The first people on Earth to live in cities were the Sumerians. Their cities occupied a region called Mesopotamia (between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), formerly only known through biblical names, can be identified on a map of modern Iraq. The use of the name "Sumer," the “land of Shinar," probably dates from about the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. Their history has been reconstructed mainly from fragments on clay tablets and other evidence uncovered and interpreted by modern archaeology. After the fall of the last dynasty around 1900 BC, Sumerian scribes wrote chronicles of their long past. Lists of their kings and accounts edited into later Babylonian chronicles are all that survive. These claim that their kings go back more than 240,000 years before and 30,000 years after the Flood. Such figures suggest that Sumer could be as old as fabled Atlantis and Lemuria. A possible link is that Sumerian, as one of the few agglutinative languages, does resemble Polynesian. Over five millennia ago their advanced architecture, using vaults and arches, indicated a long development.
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The first literate inhabitants of Mesopotamian referred to as the land of Sumer are Sumerians. Sumer is the birthplace of the first known civilization (settled down city dwelling where people possess stable agriculture, domesticated animals, a hierarchical system of social classes with priest-kings, slaves, scribes, advisers, doctors, merchants, fishermen, smiths and masons), which flourished between 3500BC and 1900BC. The true Sumerian period begins sometime prior to 3500 BC, possibly as a primitive people stemming from hunters and gatherers who settled in the fertile-crescent. By the end of their occupation in Mesopotamia, they had created the beginnings of society, as we know it today. Eventually however, Sumer collapsed under the Amorites around 1900BC, who established many sub-kingdoms including Assyria and Babylon.
The economy of Sumer was based on agriculture, which eventually led to major technological advances in Mesopotamian history. A significant invention of the Sumerians was the wheel, which was first made of solid wood. Early homes in Sumer were huts made from bundles of reeds. Due to the shortage of stone, homes were eventually made of sun-baked mud bricks. Sumerians probably ploughed with stone and cut with clay sickles in the beginning, eventually using metal ploughs with the development of metalworking skill. The manufacturing of pottery and other products could have led to specialization and trading by barter. Sumerians had no money system except for the weighing of precious and semi-precious metals. Sumerians wrote on clay tablets and used a complicated script called cuneiform (wedge shaped). With a form of writing, Sumerians documented transactions and agreements of all kinds. The first people known to have developed a system of laws, Sumer influenced the law codes of Eshnunna and Hammurabi.
The religion of Sumer was polytheistic and its gods were innumerable. The principle god of Sumer was Anu who was the father of all the gods and lord of heaven. There was also Enlil, the god of the earth and Enki, the god of the waters. There were personal gods as well as gods of the rivers and mountains, sun, moon, winds, storms, and planets. The most important temples in the cities of Sumer were called ziggurats, which were built extremely high. Their religion imprinted human characteristics to an inanimate world, which aided in the explanation of natural phenomena. Sumerians believed they had a duty to feed and shelter their gods. Hence the ziggurats and temples were considered homes for the gods to live in. Some young women in Sumerian society were married to the god of the temple and were not celibate. Others were prostitutes, and their children were legally adopted.
1. Cottrell, Leonard. The Quest for Sumer. G.P. Putnam's Son: New York 1965.
2. Crawford, Harriet. Sumer and the Sumerians. Cambridge University Press: New York. 1991.
3. Kramer, N. Samuel. The Sumerians. University Of Chicago: Chicago 1963.
4. Kramer, N. Samuel. History Begins At Sumer. Doubleday & Company, Inc: Garden City, New York. 1959.
5. Woolley, Leonard. The Sumerians. Norton & Company, Inc: New York 1965.
Edited by: Coral Tostado
Researched by: Coral Tostado and Andre Taylor
Written by: David Van Dyck
March 21, 2000
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