EARLY HISTORY OF MESOPOTAMIA: BEFORE SUMER

DEVELOPMENT IN MESOPOTAMIA, 5500-2400 B.C.


statue of Kurlil from the Ubaid period

Nancy Demand of Indiana University wrote: “The origins of civilization can be traced to a group of people living in southern Mesopotamia called the Sumerians. By c.3500 B.C., the Sumerians had developed many of the features that characterized subsequent civilizations. Towns grew to be cities, an early form of pictographic writing was used, metal working had begun, and temples were built on a monumental scale. Generally speaking, however, true civilization is said to have begun around 3100 B.C. with the development of cuneiform writing. Cuneiform was a system of writing established by the Sumerians which required the use of a stylus in order to make wedge-shaped marks on wet clay tablets, once the tablets were dry they could by stored, transported, etc. After its development, cuneiform became the dominant system of writing in Mesopotamia for over 2000 years. Even after Sumerian became extinct as a spoken language, many other Near Eastern cultures continued to write using cuneiform. As a result of its extensive use of several centuries, many cuneiform tablets have survived. These tablets provide historians with the opportunity to glimpse the culture of the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations.” [Source: The Asclepion, Prof.Nancy Demand, Indiana University - Bloomington]

At the dawn of history in the middle of the fifth millennium B.C. we find a number of city-states, or rather city-monarchies, in rivalry with one another in the Euphrates Valley in presnt-day Iraq. Cities, or settlements which became cities, existed in Mesopotamia from 5500 B.C.. The earlier cities lay in the northern part of Iraq, and in northeastern Syria. City living quickly spread down the Euphrates River and into the valley of the Tigris River, reaching the swamps at the head of the Persian Gulf before 4000 B.C.. Eridu, to the south of Ur and close to the Gulf, built its first temple before 5000. [Source: Internet Archive, from UNT]

“By 4000 B.C. the combined valleys of the Tigris-Euphrates were dotted with small cities whose peoples ruled over the built-up area and its supporting agricultural lands. The document called the Sumerian King List, though it dates to the 18th-19th century B.C., suggests frequent warfare between city states, as one city after another was "smitten with weapons, and its kingship carried off" to the victor's capital.

Pottery-making had existed in the Near East perhaps since the 7th millennium (7000 to 6000 B.C.). By the time the Sumerians entered Mesopotamia, around 32-3500 B.C., most of the Technology of Ancient Mesopotamian civilization was already there. Copper was already in use, as was gold and silver. Bronze, already available in southern Canaan and Thailand, was a later addition. Most scholars think the Sumerians added the wheel, the brickmold, the pick-axe, and the sailing ship; and that they invented, or at least developed, writing to the point where it came to play an essential role in their public and private lives.

Websites and Resources on Mesopotamia: Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu.com/Mesopotamia ; Mesopotamia University of Chicago site mesopotamia.lib.uchicago.edu; British Museum mesopotamia.co.uk ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Louvre louvre.fr/llv/oeuvres/detail_periode.jsp ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/toah ; University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology penn.museum/sites/iraq ; Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago uchicago.edu/museum/highlights/meso ; Iraq Museum Database oi.uchicago.edu/OI/IRAQ/dbfiles/Iraqdatabasehome ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; ABZU etana.org/abzubib; Oriental Institute Virtual Museum oi.uchicago.edu/virtualtour ; Treasures from the Royal Tombs of Ur oi.uchicago.edu/museum-exhibits ; Ancient Near Eastern Art Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org

Archaeology News and Resources: Anthropology.net anthropology.net : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; archaeologica.org archaeologica.org is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe archeurope.com features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine archaeology.org has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine archaeology.co.uk is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily heritagedaily.com is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience livescience.com/ : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news. Past Horizons : online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel archaeologychannel.org explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia ancient.eu : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites besthistorysites.net is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities essential-humanities.net: provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Mesopotamia, the World’s Oldest Civilization?


Mesopotamia is considered the the world’s oldest civilization in part because writing started there

Although ancient 9,500-year old towns and fortified cities have been discovered, Mesopotamia is often considered to be the oldest civilization in the world because of its size, organization and its contributions to world culture. It was founded in present-day Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers during the forth millennia B.C. It was originally thought that the heart of Mesopotamia was in southern Iraq. But this view is now been challenged as a number of large cities, dated to the same period, have been discovered further to the north.

Mesopotamian civilization existed for well over 3,000 years, from the formation of the first cities at the end of the fourth millennium B.C. to the early years of the Roman empire. Anthropologist say there are three definite first Pristine States: Mesopotamia (3300 B.C.); Peru (around the time of Christ), and MesoAmerica (about 100 A.D.). Probable Pristine States include: Egypt (3100 B.C.), Indus Valley (shortly before 2000 B.C.) and Yellow River Basin in northern China (shortly after 2000 B.C.).

Today, many of the oldest Mesopotamia sites are little more than dirt mounds because mud brick, the primary building material, doesn’t last long. In many cases archaeologists can’t even figure what the buildings were because when mud brick deteriorates it becomes dirt that is difficult to distinguish from the dirt that surrounds it. The few buildings that have survived were made of baked brick and have been heavily renovated.

Tell Hamoukar

Tell Hamoukar is an interesting site, dated to 3500 B.C., in eastern Syria near the border of Iraq and Turkey. With a central city covering 16 hectares, it is as highly developed as sites in southern Iraq such as Uruk and Nippur and seems to debunk the theories that ancient civilization developed in southern Iraq and spread northward and westward. Instead Tell Hamoukar is offered as proof that several advanced ancient civilizations developed simultaneously in different parts of the Middle East. [Source: Natural History magazine, Clemens Reichel of the Oriental Institute of Chicago]

Excavations indicate that Tell Hamoukar was first inhabited around 4000 B.C. perhaps as early as 4500 B.C. By around 3700 B.C. is covered at least 13 hectares and displayed signs of an advanced civilization: a 2.5-meter-high, 3.4 -meter-wide defensive wall, large scale bread making and meat cooking, a wide array of cylinder seals, presumably used to mark goods. Many seals were used to secure baskets and other containers of commodities.


Tell Hamoukar

The simplest seals had only simple markings. More elaborate ones had kissing bears, ducks and a leopard with 13 spots. Scholars believed that more elaborate seals were used by people of high status and indicate a hierarchically-ordered society. But as advanced as Tell Hamoukar and other places in the area were they are not regarded as advanced as those in southern Iraq, where writing developed.

Tell Hamoukar contains a 500-acre site with buildings with huge ovens, which offer evidence that people were making food for other people. The city seems to have been a manufacturing center for tools and blades that utilized obsidian supplies further north and supplied the tools throughout Mesopotamia to the south. Other sites being excavated in northern Syria include Tell Brak and Habuba Kabira, both of which appear ro be much larger than previously thought.

A team led by Clemens Reichel of the Oriental Institute of Chicago and Syrian Department of Antiquities have been excavating Tell Hamoukar since 1999.. Guillermo Algaze of the University of California, San Diego is an archaeologist that specialize in north-south relations in Mesopotamia.

Warfare at Tell Hamoukar

The oldest known example of large scale warfare is from a fierce battle that took place at Tell Hamoukar around 3500 B.C. Evidence of intense fighting include collapsed mud walls that had undergone heavy bombardment; the presence of 1,200 oval-sapped “bullets” flung from slings and 120 large round balls. Graves held skeletons of likely battle victims. Reichel told the New York Times the clash appeared to have been a swift, rapid attack: “buildings collapse, burning out of control, burying everything in them under a vast pile of rubble.”

No one knows who the attacker of Tell Hamoukar was but circumstantial evidence points to Mesopotamia cultures to the south. The battle may have been between northern and southern Near Eastern cultures when the two cultures were relative equally, with the victory by the south giving them an edge and paving the way for them to dominate the region. Large amount of Uruk pottery was found on layers just above the battle. Reichel told the New York Times,”If the Uruk people weren’t the ones firing the sling bullets, they certainly benefitted from it. They are all over this place right after its destruction.”

Discoveries at Tell Hamoukar have changed thinking about the evolution of civilization in Mesopotamia. It was previously though that civilization developed in Sumerian cities like Ur and Uruk and radiated outward in the form of trade, conquest and colonization. But findings in Tell Hamoukar show that many indicators of civilization were present in northern places like Tell Hamoukar as well as in Mesopotamia and around 4000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. the two placed were pretty equal.

Stone Age Mesopotamia


Tel Ubaid

Nemrik, Qermez dere and M’lefaat are among the oldest villages in the world. Located in northern Iraq and dated to around 8000 B.C., they feature evidence of early agriculture and animal domestication.

Around 10,000 years ago, people that lived in what is now Turkey and northern Iraq began migrating southward. They hunted deer, gazelles, onagers and wild sheep and goats, gathered wild grasses such as wild barely and wheat and were beginning to herd sheep and goats, build simple dwellings and raised crops.

These people eventually settled in the valleys between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Little is known about them. At Mureybit, a site on the banks of the Euphrates, seeds from an uplands area---where the plants from the seeds grow naturally--- were found and dated to 11,500 years ago. An abundance of seeds from plants that grew elsewhere found near human sites is offered as evidence of agriculture.

By 6000 B.C., the Tigris and Euphrates river basins were inhabited by herdsmen and farmers who settled in towns and villages and practiced stock breeding, grain cultivation and irrigation. These people evolved into the agriculturally-based prehistoric al-Ubaid culture, which appeared 5000 B.C. in Mesopotamia.

See First Villages, Early Agriculture

Ain Ghazal


Ain Ghazal statoe at the Louvre

Ain Ghazal, an archeological site in Amman, Jordan was one of the largest population centers in the Middle East (three times larger than Jericho) from 7200 to 5000 B.C., a period in human history when sem-nomadic hunters and gathers were adapting to farming and animals herding and organizing themselves into cities. Ain Ghazal means

Ain Ghazal covers about 30 acres. The people were farmers and hunters and gatherers. They used stone tools and weapons and made clay figures and vessels. They lived in multi-room houses with stone walls and timber roof beams and cooking hearths. Plaster with decorations covered the walls and floors. They are meat and milk products from goats, grew wheat barely, lentils, peas and chickpeas, hunted wild cattle, boar and gazelles and gathered wild plants, almonds, figs and pistachios.

Mysterious human figures unearthed at Ain Ghazal, are among the oldest human statues ever found. Made of lime plaster and dating back to 7000 B.C., the figures were about 3½ feet tall and have bitumen accented eyes and look like aliens from outerspace. Scholars believe they played a ceremonial role and may have been images of gods or heros.

The figures were discovered 1985 by the driver of a bulldozers clearing the way for a road. The statues were made of delicate materials---so delicate they whole site was unearthed and shipped to a Smithsonian laboratory where the figures it took ten years to assemble the figures.

The figures come in two types: full figures and busts. Both types were made by forming plaster over a skeleton made of bundles of reed wrapped in twine. Facial features were probably made by hand with simple tools made of bone, wood or stone. The plaster technology that was used was fairly advanced and required heating limestone to temperatures if 600̊ to 900̊C

Archeologists working in Ain Ghazal found what they say may be the world’s oldest known game. The game board, a limestone slab, has two sets of circular depressions and bears a striking resemblance to games played in the Middle East today with counting stones. The slab was found in a house, and because it seemed to serve no utilitarian or ceremonial function archeologists concluded it most likely was a game board. [National Geographic Geographica, February 1990].

First Mesopotamian Civilizations

After agriculture and herding were invented, population expanded and people were freed from foraging for food and were able to develop complex technologies and social organizations that gave them an edge over the people who didn’t have these advances.

Around 5000 B.C., early irrigation canals were built on a steppe east of Mesopotamia (there is also very old evidence of irrigation at other places including 9,500-year-old Catalhoyuk in Turkey). The canals brought water to new fields. Around 3500 B.C. irrigation systems created food surpluses that generated a labor surplus---the widely accepted theory goes---that enabled the construction of the world's first cities with monumental architecture, division of labor and stratification of society.

The first irrigated crops in the American date back to 5,400 years ago or perhaps as long as 6,700 years ago. The remains of ancient irrigation ditches dated to those periods have been found in the Zana Valley in the Andean foothills of Peru, 65 kilometers from the ocean and 300 mile north of Lima.

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p> The first civilizations of Mesopotamia were made possible by grain surpluses produced by irrigation. This development freed the population from the toils of farm labor, and gave them the time to establish organizations and produce writing.

First Mesopotamian Cities

Eridu, where artifacts have been found that date back to 5000 B.C., is regarded as Mesopotamia’s oldest city. In the Eridu area a cluster Mesopotamian settlements were established in ancient Sumer, an area with fertile soil in present-day southern Iraq around 3500 B.C. These settlement grew into the city states of Ur (home of Abraham and the Chaldees in the Bible), Uruk (the Biblical city of Erech), Lagash, Nippur, Umma, Sippar, Larsa, Kish, Adab, and Isin.

Life in the earliest Mesopotamia cities was organized around temples and priestly bureaucracies. The surrounding plains were watered by vast irrigation systems and worked with traction plows. Economies were run by central authority. The people developed sailboats, wheeled vehicles, potters wheels and kilns. They smelted and tempered copper from 4000 B.C. and bronze not long afterwards. Ores and precious metals were obtained through long distance caravan trade.

Ancient civilization developed at the sites in southern Iraq and spread northward and westward. Empires in Mesopotamia violently appeared and disappeared. Unprotected by natural barriers and vulnerable to drought, Mesopotamia endured frequent invasions and famines.


Halaf period


Halaf Period (6500–5500 B.C.)

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “ In the period 6500–5500 B.C., a farming society emerged in northern Mesopotamia and Syria which shared a common culture and produced pottery that is among the finest ever made in the Near East. This culture is known as Halaf, after the site of Tell Halaf in northeastern Syria where it was first identified. [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "The Halaf Period (6500–5500 B.C.)", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, metmuseum.org \^/]

“The Halaf potters used different sources of clay from their neighbors and achieved outstanding elaboration and elegance of design with their superior quality ware. Some of the most beautifully painted polychrome ceramics were produced toward the end of the Halaf period. This distinctive pottery has been found from southeastern Turkey to Iran, but may have its origins in the region of the River Khabur (modern Syria). How and why it spread so widely is a matter of continuing debate, although analysis of the clay indicates the existence of production centers and regional copying. It is possible that such high-quality pottery was exchanged as a prestige item between local elites. The Halaf potters used different sources of clay from their neighbors and achieved outstanding elaboration and elegance of design with their superior quality ware. \^/

“The Halaf culture also produced a great variety of amulets and stamp seals of geometric design, as well as a range of largely female terracotta figurines that often emphasize the sexual features. Among the best-known Halaf sites are Arpachiyah, Sabi Abyad, and Yarim Tepe, small agricultural villages with distinctive buildings known as tholoi. These rounded domed structures, with or without antechambers, were made of different materials depending on what was available locally: limestone boulders or mud and straw. The Halaf culture was eventually absorbed into the so-called Ubaid culture, with changes in pottery and building styles.” \^/

Books: Campbell, Stuart "The Halaf Period in Iraq: Old Sites and New." Biblical Archaeologist 55 (1992), pp. 182–87.. Hijjara, Ismail “The Halaf Period in Northern Mesopotamia,” London: Nabu Publications, 1997.


Halaf period pottery


Ubaid Period (5500–4000 B.C.)

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “In the period 5500–4000 B.C., much of Mesopotamia shared a common culture, called Ubaid after the site where evidence for it was first found. Characterized by a distinctive type of pottery, this culture originated on the flat alluvial plains of southern Mesopotamia (ancient Iraq) around 6200 B.C. Indeed, it was during this period that the first identifiable villages developed in the region, where people farmed the land using irrigation and fished the rivers and sea (Persian Gulf). Thick layers of alluvial silt deposited every spring by the flooding rivers cover many of these sites. [Source: Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art. "The Ubaid Period (5500–4000 B.C.)", Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, metmuseum.org \^/]

“Some villages began to develop into towns and became focused on monumental buildings, such as at Eridu and Uruk. The Ubaid culture spread north across Mesopotamia, gradually replacing the Halaf culture. Ubaid pottery is also found to the south, along the west coast of the Persian Gulf, perhaps transported there by fishing expeditions. \^/

“Baked clay figurines, mainly female, decorated with painted or appliqué ornament and lizardlike heads, have been found at a number of Ubaid sites. Simple clay tokens may have been used for the symbolic representation of commodities, and pendants and stamp seals may have had a similar symbolism, if not function. During this period, the repertory of seal designs expands to include snakes, birds, and animals with humans. There is much continuity between the Ubaid culture and the succeeding Uruk period, when many of the earlier traditions were elaborated, particularly in architecture.” \^/

Treasures from the Pre-Sumerian Age at the Iraqi National Museum include the world’s oldest calendar, a 10,000-year-old pebble with 12 notches on it; 10,000-year-old sickles used by the world’s first farmers; the Shandihar skull, a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal skull, and 50,000-year-old Neanderthal flint tools found in Shanidar cave; a lizard-face terra-cotta male effigy from the Ubaid culture, dated to 4000 B.C., found in graves at Ur and Eridu; an Ubaid baked clay boat model, dated at 4500 B.C.; found in a grave in Eridu and the best example of early water transform in Mesopotamia.

Books: Henrickson, Elizabeth F., and Ingolf Thuesen, eds. Upon This Foundation—The Ubaid Reconsidered: Proceedings from the Ubaid Symposium, Elsinore, May 30th–June 1st 1988.. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 1989; Stein, Gil, and Mitchell S. Rothman, eds. Chiefdoms and Early States in the Near East: The Organizational Dynamics of Complexity. Madison, Wis.: Prehistory Press, 199



Samarran Culture, Choga Mami and the Origins of Irrigation

The Samarra culture is a Copper Age culture in northern Mesopotamia that existed roughly dated from 5500 to 4800 B.C.. Partially overlaping with the Hassuna and early Ubaid periods, . Samarra its is associated most with the sites of of Samarra, Tell Shemshara, Tell es-Sawwan and Yarim Tepe. At Tell es-Sawwan, evidence of irrigation—including flax—establishes the presence of a prosperous settled culture with a highly organized social structure. The culture is primarily known for its finely made pottery decorated with stylized animals, including birds, and geometric designs on dark backgrounds. This widely exported type of pottery, one of the first widespread, relatively uniform pottery styles in the Ancient Near East, was first recognized at Samarra. The Samarran Culture was the precursor to the Mesopotamian culture of the Ubaid period.

Choga Mami a Samarran site in Diyala Province, Iraq about 110 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, shows some of world’s earliest evidence of irrigation. The first canal irrigation operation dates to about 6000 B.C.. The site,, has been dated to the late 6th millennium B.C., was occupied in several phases from the Samarran culture through the Ubaid. Buildings were rectangular and built of mud brick, including a guard tower at the settlement's entrance. Irrigation supported livestock (cattle, sheep and goats) and arable (wheat, barley and flax) agriculture. [Source: Wikipedia]

Choga Mami yields important evidence on the chronological relationships between North and South Mesopotamian cultures and their connections with Iran. The introduction of irrigation, new types of grain, foreign ceramic styles and domestic cattle are all located in the Choga Mami phase, a late manifestation of the Samarran Period in lowland Mesopotamia. This chronological identification thus also suggests the source of these innovations: migration from the lowlands.

Choga Mami is the largest Tell in the Mandali region. Excavators David and Joan Oates describe the site as a "low mound some 200 meters long and 2-5 meters high," and "heavily eroded, the latest preserved levels dating to 4800 B.C." Based on excavation findings, it appears that Choga Mami had a few small village clusters with small irrigated areas where people grew wheat and barley; herded sheep, goats and some cows; and hunted gazelles and other wild fauna. Lentils and "large-seeded peas" were also grown, while pistachios were gathered from the nearby landscape. The domestication of plants and animals at Choga Mami was possible because of man-made irrigation channels which "ran along the northern side of the mound," which date from the "6th millennium B.C.," and a large canal dating to the end of the Samarran period which was located at the "southwestern side of the mound." Some channels reached more than five kilometers in length, which would require the cooperative labor of larger groups. The latest of these canals can be dated to around 1,500 years ago.


Imdugud (Anzu) grasping a pair of deer from Tell Al-Ubaid


Early History of Mesopotamia

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, with some out-of-date dating: “The earliest records, then, show us a state of things not unlike that of our Saxon heptarchy: petty princes, or city-monarchies successfully endeavouring to obtain lordship over a neighbouring town or a group of towns, and in turn being overcome by others. And, considering that most of these towns were but a score of miles distant from one another and changed rulers frequently, the history is somewhat confusing. The most ancient ruler at present known to us is Enshagkushanna, who is styled King of Kengi. Owing to the broken state of the sherd on which the inscription occurs, and which possibly dates soon after 5000 B.C., the name of his capital is unknown. It probably was Shirpurla, and he ruled over Southern Babylonia. He claims to have won a great victory over the City of Kish, and he dedicated the spoil, including a statue of bright silver, to Mullil, the god of Calanne (Nippur). [Source: J.P. Arendzen, transcribed by Rev. Richard Giroux, Catholic Encyclopedia |=|]

“It seems like that Kish was the most southern city captured by Semites; of one of its kings, Manishtusu, we possess a mace-head, as a sign of his royalty, and a stele, or obelisk, in archaic cuneiforms and Semitic Babylonian. Somewhat later Mesilim, the King of Kish, retrieved the defeat of his predecessor and acted as suzerain of Shirpurla. Another probable name of a King of Kish is Urumush, or Alusharshid, though some make him King of Akkad. Whereas our information concerning the dynasty of Kish is exceedingly fragmentary, we are somewhat better informed about the rulers of Shirpurla. |=|

“About 4500 B.C. we find Urkagina reigning there and, somewhat later, Lugal (lugal, "great man", i.e. " prince", or "king") Shuggur. Then, after an interval, we are acquainted with a succession of no fewer than seven Kings of Shirpurla: Gursar, Gunidu, Ur-Ninâ, Akur-Gal, Eannatum I, Entemena and Eannatum II -- which last king must have reigned about 4000 B.C. De Sarszec found at Tello a temple-wall some of the bricks of which bore the clear legend of Ur-Nina, thus leaving on record this king's building activity. Thanks to the famous stele of the vultures, now in the Louvre, to some clay steles in the British Museum, and a cone found at Shirpurla, we have an idea of the warlike propensities of Eannatum I, who subdued the people of Gishban by a crushing defeat, made them pay an almost incredible war-indemnity of corn, and appointed over that city his own viceroy, "who placed his yoke on the land of Elam", "and of Gisgal", and who is represented as braining with his club foes whose heads are protruding out of the opening of a bag in which they are bound. |=|

“That, notwithstanding these scenes of bloodshed, it was an age of art and culture can be evidently shown by such finds as that of a superb silver vase of Entemena, Eannatum's son and successor, and, as crown-prince, general of his army. After Eannatum II the history of Shirpurla is a blank, until we find the name of Lugal Ushumgal, when, however, the city has for a time lost its independence, for this ruler was the vassal of Shargon I of Akkad, about 3800 B.C. Yet, some six centuries afterwards, when the dynasty of Akkad had ceased to be, the patesis, or high-priests, of Shirpurla were still men of renown. A long inscription on the back of a statue tells us of the vast building achievements of Ur-Bau about the year 3200; and the name of his son and successor, Nammaghani. About two centuries later we find Gudea, one of the most famous rulers the city every possessed. Excavations at Tello have laid bare the colossal walls of his great palace and have shown us how, both by land and sea, he brought his materials from vast distances, while his architecture and sculpture show perfect art and refinement, and we incidentally learn that he conquered the district of Anshan in Elam. After Gudea, we are acquainted with the names of four more rulers of Shirpurla, but in these subsequent reigns the city seems to have quickly sunk into political insignificance. Another Sumerian dynasty was that of Erech, or Gishban.

About 4000 B.C. a certain Lugal Zaggisi, son of the Patesi of Gishban, who became King of Erech, proudly styled himself King of the World, as Enshagkushanna and Alusharshid had done, claimed to rule from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean, and praises the supreme god Enlil, or Bel, of Nippur, who "granted him the dominion of all from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof and caused the countries to dwell in peace". Yet to us it seems but a rushlight of glory; for after his son Lugal-Kisalsi the Kingdom of Erech disappears in the night of the past. The same may be said of the dynasty of Agade. Ittibel's son, Sargon I, suddenly stands before us as a giant figure in history about 3800 B.C. He was a monarch proud of his race and language, for his inscriptions were in his Semitic mother-tongue, not in the Sumerian, like those of previous kings. He is rightly called the first founder of a Semitic empire. Under him flourished Semitic language, literature, and art, especially architecture. He established his dominion in Susa, the capital of Elam, subdued Syria and Palestine in three campaigns, set up an image of himself on the Syrian coast, as a monument of his triumphs, and welded his conquests into one empire. Naram-Sin, his son, even extended his gather's conquests, invading the Sinai Peninsula and, apparently, Cyprus, where a seal cylinder was found on which he receives homage as a god. On inscriptions of that date first occurs mention of the city of God's Gate, or Babylon (Bâb-ilu sometimes Bâb-ilani, whence the Greek Babulon, then written ideographically Kâ-Dungir. |=|



“After Bingani, Naram-Sin's son, Semitic successes were temporarily eclipsed; Egypt occupied Sinai, Elam became again independent, and in Babylonia itself the Sumerian element reasserted itself. We find a dynasty of Ur already in prominence. This city seems at two different periods to have exercised the hegemony over the Euphrates Valley or part of it. First under Urgur and Dungi I, about 3400 B.C. This Urgur assumed the title of King of Sumer and Akkad, thus making the first attempt to unite North and South Babylonia into a political unit, and inaugurating a royal style which was borne perhaps longer than the title of any other dignity since the world was made. Ur predominates, for the second time, about 2800 B.C., under Dungi II, Gungunu, Bur-Sin, Gimil-Sin and Ine Sin, whose buildings and fortifications are found in many cities of Babylonia.

"The history of Ur is as yet so obscure that some scholars (Thureau-Dangin, Hilprecht, Bezold) accept but two dynasties, other (Rogers) three, others (Hugo, Radau) four. The supremacy of Ur is followed, about 2500 B.C., by that of (N) Isin, apparently an unimportant city, as its rulers style themselves Shepherds, or Gracious Lords, of Isin, and place this title after that of King of Ur, Eridu, Erech, and Nippur. Six rulers of Isin are known: Ishbigarra, Libit-Ishtar, Bur-Sin II, Ur-Ninib, Ishme-Dagan, and Enannatum. The last of the city-kingdoms was that of Larsa, about 2300 B.C., with its sovereigns Siniddinam Nur-Adad, Chedornanchundi, Chedorlaomer, Chedormabug, and Eri-Aku. The composition of these royal names with Chedor, the Elamite Kudor, sufficiently shows that they did not belong to a native dynasty, whether Sumerian or Semitic. One of the earliest Elamite invaders of Babylonia was Rim-Amun, who obtained such a foothold on Babylonian soil that the year of his reign was used to date contract tablets, a sure sign that he was at least king de facto.

"Chedornanchundi invaded Babylonia about the year 2285, reached Erech, plundered its temples, and captured the city-goddess; but whether he established a permanent rule, remains doubtful. Somewhat later Chedorlaomer (Kudur-Laghamar, "Servant of Laghamar", an Elamite deity), known to us from the Bible, seems to have been more successful. Not only does he appear as overlord of Babylonia, but he carried his conquest as far west as Palestine. Chedormabug was originally Prince of Emutbal, or western Elam, but obtained dominion over Babylonia and rebuilt the temple at Ur. His son, Rim-Sin, or Eri-Aku, considered himself so well established on Babylonian territory that he affected the ancient titles , Exalter of Ur, King of Larsa, King of Sumer and Akkad. Yet he was the least of the city-kings, and a new order of things began with the rise of Babylon".

Presence of a Strong Culture in Northern Mesopotamia (Southern Turkey)

Dr. Harvey Weiss, a Yale University archeologist, visited Tell Beidar and told the New York Times that it and Kazane Hoyuk "prove everything we've been saying about northern Mesopotamia for many years," namely that the cuneiform archive discovered in 1974 at Ebla, also in Syria, was not an anomaly but strong evidence of the widespread expansion of Sumerian urban civilization, beginning as early as 2600 B.C. [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, November 9, 1993]

If Ebla, near the city of Aleppo, revealed the civilization's western progression, excavations by Dr. Weiss at Tell Leilan, begun in 1979, produced the first strong evidence of its northern reach. Tell Leilan, identified as the ancient walled city of Shubat Enlil that experienced sudden growth in 2500, lies on the fertile plains of Syria near the borders of Turkey and Iraq. Nearby is the European dig site of Tell Beidar. Farther north is Kazane Hoyuk, at least twice as large as Tell Beidar and the same size as Tell Leilan or larger. Other scholars had previously failed to recognize this expansion phenomenon mainly because the most thorough excavations had until recently been confined to the Sumerian heartland in the lower Tigris and Euphrates valley. "People used to think of ancient Mesopotamia as small and restricted, but not any longer," said Dr. Elizabeth Stone, an archeologist at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Since early writing was associated with official record-keeping related to the collection and distribution of grain and goods and since Kazane Hoyuk was a city on known trade routes, Dr. Michalowski said: "I will stick my neck out and say it had to be a literate society. Other tablets may be found there. I've always thought Ebla was only a symptom of a much more widespread literacy in this period."

Mesopotamian-Era Cultures in Southern Turkey

Wilford wrote in New York Times “Dr. Wattenmaker was driving on the road south of the modern Turkish city of Urfa when she saw a prominent mound in the fields near an irrigation canal. In her initial survey last year, pottery shards were found scattered over the ground. Some were as much as 7,000 years old. Others were at least 4,500 years old and in the Sumerian style. This and other evidence gathered this year indicated that the site had been occupied almost continuously since 5000 B.C., and so should provide evidence of the transition from a simple farming society to an urban culture. It grew to be a large city about 2600 B.C. and was abandoned for an unknown reason around 1800 B.C. Wattenmaker’s research team included archeologists from the Universities of Chicago and Virginia, Istanbul University and the Urfa Museum. [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, November 9, 1993]

A worker found the baked clay tablet lying on the surface. It is 22 inches by 22, and encrusted in dirt. Cleaning away some of the dirt, archeologists saw the wedge-shaped cuneiform inscriptions typical of early writing, which was first developed by Mesopotamians about 5,000 years ago. Scholars are especially cautious in their assessment of the tablet because it was a "stray find." It was picked up on the ground, out of context with archeological ruins and in an area that had been disturbed by construction of the canal. Still, they said it appeared to be genuine and from the third millennium B.C.

"It's a tease," said Dr. Piotr Michalowski, a specialist in Sumerian and Babylonian languages at the University of Michigan, who is examining photographs of the tablet inscriptions. "It doesn't tell you much. It is not a connected narrative of any sort, just signs and not very good ones. Somebody might have been practicing writing, and wasn't good at it." Speculation of Literacy

Although archeologists said they could not yet determine the ancient name of this city, Dr. Michalowski said there was a "good degree of probability" that it was Urshu, which Sumerian inscriptions of 2100 B.C. refer to as a city in the highlands of Ebla; that would put it at some distance to the northwest. The site of Urshu has never been identified. But confirmation of this surmise will have to await the discovery of more and better tablets.

Preliminary study of the tablets at Tell Beidar, Dr. Lebeau said, showed that they are approximately the same age as the Ebla archive, probably a century or two later than the Kazane Hoyuk fluorescence, and that they provide a clear link between this ancient city, Ebla in the west and southern Mesopotamia. These are the first tablets of this period to be found in northern Syria, and archeologists expect to find more as they dig deeper at the site. The discovery team included archeologists from Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Syria.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Mesopotamia sourcebooks.fordham.edu , National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, especially Merle Severy, National Geographic, May 1991 and Marion Steinmann, Smithsonian, December 1988, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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