Neolithic Beaker.  Susa (in present-day Iran).  Ca. 5,000-4,000 BC.  Height: 11 inches.

        The transition from Paleolithic to Neolithic culture seems to have occurred first in the Middle East, between 9,000 and 6,000 BC, when many human communities gradually changed from nomadic hunters and gatherers to village farmers and herders.  Food and seeds had to be stored, so it is not surprising that clay storage pots are among the most significant artifacts of the period.

        The vigorous, naturalistic art of Paleolithic hunters was largely replaced by the geometrically abstract art of Neolithic farmers.  This painted earthenware beaker is from Susa, the first developed city on the Iranian plateau. The row of long-necked birds, the band of elongated running dogs, the abstract ibex, or goat, and the central symbol of a cereal grain all speak of the new domestication.