Enthroned Sumerian king of Ur, 2600 B.C.
The Sumerians are famous as a people who created the world’s earliest civilization. Living on the fertile plains of what is today southern Iraq (ancient Sumer), they developed a flourishing culture between about 3500 and 2000 B.C.
Until 150 years ago, however, the Sumerians were completely unknown. As European and American archaeologists began to explore the abandoned mounds of once great cities, they started to uncover extraordinary evidence suggesting that they had also discovered a people who had been lost in time.
Excavations at sites such as Uruk, the world’s first city with the earliest writing; Ur, home of the patriarch Abraham, a monumental ziggurat and the famous Royal Graves; and Nippur, where thousands of clay tables inscribed with literature, law, and mathematics were found, established an image of the Sumerians as the inventors of city life, writing, and the wheel. They have even been credited with experiments in democracy. As such this civilization can easily be understood as the root of our own urban, literate world.
Yet is this an accurate picture? Paul Collins, a curator at Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum and author of The Sumerians: Lost Civilizations, reveals the world of ancient Sumer, telling the story of how a Sumerian people came to be “discovered” and how things are not always as they seem.
The Sumerians (Reaktion Books) is available for purchase.
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Additional programs in the Lost Civilizations series
October 5 - The Aztecs
November 16 - The Barbarians
December 7 - The Indus
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