Scientists argue – which of the ancient civilizations is the most ancient? If before the answer was obvious, today there are several rivals for this title. Countless civilizations have risen and fallen over the millennia. But which one is the most ancient?
About 30 years ago, the answer to this question seemed clear. Around 4000 BC the earliest phase of Sumerian culture arose in the region of Mesopotamia – mostly in what is now Iraq. The Sumerians got their name from the ancient city of Sumer, which was a few kilometers south of the modern city of Kut, in eastern Iraq. Archaeologists consider the earliest Sumerian phase to be the Uruk period – the ancient city of Uruk is located about 80 kilometers to the southwest and many of the oldest Sumerian artifacts have been found there, Live Science writes.
But evidence discovered in the last few decades shows that the Sumerians had several competitors, including Ancient Egypt, for the title of “oldest civilization.”
The definition of what makes a civilization one is vague, but in general a culture must possess several distinguishing features, notably cities, irrigation, and writing; and the Sumerians had all three. After about 2000 B.C. the Sumerian civilization led directly to the Babylonian civilization in Mesopotamia, which is credited with discovering trigonometry and prime, square, and cubic numbers—concepts further developed by the ancient Greeks more than 1,000 years later.
The Sumerians are also credited with religion – they erected temples called ziggurats in their cities and created priestly castes dedicated to the ritual worship of certain deities, as American historian Samuel Noah Kramer argues. Which god was the most powerful in the vast Sumerian pantheon depended on place and time: the sky god Anu, for example, was popular in early Uruk, while the storm god Enlil was revered in Sumer. Inanna – “Queen of the Sky” – was originally a fertility goddess in Uruk; her worship spread to other Mesopotamian cities, where she was known as Ishtar and may have influenced the goddesses of later civilizations, such as Astarte among the Hittites and the Greek Aphrodite.
A story very similar to that of the biblical Noah, who built an ark and filled it with animals to preserve his family during a great flood caused by divine wrath, is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Archaeologists believe this is a Sumerian story from around 2150 BC. – centuries before the Hebrew version was written.
Some scholars argue that other civilizations may be as old or even older than that of the Sumerians. Due to the decades of war and unrest in Iraq, archaeologists have not had access to many Mesopotamian sites, but Egyptologists continue to dig. The result is that archaeologists in Egypt have already discovered writings just like the earliest writings from Sumer, suggesting that the oldest phase of ancient Egyptian civilization appeared around the same time as the earliest phase of Sumerian civilization: ca. 4000 BC
Another possibility is the Indus Valley Civilization, which arose in parts of present-day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northwestern India and dates back to at least 3300 BCE, according to the earliest artifacts found there. But archaeologists believe they may find much earlier artifacts in the Indus Valley.
According to the researchers, early trade along the shores of the Indian Ocean helped these earliest civilizations—Egyptian around the Red Sea, Sumerian on the northern edge of the Persian Gulf, and the Indus Valley Civilization farther east—develop by bringing resources and ideas. from further away.
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