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The Sumerians: A Historical Narrative Analysis

4405 words (18 pages) Essay in History

08/02/20 History Reference this

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Exploring One of the Earliest Peoples of Mesopotamia

 

Introduction

Researchers for many years, have been coming up short when it comes to the inception of the Sumerians.  There have been differing theories throughout the course of time about the Sumerians in reference to where they came from and who they were.  Argument exists in reference to where the Sumerian people came from because humans traveled to Sumer from other places like Africa, Iran, India, and even regions around the Caucasus mountains, but there really is no evidence supporting that speculation precisely.  To this day, research involving the Sumerians continues to perplex scholars trying to obtain new information.

The agricultural revolution took place in the Fertile Crescent ca. 8000 BCE and was one of the most important events that ever took place, second to the last ice age and the rise of the Homo sapiens (human beings) from our hominid ancestors that came before us.  With that, the advancements that followed, economic and technological, provided the foundation upon which the Sumerians built the first ever civilization.

The Fertile Crescent is important when it comes to the history surrounding the development of farming and is inextricably linked to where it is located on the globe.  The Fertile Crescent was both a region of land in Southern Asia that had natural diversity, and also an area that had climatic advantages over other regions which ushered in the Neolithic Revolution, and gave rise to cultivation where people transformed from being hunter gatherers to farmers.

The first writing system, mathematical system, the plow, and the wheel, among others, are all the accomplishments that were developed from the technological advances that took place from the Sumerians.  The original prototype for the city-states, the seed from which the first civilization grew, started in the ancient city of Uruk.  With the appearance of city-states along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the Sumerians built their walled off cities and they really started to take hold around 3500 BCE.  From there, civilization was born.  Sumerian domination in this region of Sumer continued until around 1900 BCE when the Babylonians took control and absorbed Sumerian culture and technology.

Statement of Problem

The problem for researchers and scholars’ alike centers around a debate encompassing the arrival of the Sumerians in Sumer, Mesopotamia.  This Sumerian problem is ambiguous because there are two perspectives that lie at opposite ends of a continuum of approaches that has a plethora of supporting evidence for either opinion.    The first perspective begs the question on whether the Sumerians were, indeed, the first inhabitants of lower Mesopotamia.  The Ubaid Culture, prior to the arrival of the Sumerians, started domesticating animals, developed basic irrigational techniques, planted and grew crops, and with the arrival of the Sumerians you see a shift to a more high-tech system of irrigation and agricultural techniques.  This perspective carries plausibility as it is possible that the Sumerians evolved or transitioned from the Ubaid Culture.  The second perspective argues for some kind of subjugation theory where other inhabitants of lower Mesopotamia resided in the region first and the Sumerians moved in and took over another culture creating a new power dynamic and a new culture.  Also, entirely plausible.  The question I would like to answer, and the problem that exists, centers on a median ideological opinion.  Could another group of transitory people from northern Mesopotamia have migrated to south Mesopotamia calling Sumer their home, absorbing the Ubaid Culture, and then the Sumerians later moved northward from somewhere south of the Persian Gulf region settling on Sumer as their home, subjugating this culture, who had already had language, irrigational techniques and an agricultural system in place?  At this point it is entirely speculation.  Additionally, an exploration of the Fertile Crescent will take place as it pertains to fertility and not the definition as it pertains to agriculture.

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this project was rooted, initially, in pure interest for the ancient Sumerians.  The inaugural research was to complete an analytical exploration of one of the first peoples of Sumer, Mesopotamia to just obtain a greater understanding of how they arrived onto the scene in Sumer, who they were in greater depth, and what, if any, contributions they made to the future of mankind.  With time; however, the purpose of the research became clear, and shifted to include an analysis of the Sumerian accounting of their belief in how the Earth came into existence, as well as their belief in the Annunaki, the group of deities that reside in the mythological traditions of the Sumerians.  According to information obtained over the course of research, the Annunaki came from Nibiru (a planet that resides in our solar system with a cross-orbital trajectory that visits our planets every 3600 years) and created a human slave race to do their work here on Earth.  Over time, arising from the Fertile Crescent, the Sumerians built agriculturally dependent city-states giving rise to the birth of civilization.  Further research requires an analytical examination of the word “fertile” in Fertile Crescent and its contribution to the appearance of the Sumerians in Sumer.  Does the word “fertile” have a connection to fertility, conception, and birth, rather than the definition as implied to mean conducive to agriculture growth.

Literature Review

Introduction

Approximately 5000 years ago the Sumerians, one of the greatest, yet unique civilizations surfaced in Sumer, Mesopotamia.  Throughout the Sumerians’ 2000-year existence they were endowed with intellectual inquiry which fostered technological advancement, facilitated the invention of the wheel, a writing system, and an advanced system of mathematics.  The Sumerians lived in a region known as the Fertile Crescent and this area was conducive to an abundance of agriculture, and with the arrival of the Sumerians, fueled expansive growth resulting in the birth of civilization.  The Fertile Crescent is important when it comes to the history surrounding the development of farming and is inextricably linked to where it is located on the globe.  The Fertile Crescent was both a region of land in Southern Asia that had natural diversity, and also an area that had climatic advantages over other regions which ushered in the Neolithic Revolution, and gave rise to cultivation where people transformed from being hunter gatherers to farmers.

Prior to the arrival of the Sumerians; however, there were hunter-gatherer societies that were dependent on wild resources for their daily requirements and the ability to cultivate plants gave humans the ability to have control over their own food.  This resulted in stability and allowed populations of people to grow quickly leading to established societies and the rise of the Sumerian civilization.  The advent of agriculture put humans in control of nature, which was responsible for evolutionary changes that affected all of mankind moving forward.

 

Review of Literature

Agriculture, which seen its infancy in the Fertile Crescent ca. 10,000 years ago, was one of the greatest events that ever took place throughout human history.  The prevailing assumption that was universal among all scholars and researchers in this review was that the production of agriculture fostered a way of life that was greater than the life experienced by hunter gatherer communities.  There has been a belief that in order to make the transition to an agriculturally based system that a sufficient level of intellect, knowledge, and readiness would have to have been achieved.  Robert Braidwood, Anthropologist at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, seeing that culture plays a part, contends that agriculture was not something that was possible 125 million years ago because the cognitive framework was not developed enough in the human brain (100).   There is a possibility that hunter-gatherer societies transitioned to a lifestyle of agriculture, not because of a willingness to accept change, but more so because of some kind of external factor that was imposed upon them.  A push model may have potentially given the hunter-gatherer communities a forced reason to embrace an agricultural system far sooner than they were ready for and that event would have been climate change.

Climate Change as a Factor for the Origin of Agriculture

One theory for the origin of agriculture that was a push factor was climate change.  There were events that took place that caused a shift in climate variables that led to changes in precipitation and temperature fluctuations.  This resulted in colder, drier conditions resulting in a more stable environment to the south in the direction of the Persian Gulf.  This caused migration toward the south Mediterranean regions because there were fertile pockets of land ripe for the growth of agriculture which contributed to an increase in population and an explosion in food resources.  V. Gordon Childe, Director of the Institute of Archaeology at the University of London, was a supporter of the climate change theory for agriculture.  He theorized in his “Oasis Hypothesis” (1929) that there was some kind of climate event that triggered a change to dry and cold conditions in the northern part of the Fertile Crescent and this triggered migratory patterns where humans, and animals alike, relocated to southern Mesopotamia and setup residence in the vicinity of the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys. (Childe 46-77).  This was necessary for water use but may have been the catalyst that propagated the beginning of sedentarism, which with time provided the optimal environment that would give rise to the advent of agriculture providing these populations of people with an exorbitant amount of resources.  Childe’s argument, although it does acknowledge climate and environmental criteria, shows weakness because it does not provide any kind of factors relating to cultural issues that could have also played a component to the development of agriculture.

Robert Braidwood (1948) finds some common ground with Childe and shows agreement with his ideology that climate change played a pivotal role on the inception of agriculture, but he dismisses the role it plays as small, and additionally suggests that the inducement of agriculture coincides with cultural phenomenon. Braidwood introduces his “Nuclear Zone” theory which suggests that agriculture began in the hills of the Zagros-Taurus mountain ranges because those ideally zoned regions were well-watered (107-108) but believed that culture was the prognosticator of agriculture because of evolutionary circumstances in humans that cultivated the elements for inducing culture change which contributed to its rise.  This gave stability to the hunter-gatherer cultures which induced sedentary activities and allowed for them to acquire knowledge in regard to the new environment that they were now living in allowing for the domestication of certain species of wild strains of plants.  Both Braidwood and Childe argued that agriculture developed in small zones with ideal conditions but argues that no change to the climate took place because the hilly regions in Mesopotamia at that time were already fertile, and therefore plants were already being domesticated for human use.

Although Braidwood’s theory exemplifies the role that culture plays in the rise of agriculture, a flaw that presents itself is that no attempt is made to answer the question as to why agriculture arrived when it did.  Braidwood only gives theoretical argumentation for how he believed it happened but not why it happened.  Additionally, Braidwood displays criticism of Childe’s theory and provides great reasons as to why but fails to provide another theory as an alternative citing culture change as the reason.   Braidwood writes in his book, Prehistoric Man, that the groups became engaged in agriculture because the villagers were ready for it (99).  This gives a valid accounting to his theoretical argument that the origin of agriculture took place at a time when culture and the ability to learn and reason were more complex.  This argument does not prove to be very compelling as all he puts forth as a claim is the size of the brain of then humans.  This does not allow one to obtain much knowledge in regard because anthropologists, and archaeologists alike, cannot obtain information regarding brain capabilities from those already dead.  There is evidence from back then that indicates these earlier humans had developed enough cognitive ability to share ideas and concepts from artifacts collected, but that is a subjective debate.

Another theory for the origin of agriculture centers around the growth of population and how the beginning of agriculture is tied to an increase in population. It was believed that forager peoples became victim to the cold dry climate where they resided, so they relocated to the south to live around the Tigris, Euphrates, and Persian Gulf coastal regions, and it is in those areas where the hunter-gatherer groups became sedentary because the availability of resources allowed for the transition.

Population models as an origin of agriculture

Lewis Binford, a Professor of Anthropology at Southern Methodist University, at the time, was a prominent figure in Archeology who changed the course of the field with his research in what was defined as the “New Archaeology”.  Although Binford rejected Childe’s and Braidwood’s historical cultural model, for the most part he found common ground within certain segments of their hypotheses and then combined the elements with his own ideology to formulate a new systems theory.  Binford (2001) argued in his book, Reconstructing Frames of Reference: An Analytical Method for Archaeological Theory Building Using Ethnographic and Environmental Data Sets, that with the explosive population growth that took place, food availability became a stressor, but the advent of agriculture lessened that pressure and gave sustenance that was needed to maintain the societal growth that was going on at that time (400-401).  Binford believed that when hunter-gatherer cultures existed they had an understanding about how to maintain a center where the availability of resources was proportional to the population size of the society in which they lived.

Where Childe argued that hunter-gatherer cultures relocated to the coastal areas and then became sedentary, Binford argues, that these groups of people did, indeed, move into these prime coastal areas, but this put a stress on any available resources which caused an imbalance when it came to maintaining supply within the group.  Binford contends that stressors within the population created a forced evacuation of these prime areas and these groups then had to relocate along the outlying areas and this allowed for the process of domestication to take place when it comes to plants.

Binford’s theoretical model, although it brings to the table new ideas, challenging the old ways, shows flaws within its framework.  One example of this is the ideology presented in reference to the closed system hypothesis.  This presents challenges to whether Binford’s hypothesis can accurately show whether societal functions were accurate.  Migrations of people, as well as those deemed as invasions, can surely prove to be pivotal when explaining this kind of change in a defined area.  Binford’s model rejects these ideas because change can only come from within these closed systems.  Additionally, Binford’s approach does nothing to validate change within the individuals themselves.  Where Childe and Braidwood both acknowledge that collectively humans could have decided their own fate, Binford rejects these ideologies.

References

  • Binford, L.R (2001).  The Evolution of System States:  Complexity, Stability, Symmetry, and System Change.  Reconstructing Frames of Reference:  An Analytical Method for Archaeological Theory Building Using Ethnographic and Environmental Data Sets.  (pp.400-401). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
  • Braidwood, R. J. (1948). End and Prelude. In Prehistoric Men (1st ed., pp. 92-120). Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/52664/52664-h/52664-h.htm#hdr_7
  • Childe, V. G. (1929). The Oldest Farmers. The Most Ancient East: The Oriental Prelude to European Prehistory [Kindle] (pp. 46-77).

Method/Approach

The methodology used throughout my project reflects a historical, anthropological, archaeological, and linguistical analytical research design. It follows a chronological timeline based upon the origin of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent, the Sumerian belief of the creation of the Earth through the rise of writing, mathematics, the invention of the wheel resulting in the birth of civilization.  The research is based on textual analysis with some focus on visual images of historical, anthropological, and archaeological findings. Although primarily rooted in history, the research focuses on constructing an analytic narrative about the experiences of a certain group of people, in this case the Sumerians.  This research design helps with the re-creation of past events, problems, and issues as they relate to their existence. Because my research is based more or less on evaluation, explanation, and analytical findings, the method that will be used will differ from the normal trajectory of other methodical approaches.

The question to be answered reflected in my statement of problem, as it deals with the Fertile Crescent, revolves around taking a new approach to the rise of civilization being referred to as the “birth” place of civilization.  The accepted doctrine among the anthropological and archaeological discourse was that the Fertile Crescent was defined by ground suitable or conducive to the advent of agriculture.  This burgeoning phenomenon (agriculture) fostered the formation of stratified societies which in turn fostered the growth of civilization.  My statement of problem seeks to deviate from the collective norm and question whether the Fertile Crescent can be analyzed in a different lens, instead viewing it in terms of fertility, as in giving “birth” to civilization.  Interesting to note, while doing my research about the Sumerians, each city-state formed in Sumerian society had a god or goddess that was in charge and had a temple designed and designated for them at the top of each ziggurat.  In Uruk, the first city, and the prototype upon which each Sumerian city-state was fashioned after, a goddess by the name of Inanna was assigned to the temple and she was the goddess of fertility and sex.  With this relevant finding, a goddess, who symbolizes the inherent life bearing aspect of most women who are capable of bearing seed and being the harbinger of human life, overseeing fertility in what would be the first city in Sumerian society, the image upon which all other Sumerian cities are crafted after, although they display diversity, is worthy of further research to find any connections between the Fertile Crescent, the advent of agriculture, and the “birth” of civilization.

Because of financial implications and time constraints limitations on primary research for this project creates an inability to perform real time analysis and observation of anthropological and archaeological artifacts, or excavations of Sumerian dwellings. Since my project does not deal with any form of quantitative data or analysis, my project research deals with secondary analysis of already existing qualitative data to find a new perspective focus from written findings, analytical works, or as mentioned above, visual images.  Additionally, some primary source information is used and intertwined within the secondary analysis to strengthen the focus of the new perspective.

Procedure

To begin to attempt to answer my questions, a limit to the parameters of the origin of agriculture research was done and it was confined only to the Fertile Crescent. Other regions of the world were not used to argue for the origins of agriculture, as it was felt that they were not relevant to my research. The Sumerians arose from the Fertile Crescent so to research and include the origin of agriculture from other areas of the world takes the research away from the target area

The method of collection used for data involved answering the questions chosen.  Research was collected until the threshold was hit where no new ideas or theories emerged, and repeat arguments started appearing for each segment.  As mentioned above, secondary analysis of already existing research was done to obtain a new perspective which gave me the data needed to re-examine the literature to obtain new principles and ideas that were not included thematically, conceptually, or theoretically in the original studies.

Research on my project has been ongoing incrementally since my time in my undergraduate program. First, the portion of my project that had already been written prior to starting my research concerning the origins of agriculture in my graduate work for my master’s project centers around the advancements that provided the Sumerians the foundation by which they built the first ever civilization.  These advancements, the first writing system, mathematical system, the plow, and the wheel, show how a civilization is achieved as society passes through the stages of human development that is organized and considered advanced.

Second, the next phase of my project is finished and took place while in the middle of my master’s program.  The research starts with the Sumerian accounting of their belief of the creation of the universe and the Earth.  It is followed by research on how the Sumerians arrived on scene in Sumer in southern Mesopotamia by providing analysis concerning their Annunaki gods that reside within the Sumerians’ religious beliefs, and their creation of the first humans that were created as a slave race to do the gods work.  This was followed by research with argumentation on how the Sumerians made their appearance.  Did they relocate to Sumer from northern Mesopotamia, or did they subjugate another culture?  Furthermore, research was conducted on the Sumerian language, as the Sumerians utilized a non-Semitic language aggregate that was not common for the region.  This phase of the research connects to the first phase, which was written in my undergraduate program, taking it from, as the Sumerians believed was the creation of their universe and the Earth, to the rise of agriculture and “birth of civilization”.

The third phase of the work that will be undertaken is presently in construction.  A literature review is being conducted to research on the origin of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent.  There is interest to see what arguments were made previously that may explain the arrival of the Sumerians. As of current, the literature review contains theoretical argumentation from a mix of three anthropological and archaeological viewpoints where the researchers themselves were major contributors to the understanding of the origin of agriculture, not only in the Fertile Crescent, but all over the world.  Because of the contribution these researchers made to the origin of agriculture on the entire globe difficulty set in trying to research their findings based only on theoretical ideologies that were pertinent to my question about the origin of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent.  Further research of literature concerning theoretical argumentation and concepts is in progress in the disciplines of anthropology, archaeology, ecology, and geology.

My goal for the duration of effort required to finish my project and take it to final project report is December 2019.  Spring semester 2019 will be used to continue with some research that will tie the argument in my statement of problem into my research project.  This will finalize the research component of the project and move it on to my project committee for review.  The remaining time and days after Spring 2019 semester up until the end of Fall semester 2019 will be utilized to meet with my project committee and get their input and edit my project accordingly which will get me to my final project.

Additionally, the research for my project provides the necessary framework that will allow for changes that will improve my work should it become necessary.

To keep within the scope of ethical research and writing, I will be utilizing proper APA format to make sure that any and all data that is not known to the reader, or the researcher, is properly given citations when the situation is warranted.  As far as IRB approval, my thesis does not require any such approval as it is based on non-qualitative and non-quantitative data using only past written research.  No humans will be tested in real life.  There also will be no conflict of interest. There is no inherent risk to me or any other individuals, so the level of risk will be minimal when it comes to the information that is researched and presented.

Conclusion

While the research that I am getting ready to conduct, consisting of textual analysis of already existing qualitative written historical, anthropological, and archaeological research will prove difficult, I propose that I will create my argument and arrive at an analytical finding on the use of the word “birth” by way of the Fertile Crescent.

Long term goals or objectives concerning this project revolve around continued research after completion and submission of the final product  One objective I would like to achieve is to take the information or knowledge that I obtained as part of the research process and correlate it with historical biblical discourse and literature to find the similarities between the religious doctrines, and additionally take the historical context of the Sumerians and see what history lies in the Bible.

As mentioned previously in the methods/approach section of this research proposal limitations to my study come from financial and time constraints on primary research in the context of real time analysis and observation of anthropological and archaeological artifacts or excavation of the area where Sumer once existed looking for new information; however, primary source literature was utilized when warranted.

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