Bioarchaeology of the Near East, 15:25-54 (2021)
Bird species diversity in 3rd millennium B.C.
Mesopotamia: The case of the Al-Ubaid bird
frieze from the Temple of Ninhursag
Marcin Z. Paszke
Department of Mediterranean Archaeology,
Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, University of Gdańsk
ul. Bielańska 5, 80-851 Gdańsk, Poland
Abstract: The present paper elaborates on the morphological features of limestone birds
depicted on the famous Al-Ubaid frieze, dated to c. 2400 B.C. and discovered in southern
Mesopotamia in the vicinity of the ancient city of Ur. The main purpose of this paper is
to identify wild bird species that could have been the original sources of inspiration for the
birds depicted on the Al-Ubaid frieze. The popular belief identifying the Al-Ubaid birds
with ducks has to be abandoned due to the vivid differences in the varied morphologies
of the body, head, and neck of the investigated birds. The research presented suggests that
some of the Al-Ubaid birds have traits characteristic of short-neck geese or coots, both waterfowl
species. Some of the Al-Ubaid birds may be also be regarded as pigeons or doves.
This idea was developed by analyzing some selected traits of the Columbidae encountered
on the Al-Ubaid bird frieze. The findings confirm that there exists a demonstrable problem
with a proper identification of geese, ducks, swans and pigeons in ancient Mesopotamian
art, a challenge that likely results from the lack of ornithological approach in the historical
and archaeological discourse.
Key words: ducks; geese; pigeons and doves; Mesopotamian birds; Mesopotamian
Received 7 November 2018; accepted 28 November 2021; published online 31 December 2021.
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