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Ancient Mesopotamia

The Sumerian Effect in Iran

Edited from Mathaba News, 10 August 2007

Archaeologists worldwide are having fits because numerous sites in modern day Iran and the surrounding region are giving up evidence of once being home to a long-lived culture with a vast network of societies that constituted some of the first cities.

They are redefining the origins of modern civilisation.

Residents of the cities traded goods across hundreds of miles and forged parallel but strikingly independent cultures. The social structures, wealth and technologies of this society slowly spread along the Nile and then the Indus rivers in the third millennium BC.

Archaeologists have always thought modern civilisation began in Mesopotamia, where the large Tigris and Euphrates rivers bounded a fertile valley that nurtured an increasingly complex society.

"People didn't think you could have large settlements this early without large rivers emptying into an ocean. No one knew of these sites," reporter Andrew Lawler wrote in Science magazine on the key findings, which were discussed at a recent archaeological conference in Ravenna, Italy.

A rival for Ur?

One site proved particularly important for convincing some scientists of the error of the accepted history. Locals had been uncovering artefacts in an ancient cemetery near Jiroft and flooding the art market with pottery and other goods. Researchers tracked these curiously unique pieces back to their source, where, Lawler said, they found "a vast moonscape of craters made by looters."

But further exploration of two nearby mounds found evidence of a large city, one that may have rivalled contemporary Ur in Mesopotamia. "These people were trading with the Indus, with Mesopotamia, to the north and south," Lawler explained.

In Depth

According to Carl Lamberg-Karlovsky of Harvard University, the site dates back to 4000 BC, signifying that the Jiroft site and its environs were once home to a long-lived culture, not a brief response to Mesopotamian wealth.

The entire area of interest spreads roughly from the eastern border of Iran to the Pakistani-Iranian border, and from the Russian steppes southwards through the Persian Gulf area and onto the Arabian Peninsula [and therefore encapsulating many city states that are already known, such as those of the Elamites on the Gulf].

The potential discovery of a new writing system was perhaps the largest controversy of the many discussed at the conference. Three tablets, the first discovered by a local farmer and the others subsequently unearthed by professional archaeologists, appear to contain a unique iconography which will have to be deciphered.

Map of Sumer

Map of Sumer

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