History Begins at Sumer...

~~ Paul V. Hartman ~~

For nomadic hunter-gatherers to settle in one spot, and thus establish a "civilization" with all that entails, including a written history, it is necessary that the ground produce either all of the food or a sufficient supplement to that which is hunted. It should therefore come as no suprise that the first civilizations arise where the ground is most fertile - in the region of rivers: Tigres, Eurphrates, Nile, Indus. It is believed that agriculture first appears about 8000 BC along with the domestication of some animals; pottery will appear about 7000 BC.

The people who first settled the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates - with an identifiable name - were called the Sumerians. They divided all labor into various skills, and they built cities of mud and brick. On a larger scale, they built temple mounds to a deity or deities. To increase production yields, they developed a network of irrigation canals.

Beginning about 3100 BC, they kept some information for permanent use by scratching marks into wet clay with a stylus, ( a system called "cuneiform" (cue-nay-a-form)) and some of these clay tablets recorded historical events - thus the first recorded "history." Many of these tablets survive. In the written tablets are found the first appearances of stories which would become amplified by the Semitic people who would move in from North and West to displace the Sumerians, stories such as the "Tower of Babel" and a story of a "great flood". There is archeological evidence for a substantial flood which overwhelmed the area thousands of years prior, and is recorded in the Sumerian history as the "Epic of Gilgamesh".

In any case, the cuneiform method would spread from Sumeria, Far East to what is now India, East to what is now Iran, North to what is now modern Turkey, and West to Egypt, though the "language" of the marks in the clay - what the marks signified - would be different in each location.

With the increased efficiency which flows from a division of labor, there is the opportunity to create an artisan class, and the Sumerians made artwork from gold, silver, and copper, as well as woven cloth and other textiles. The Sumerians made chariots. They are often pictured wearing long skirts, with shaven heads but large beards.

The Sumerian civilization began about 5000 BC and was absorbed by 2300 BC by migrating tribes which would establish the next civilizations in the region "between the rivers" (which is the Greek definition of the word "Mesopotamia"). These new tribes would be called, in the region now known as Iraq, the Akkadians, Assyrians and the Babylonians, and they would, in their turn, improve on the beginnings of the Sumerians and establish great empires.

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