Art History for Kids

Posts Tagged ‘cuneiform

Class Lesson: Friday, December 19, 2008

After the cavemen, came early man who settled in Mesopotamia. They also found a way to communicate their hopes, their dreams and their victories. And, like early cave man, they wanted to control the future. So, how do you think they did this? They told stories using art.

The Tigris and Euphrates River Valleys

In the early fourth millenium B.C., the settlement of two great river valleys in Mesopotamia led to monumental acheivements in writing, architecture and politics. The two river valleys were called the Tigris and Euphrates. What made the land so special between the two rivers was that the earth was incredibly fertile which meant it was an ideal place to grow crops for food. The people that lived in this area at that time were called the Sumerians. Can you say Tigris and Euphrates?

The First Alphabet

The Sumerian people are believed to be the first ones to develop a written language. It was called “cuneiform.”  Their letters consisted of lines made from a wedge-shaped tool into tablets of stone. The first writings were about government and business transactions. Later on, they wrote stories such as: the Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s quite possible that the stories they used to tell with words or on cave walls were now the ones that they wrote down in their tablets.

The Gods and Architecture

Sumerians believed that their city-states were each under the protection of special spirits or nature gods. Each city-state had their own unique god that protected and looked after their people. The Sumerians built special temples at the center of their cities, they were called “ziggurats.” Now, if the temple is at the center and higher up than all the other houses, how important do you think they were? Super important or only kinda important? That’s right! They were very, very important.

The Standard of Ur

Sumerian kings believed very strongly in life after death and made sure they were buried with everything they could possibly need: helmets, daggers, bowls, jewelry, instruments and other special items. The most interesting of all the objects they found in these graves is The Standard of  Ur. It is a story of war and peace made of wood, shells, lapis lazuli and red limestone. It was created in 2700 B.C. and is 8″ high by 19″ wide. This is one of the first times that a story is told on wood from side to side and up and down, the way we read words today.

Assyrian Art

Many different people lived in the Mesopotamian river valley: the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Hittites, the Elamites and then the Assyrians. Because they fought so many people in order to conquer the land, they were believed to be very mean and cruel people. To show off how strong and invinceable they were, they built the royal citadel of Sargon II in 720 B.C. It had strong defensive walls and was built on a mound of dirt 50 feet high. Can you image how high that is?!

Lamassu: Protectors of the King

The doorway to the Khorsabad palace was guarded by really, really large statues of creatures called “Lamassu.” A Lamassu is a bull with a human head and wings, pretty scary looking don’t you think? This particular statue was 13′ 10″ high and made from limestone in 720 B.C. These creatures were made to protect the king from visible and invisible enemies. So, as long as the Lamassu were outside the palace, the kings believe nothing bad could happen to them. Doesn’t that sound cool?

Today’s Lesson

Today, all of you are going to pretend to be Kings and Queens. And…we are going to make our own special Lamassu guardians out of clay. So, first let’s pick the three animal parts we want to use in our sculpture. You can use a person’s head or an eagle’s head or a lion’s head. For the body, you might want to use a horse or a bull. You can add wings or a tail. And you can add claws to the feet or fangs to the teeth. Make it as scary as you like! Remember, this special guardian will protect you from anything scary.

After we’re done making our guardian out of clay, then I’m going to take them home and bake them in the oven to “fire” the clay which takes all of the water out of the clay and makes it very hard and strong. It will still be breakable but the shape will be permanent after we “fire” the statues. Great job everyone!

Mesopotamian Art Book List

If your child really enjoyed this particular lesson, here are some additional books that you can buy or check out from the library.

Just click on the links below.

Hands-On Mesopotamian Art

The New York Public Library Amazing Book of Mythology

Archaeology for Kids: Uncovering the Mysteries of Our Past

Hands-On Archaeology: Real-Life Activities for Kids

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