August 1, 2019
9 Ancient Sumerian Inventions That Changed the WorldBreaking News
tags: Sumerian, Inventions
The ancient Sumerians, who flourished thousands of years ago between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what today is southern Iraq, built a civilization that in some ways was the ancient equivalent of Silicon Valley. As the late historian Samuel Noah Kramer wrote, “The people of Sumer had an unusual flair for technological invention.”
In what the Greeks later called Mesopotamia, Sumerians invented new technologies and perfected the large-scale use of existing ones. In the process, they transformed how humans cultivated food, built dwellings, communicated and kept track of information and time.
The Sumerians’ creativity was driven to an extent by their land’s lack of natural resources, according to Philip Jones, associate curator and keeper of the Babylonian section at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.
“They had few trees, almost no stone or metal,” he explains. That forced them to make ingenious use of materials such as clay—the plastic of the ancient world. They used it to make everything from bricks to pottery to tablets for writing.
But the Sumerians’ real genius may have been organizational. They had the ability to take inventions that had been developed elsewhere and apply them on a much bigger scale. This way they could mass-produce goods such as textiles and pottery that they could then trade with other people.
As Kramer writes, there was something in the Sumerian identity that drove them to dream big and think ingeniously. “Spiritually and psychologically, they laid great stress on ambition and success, preeminence and prestige, honor and recognition,” he explains.
The Sumerians’ innovations gradually spread and led to the development of the modern technologically advanced world that we live in today. Here are some of the areas where the Sumerians left their mark.
Other ancient people made pottery by hand, but the Sumerians were the first to develop the turning wheel, a device which allowed them to mass-produce it, according to Reed Goodman, a doctoral candidate in the art and archaeology of the Mediterranean at the University of Pennsylvania. That enabled them to churn out large numbers of items such as containers for workers’ rations, sort of the ancient forerunner of Tupperware.
Jones says that it’s likely, though not 100 percent certain, that the Sumerians were the first to develop a writing system. Either way, it’s clear that they were using written communication by 2800 B.C. But they didn’t set out to write great literature or record their history, but rather to keep track of the goods that they were making and selling.
“Their very first texts are just numbers and commodities,” Jones explains. They did that with a system of pictographs, which essentially were drawings of various objects. Eventually, though, they began to combine pictographs to express ideas and actions. The pictographs evolved into symbols that stood for words and sounds.
Scribes used sharpened reeds to scratch the symbols into wet clay, which dried to form tablets. The system of writing became known as cuneiform, and as Kramer noted, it was borrowed by subsequent civilizations and used across the Middle East for 2,000 years.
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