Sumerians ushered in the age of intensive agriculture and irrigation.
The Sumerians knew that they had to control the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. In the spring the rivers flooded, and when they receded and left natural levees behind. The Sumerians built the levees higher and used them to keep back the flood waters. In the summer, when the land was dry, the Sumerians poked holes in the levees. The river water ran through the holes and made irrigation channel in the soil. An irrigation system took which took planning in draining the marshes for agriculture.
Wheat, barley, sheep, and cattle were foremost among the species cultivated and raised for the first time on a grand scale.
Math & Astronomy
All these accomplishments imply that the people of Sumer were advanced in math for their time period.
They invented and developed arithmetic by using several different number systems including a mixed radix system with an alternating base 10 and base 6. This sexagesimal system became the standard number system in Sumer and Babylonia. They made a system of numbers that, unlike today's Base-10 System, was Base-60.
For example: how we tell time, 24 hours in a day, 60 minutes in an hour, and 60 seconds in a minute. It is amazing they invented something so critical that we still use today.
They also divided up the circle into 360 degrees. They had a wide knowledge of mathematics including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, quadratic and cubic equations, and fractions. This was important in keeping track of records as well as in some of their large building projects. The Mesopotamians had formulas for figuring out the circumference and area for different geometric shapes like rectangles, circles, and triangles. Some evidence suggests that they even knew the Pythagorean Theorem long before Pythagoras wrote it down. They may have even discovered the number for pi in figuring the circumference of a circle.
And because of their trading they created a sophisticated accounting system. They kept a written records of how much was given, to who, and when, along with calculating inventory
They also invented the calendar. By studying the phases of the Moon, Sumerians created the first calendar. It had 12 lunar months and was the predecessor for both the Jewish and Greek calendars. A Lunar calendar that is more accurate then the Gregorian Calendar we use today. The Babylonian calendar was a lunisolar calendar with years consisting of 12 lunar months, each beginning when a new crescent moon was first sighted low on the western horizon at sunset, plus an intercalary month inserted as needed by decree. The calendar is based on a Sumerian (Ur III) predecessor preserved in the Umma calendar of Shulgi (c. 21st century BC).
Click to enlarge
The zodiacal map (right) was used for practical mathematical & observational purposes.The Zodiac of Sumer, definitely complete by the time of Babylon, was adopted by the Greeks much later.
Babylonians and the Chinese were using the 19 year Sun-Moon cycle in their calculations - by the 6th Century BCE. Today it is called the 'Metonic' cycle after a Greek who wrote of it some hundred years or so afterwards.
I found my sign...
Government & Military
They developed the first known codified legal and administrative systems, complete with courts, jails, and government records. The first true city states arose in Sumer.
The US government is based roughly on this Sumerian government. You could have a dispute with your neighbor in Sumer and take them to court before your peers to decide a judgement...
There are even a set of laws that citizens must abide by...(remember this is straight out of the Neanderthal stage) Even the poor were fed at the temple as a form of the governments civil service program.
Because they were constantly at war with one another, they may have invented military formations and introduced the basic divisions between infantry, cavalry, and archers.
They developed trade, and established industries, including weaving, leather work, metalwork, masonry, and pottery. Plus, frying pans, razors, cosmetic sets, shepherd’s pipes, harps, kilns to cook bricks and pottery, bronze hand tools like hammers and axes, the plow, the plow seeder, and the first superhero, Gilgamesh. They also and used looms to weave cloth from wool and because they traded heavily throughout the Persian Gulf, they invented the sailboat.
According to Archibald Sayce, the primitive pictograms of the early Sumerian (i.e. Uruk) era suggest that "Stone was scarce, but was already cut into blocks and seals. Brick was the ordinary building material, and with it cities, forts, temples and houses were constructed. The city was provided with towers and stood on an artificial platform; the house also had a tower-like appearance. It was provided with a door which turned on a hinge, and could be opened with a sort of key ; the city gate was on a larger scale, and seems to have been double. The foundation stones - or rather bricks - of a house were consecrated by certain objects that were deposited under them."
The most impressive and famous of Sumerian buildings are the ziggurats, large layered platforms which supported temples. The Sumerians also developed the arch, which enabled them to develop a strong type of roof called a dome. They built this by constructing several arches. Sumerian temples and palaces made use of more advanced materials and techniques, such as buttresses, recesses, half columns, and clay nails.
They used logic and recorded medical history to be able to diagnose and treat illnesses with various creams and pills.
Lets not discount the making bronze from copper and tin.
Or Beer Brewing. Chemical analysis has identified a 6,000-year-old brewery at an archaeological site in what is now modern Iran. The evidence, which was published recently in the scientific journal Nature, suggests that fermentation of barley was first practiced in Sumer between 4000 and 3000 BC.
Writing & Schools
After Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Sumerians' cuneiform writing system is the next oldest which has been deciphered. The status of even older inscriptions such as the Vinča signs and the even older Jiahu symbols is controversial. Since hieroglyphs are considered "pictures", the Sumerians invented the first writing system, with actual "letters" developing Sumerian cuneiform writing out of earlier proto-writing systems by about the 30th century BCE. The earliest literary texts appear from about the 27th century BCE.
Several centuries after the invention of cuneiform, the use of writing expanded beyond debt/payment certificates and inventory lists to be applied for the first time, about 2600 BC, to messages and mail delivery, history, legend, mathematics, astronomical records, and other pursuits. Conjointly with the spread of writing, the first formal schools were established, usually under the auspices of a city-state's primary temple.
You wanna know how ridiculously smart they were? Take for instance the cuneiform seals they created. This was their mail system. A scribe would write on a piece of clay, backwards so when it was sent to the message receiver, they would take the seal and roll it out on a soft piece of clay. Then they would be able to read what was sent. A Dyslexic's dream job.
The Sumerian language remained in official and literary use in the Akkadian and Babylonian empires, even after the spoken language disappeared from the population; literacy was widespread, and the Sumerian texts that students copied heavily influenced later Babylonian literature. Some Mesopotamian words are still in use today. Words like crocus, which is a flower, and saffron, which is a spice, are words borrowed from the ancient Mesopotamia.
Are you amazed yet? There is sooo much more that I didn't list.
How could a culture, brand new to Earth, have this much know-how, so quickly? They invented so many things we still use, that are so critical to our everyday life in the 21st century. Just astounding!
Want a more in-depth analysis? This guy goes very technical on their inventions.
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