and built some of the first temples.

When is the last time you passed a farm? Have you ever wondered how long ago people began farming and domesticating animals like cattle? In the area now known as Iraq, this was happening before 5000 BC! Even before the Sumerians (the inventors of the first writing system) lived here, the Ubaids were building cities and temples.

Who Were the Ubaids?

The Ubaids were the first group of people to settle in southern Mesopotamia. They inhabited this area earlier than 5300 BC.

Map of Areas Surrounding Ubaid Culture
Ubaid Map

The Ubaids settled in villages. They lived in large houses made of clay with many rooms, which were big enough to house extended families. The Ubaids also created tools and pottery using fired clay. This was mostly done in the southern region of the area. In the north, the Ubaids may have used some metal to create these items.

During this time period (from about 5000 to 4000 BC), people began to settle in villages and create cities. The Ubaids began to develop farming techniques and domesticated animals for agricultural use. One of the best ways to study a group that existed so long ago is to study grave sites. Ubaid grave sites indicate there may have been a social hierarchy developing over this thousand-year time period. An exclusive class of chieftains seemed to be the administrators of the temples, and possibly presided over legal matters.


Another way to understand the Ubaid culture is to study surviving pottery and other artwork. Ubaid pottery can be found not only in the southern region of Mesopotamia, but in the northern areas. It also spread across the west coast of the Persian Gulf. Pottery may have been traded as fishermen went on expeditions. The creation of this unique pottery is used to distinguish the Ubaids as a cultural group.

Ubaid Clay Pot
Ubaid Pottery

Small clay figurines have also been found. These figurines were shaped and then baked to harden the clay. The figurines were usually female and were adorned with colored ornaments. The heads sometimes resembled lizards, and the reptilian shape used for these figurines has confused many researchers. Outside of the academic world, some people believe the lizard-headed figurines may depict 'alien' beings.

Clay Figurines with Reptilian Heads
Ubaid Clay Figures

The Ubaids may have also used small tokens as a primitive form of currency. They may also have used pendants or stamp seals for the same reason. The surviving seals contain images of snakes, birds, and humans.

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