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The Early People of Mesopotamia

Updated on June 23, 2014

Early in the Days of Mesopotamia

The region of Mesopotamia, which is modern day Iraq was once covered with the waters of the Persian Gulf. As these waters receded, a rich fertile land was formed and people descended from the high mountains into the valley to create the "Cradle of Civilization." Among the diverse ethic groups competing for new land we find three specific groups that led to the formation of the land of Sumer and Akkad; the al-'Ubaid, the Martu and the Sumerians. These were the times before the flood so classially spoken about.

The Early Inhabitants of Mesopotamia - The al-'Ubaid, Martu and Sumerians

Map of Sumer and Akkad
Map of Sumer and Akkad

The inhabitants of the Mesopotamia region in ancient times, a very formative time from about 9000 BCE to 5000 BCE were quite numerous although it sometimes seems to us as if the lands were desolate and uninhabited. To the contrary, we find evidence of many groups of nomadic ethnic groups all through out the region, banding together for mutual protection, shelter and food. This was a time when people walked the earth, in love and, at times, in hate before the flood of classic biblical history and the Sumerian myths. These people later became the gods and goddess of the new inhabitants of still fertile crescent.

Perhaps the topic might be easier to discuss if we were to assume as fact the baseless speculation of such authors such as Zachariah Sitchen and his almost fanatical followers who are convinced that the Sumerians arrived in their Mu spacecraft from a planet, named Nibiru circling in a far reaching elliptical orbit. It is quite coincidental that this planet is named Nibiru, the actual proper spelling of Nippur, the city that bestows kingship on the land located on the border of Akkad and Sumer in the northern region.

Given that we have empirical data that we can use as supporting evidence, these speculations seem to be a short cut to thinking. The actual discoveries point to a more involved but equally logical conclusion. There was no Cthulhu monsters, nor were there alien star ships. There we mass groups of humans grouping into what will be the great cities of Sumer and Akkad, and as we will find, humans can do magnificent things given time, space and resources.

The Persian Gulf in 9000 BCE

The birth of the fertile crescent

The fertile crescent, lush and green in those days, teaming with the potential for explosive growth and life-sustaining plants, was a reclamation of the land as the gulf waters starting to recede from far above the region of Akkad. The swampy region to the east of Lagash was exposed after the waters of the Persian gulf receded. Four primary great rivers; the river Karun emptied into the Shatt al-Arab and the now dry but at that time a great river the Wadi al-Batin, running up into the inland sea lands from the very heart of Arabia, along with the mighty rivers Tigris and Euphrates all provided rich thick mud, which in turn created a barrier that neutralized the eroding factor of the tides of Persian gulf.

Given time, this allow the great rivers to deposit silt which had up until that point been swept into the gulf. From a salty sea, then brackish and finally fresh waters filled this southerly lagoon and slowly these river deposited their light clay like silt, raising the ground level exposing islands at first, then finally dry land. This dry land, without stones and light loamy soil was as rich as could be possible anywhere in the world, at that time.

U-'Baid Pottery
U-'Baid Pottery


The U-'Baid bring Settlements, Farming and Trade into the Region

This new alluvial plain, highly fertile to the point that crops almost sprang up without human interaction, was very attractive to all the inhabitants of the region. From the mountains of the east, the Zagros mountains, the al-'Ubaid tribes left evidence of farming as early as 9000 BCE. We must continue to remember that civilization in this area was not created out of nothingness, there were many people in the area pushing forward, looking for new land to grow crops on. From the Zagros mountain, the al-'Ubaid were pushed into the fertile crescent due to pressures of the land to the east already producing crops.

The al-'Ubaid tribes developed in three principal stages; Ubaid period I from 5300-4700 BCE in which we have evidence of small village establishments, the Ubaid period II from 4800-4500 BCE in which the Al-Ubaid created canals to assist their agricultural endeavors and the Ubaid 3/4 period in which rapid development of the urban centers and trade in the region during the time period of 4500-4000 BCE.


The predecessors of the more modern Bedouin nomads, the Martu next moved into the region, seemingly pushed down in a southward direction from the region of Syria, being from Asia Minor stock. They quickly became the dominant political group in the region, creating a short period of an Akkadian Mesopotamia preceding the Sumerians arriving on the plains of the fertile crescent.


Sumerians move north from the sea-lands and gulf

Indeed, however this reign was quite short, as the Sumerians invaded the region from the sea. Given the Sumerians brought with them knowledge of city dwelling, introduced a system of government to create a place of refuge of the inhabitants of scattered farms and small villages to weak to protect themselves. The Sumerians brought with them an unified language, laws, customs, and standards so very important to such things as trade and government.

These villages soon became the town centers, Temples being raised up to the god of the pantheon most revered by the inhabitants of that city. The chief priest or priestess of the temple, as the god's direct representative on earth, naturally in a theocratic state, assumed the position and powers of a civil governor. In the earliest days of Sumerian rule, the nation became a collection of smaller city-states.

This was the logical progression of the events of the region, a necessity if the inhabitants of rich agricultural valley was to be protected from attack from without. It was not however, enough to protect them from the frequent quarrels over water and land from within, local disputes became a common occurrence. This created a centralized government, with the center in Nippur. Every city had a claim to this new empire, if the governor of the city-state had the ambition and will to rule the empire, the old sectarian spirit of the inhabitants of the land would back the rebellion. Civil war was the rule rather than the exception, but given that there was so much common ground between the city-states the change of leadership did not require oppression and did secure a kind of peace thought the land, for a time.

Reference Material

"The Sumerians" by Sir C. Leonard Woolley

In this book Professor Woolley, one of the world's foremost archaeologists, shows quite clearly that when Egyptian civilization began the civilization of the Sumerians had already flourished for at least 2000 years. The idea that Egypt was the earliest civilization has been entirely exploded. The Sumerians had reached a very high level of culture by 3500 BC, and may be said with some justice to be the forerunners of all the Old World civilizations of Egypt, Assyria, Asia Minor, Crete, and Greece. This book will appeal to everyone interested in the early history of man. C. Leonard Woolley, as leader of the joint expedition of the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the British Museum, directed important excavations on the site of Ur of the Chaldees, a famous city long buried in the desert sand of Mesopotamia.

Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, as leader of the joint expedition of the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the British Museum, directed important excavations on the site of Ur of the Chaldees, a famous city long buried in the desert sand of Mesopotamia.

Please take a moment to tell me what you think about this article. I would love to hear from you, the good the bad and the indifferent. Thanks for stopping by.

Comments are more than welcome!

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Interesting article for sure.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      the information are greatly composed... but is it true that only three tribes are present from the early Mesopotamia?

    • ChristopherCres profile image

      ChristopherCres 6 years ago

      Great work Jeffery. Think both of us have to join forces inregards to our articles on ancient Sumer.

    • profile image

      CanalBoat 6 years ago

      Well researched and presented - congratulations

    • profile image

      Rsanford30224 6 years ago

      This is a very interesting article! I have been reading The Babylonians, by H.W.F. Saggs, printed by The Folio Society, that agrees with your material. This is very interesting research information that people who are interested in ancient civilizations.

      Thanks for the interesting beginning.

    • orgaard lm profile image

      orgaard lm 6 years ago

      Very nicely written and well researched. I am happy to read well thought out articles on ancient world. Thanks for the map - best sumerian map I have seen. I like how it put a modern day context with the ancient.