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Ancient Mesopotamian

A photograph of a copper figure.  It depicts a muscular, bearded male wearing a headdress of goat horns and ears, a raptor skin over his shoulders, a cylindrical belt around his trim waist, and ankle boots with long, curved toes.

Statuette of a Striding Figure, 3000–2800 BCE. Proto-Elamite or Mesopotamian. Anonymous loan.

Also known as

Ancient Mesopotamia was a geographical region near the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, often described as “the fertile crescent,” that today encompasses parts of Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, and Syria. Early civilizations flourished in the area from around 10,000 BCE, and would go on to develop agricultural practices around the year 5000 BCE and continue to advance and adapt in the region for a further 5,700 years.

Given this timeline, the term ancient Mesopotamian can be used to describe artworks originating from a broad range of geographical and chronological points, rather than a definable civilization or artistic tradition. More specific attributions are often also made, though they can be difficult to prove without archaeological context.

Scholars believe the rare and enigmatic Mesopotamian statuette in the Art Institute’s collection was produced by the proto-Elamite culture around 3000–2800 BCE. However, a lack of detailed archaeological context makes that origin difficult to prove. The more general term ancient Mesopotamian is thus used to convey a certain level of ambiguity.

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