Tel Halaf is an ancient Mesopotamian archaeological site situated at the headwaters of the Khabur River in northeastern Syria. Here, the remains of a long lost Neolithic culture were uncovered by a group of German archaeologists between the years of 1899 and 1927. The artifacts unearthed included pottery painted with geometric designs and animal motifs as well as terracotta figures. These finds indicated that this site was once a thriving city during the 5th millennium B.C. The city was recorded as a tributary city-state of Gozan by the Assyrian king Adad-nirari II, suggesting that this ancient city remained an important center for well over three thousand years.
The small terracotta figurines unearthed at Tel Halaf are believed to represent one of the earliest representations of the Near Eastern “mother goddess.” While she was known by many names to many ancient cultures, Astarte, Ashtarut, Ishtar, the ancient mother goddess was one of the most important deities of the ancient world who was universally worshipped throughout the lands of the Near East for her fertility powers. Her fecundity has been clearly represented in her swollen breasts and exaggerated, heavy thighs. Painted details are used to indicate facial features as well as jewelry or tattooing. Such a woman would have represented the pinnacle of female perfection to a society that’s primary concern was agriculture and procreation. A figure such as this, when utilized in a ritual context, would have been able to provide the faithful with bountiful harvest, both in the fields and in the womb.