The Ubaid period (ca. 6500 to 3800 BC) is a prehistoric period of Mesopotamia. The tell (mound)Coordinates: of al-`Ubaid (Arabic: العبيد) west of nearby Ur in southern Iraq's Dhi Qar Governorate has given its name to the prehistoric Pottery Neolithic to Chalcolithic culture, which represents the earliest settlement on the alluvial plain of southern Mesopotamia. The Ubaid culture had a long duration beginning before 5300 BC and lasting until the beginning of the Uruk period, c. 4000 BC. The adoption of the wheel and the beginning of the Chalcolithic period fall into the Ubaid period.
The Ubaid period is divided into three principal phases:
- Ubaid 1, sometimes called Eridu (5300–4700 BC), a phase limited to the extreme south of Iraq, on what was then the shores of the Persian Gulf. This phase, showing clear connection to the Samarra culture to the north, saw the establishment of the first permanent settlement south of the 5 inch rainfall isohyet. These people pioneered the growing of grains in the extreme conditions of aridity, thanks to the high water tables of Southern Iraq.
- Ubaid 2 —  (4800–4500 BC), after the type site of the same name, saw the development of extensive canal networks from major settlements. Irrigation agriculture, which seem to have developed first at Choga Mami (4700–4600 BC) and rapidly spread elsewhere, form the first required collective effort and centralised coordination of labour.
- Ubaid 3/4, sometimes called Ubaid I and Ubaid II — In the period from 4500–4000 BC saw a period of intense and rapid urbanisation with the Ubaid culture spread into northern Mesopotamia replacing (after a hiatus) the Halaf culture. Ubaid artifacts spread also all along the Arabian littoral, showing the growth of a trading system that stretched from the Mediterranean coast through to Oman.
The archaeological record shows that Arabian Bifacial/Ubaid period came to an abrupt end in eastern Arabia and the Oman peninsula at 3800 BC, just after the phase of lake lowering and onset of dune reactivation. At this time, increased aridity led to an end in semi-desert nomadism, and there is no evidence of human presence in the area for approximately 1000 years, the so-called "Dark Millennium". This might be due to the 5.9 kiloyear event at the end of the Older Peron.
Ubaid culture is characterized by large village settlements, characterized by multi-roomed rectangular mud-brick houses and the appearance of the first temples of public architecture in Mesopotamia, with a growth of a two tier settlement hierarchy of centralized large sites of more than 10 hectares surrounded by smaller village sites of less than 1 hectare. Domestic equipment included a distinctive fine quality buff or greenish colored pottery decorated with geometric designs in brown or black paint; tools such as sickles were often made of hard fired clay in the south. But in the north, stone and sometimes metal were used.
During the Ubaid Period [5000 B.C.– 4000 B.C.], the movement towards urbanization began. "Agriculture and animal husbandry [domestication] were widely practiced in sedentary communities." There were also tribes that practiced domesticating animals as far north as Turkey, and as far south as the Zagros Mountains.
The Ubaid period as a whole, based upon the analysis of grave goods, was one of increasingly polarised social stratification and decreasing egalitarianism. Bogucki describes this as a phase of "Trans-egalitarian" competitive households, in which some fall behind as a result of downward social mobility. Morton Fried and Elman Service have hypothesised that Ubaid culture saw the rise of an elite class of hereditary chieftains, perhaps heads of kin groups linked in some way to the administration of the temple shrines and their granaries, responsible for mediating intra-group conflict and maintaining social order. It would seem that various collective methods, perhaps instances of what Thorkild Jacobsen called primitive democracy, in which disputes were previously resolved through a council of one's peers, were no longer sufficient for the needs of the local community.
Ubaid culture originated in the south, but still has clear connections to earlier cultures in the region of middle Iraq. The appearance of the Ubaid folk has sometimes been linked to the so-called Sumerian problem, related to the origins of Sumerian civilisation. Whatever the ethnic origins of this group, this culture saw for the first time a clear tripartite social division between intensive subsistence peasant farmers, with crops and animals coming from the north, tent-dwelling nomadic pastoralists dependent upon their herds, and hunter-fisher folk of the Arabian littoral, living in reed huts.
Stein and Özbal describe the Near East oikumene that resulted from Ubaid expansion, contrasting it to the colonial expansionism of the later Uruk period. "A contextual analysis comparing different regions shows that the Ubaid expansion took place largely through the peaceful spread of an ideology, leading to the formation of numerous new indigenous identities that appropriated and transformed superficial elements of Ubaid material culture into locally distinct expressions."
Tell al-'Ubaid is a low, relatively small site. The mound is an oblong about 500 meters north to south and 300 meters east to west and extends about 2 meters above ground level. The majority of the remains are from the Ubaid Period, with an Early Dynastic temple at the highest point.
The site was first worked by Henry Hall of the British Museum in 1919. Later, C. L. Woolley excavated there in 1923 and 1924, followed by Seton Lloyd and Pinhas Delougaz in 1937, the latter working for the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. The lower level of the site featured large amounts of Ubaid pottery and associated kilns, as well as a cemetery and some finds from the Jemdet Nasr period. The temple of Ninhursag at the summit was on a cleared oval similar to that at Khafajah. The wall surrounding the temple was built by Shulgi of the Ur III Empire. The earliest evidence for sailing has been found in Kuwait indicating that sailing was known by the Ubaid 3 period.
See also 
- Carter, Robert A. and Philip, Graham Beyond the Ubaid: Transformation and Integration in the Late Prehistoric Societies of the Middle East (Studies in Ancient Oriental Civilization, Number 63) The Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (2010) ISBN 978-1-885923-66-0 p.2, at http://oi.uchicago.edu/research/pubs/catalog/saoc/saoc63.html; "Radiometric data suggest that the whole Southern Mesopotamian Ubaid period, including Ubaid 0 and 5, is of immense duration, spanning nearly three millenia from about 6500 to 3800 B.C."
- Kurt, Amélie Ancient near East V1 (Routledge History of the Ancient World) Routledge (31 Dec 1996) ISBN 978-0-415-01353-6 p.22
- Issar, A; Mattanyah Zohar Climate change: environment and civilization in the Middle East Springer; 2nd edition (20 Jul 2004) ISBN 978-3-540-21086-3 p.87
- Parker, Adrian G.; et al. (2006). "A record of Holocene climate change from lake geochemical analyses in southeastern Arabia". Quaternary Research 66 (3): 465–476. doi:10.1016/j.yqres.2006.07.001.[dead link]
- Uerpmann, M. (2002). "The Dark Millennium—Remarks on the final Stone Age in the Emirates and Oman". In Potts, D.; al-Naboodah, H.; Hellyer, P. Archaeology of the United Arab Emirates. Proceedings of the First International Conference on the Archaeology of the U.A.E. London: Trident Press. pp. 74–81. ISBN 1-900724-88-X.
- Pollock, Susan (1999). Ancient Mesopotamia: The Eden that Never Was. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-57334-3.
- Stein, Gil J.; Rana Özbal (2006). "A Tale of Two Oikumenai: Variation in the Expansionary Dynamics of Ubaid and Uruk Mesopotamia". In Elizabeth C. Stone. Settlement and Society: Ecology, urbanism, trade and technology in Mesopotamia and Beyond (Robert McC. Adams Festschrift). Santa Fe: SAR Press. pp. 356–370.
- H. R. Hall, Season's Work at Ur; Al-'Ubaid, Abu Shahrain (Eridu), and Elsewhere; Being an Unofficial Account of the British Museum Archaeological Mission to Babylonia, 1919, Methuen, 1930
- Hall, H. R.; Woolley, C. L. (1927). UR Excavations Volume I Al-'Ubaid. Oxford University Press.
- Delougaz, P. (1938). "A Short Investigation of the Temple at Al-'Ubaid". Iraq 5: 1–11.
- Carter, Robert (2006). "Boat remains and maritime trade in the Persian Gulf during the sixth and fifth millennia BC". Antiquity 80 (307).
- Martin, Harriet P. (1982). "The Early Dynastic Cemetery at al-'Ubaid, a Re-Evaluation". Iraq 44 (2): 145–185. JSTOR 4200161.
- Moore, A. M. T. (2002). "Pottery Kiln Sites at al 'Ubaid and Eridu". Iraq 64: 69–77. JSTOR 4200519.
- Bogucki, Peter (1990). The Origins of Human Society. Malden, MA: Blackwell. ISBN 1-57718-112-3.
- Charvát, Petr (2002). Mesopotamia Before History. London, New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-25104-4.
- Mellaart, James (1975). The Neolithic of the Near East. New York: Scribner. ISBN 0-684-14483-2.
- Nissen, Hans J. (1990). The Early History of the Ancient Near East, 9000–2000 B.C. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-58658-8.
- Stone Statue from Tell al-'Ubaid - British Museum
- Copper Bull figure from Tell al-'Ubaid - British Museum
- Recent (2008) site photographs - British Museum