Incredible Sumerian inventions that transformed the world

Almost every other day, a new piece of technology comes out. This means you can try many different ideas and develop great new ones. People in the past saw this as a chance, so they built something and did well at whatever they found.

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Oriental ornaments. © Freepik

The world owes so numerous things to the discoveries of an ancient civilization. They did great things, and their work has improved the world. People now get to enjoy the results of their amazing ideas. Today, we’ll talk about the Sumerian inventions from the Mesopotamian civilization.

Sumerians were known for making some incredible inventions

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© Pxhere

The Sumerians were the first people in Mesopotamia to live in independent city-states with walls around them. People thought they were very wealthy and creative, and their culture included farming, trading, and making music. The writing was an important thing that the Sumerians came up with. They came up with a way of writing called pictographs.

These were the pictures drawn on rocks or stones, which later turned into cuneiform, a way of writing. The Sumerian writing system had a pattern of writing from top to bottom, but this changed over time to writing from left to right. By 2800 BC, people were also using phonetics. Well, that was just the beginning. The Sumerians came up with many other amazing things, one after the other.

Copper fabrication

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Copper pipes. Public Domain

Copper was used for the first time by the Sumerians. Copper was one of the first metals that weren’t precious. Archeological evidence shows that people learned how to get copper from the ground and use it around 5000 to 6000 years ago. By learning how to make copper, they made a big difference in the growth of cities like Uruk, Sumer, Ur, and al Ubaid in Mesopotamia.

The Sumerians used copper to make arrowheads, razors, harpoons, and many other small things. Later, they also started making copper pots, chisels, and jugs. The Sumerians were very skilled at making these things. Today, making things out of copper has reached a new level, but the Sumerians were the first to start making things out of copper.


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© Wikimedia Commons

Even though everyone knew about day and night, the Sumerians were the first to divide time into different parts. They showed the world how weeks, months, and years go by. The Sumerians used a system called “base 60” to figure out the positions of the stars. Everyone in Eurasia liked and accepted what they did.


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An Ur wheel from Mesopotamia, 4th millennium BC, consisting of a disc of wood which turns on an axle. © National Museum of Science and Technology, Milan (Italy)

You might think the wheel is an old idea, but that’s not the case. It was made around 3500 BCE in Mesopotamia, a relatively late time in human history. People had already started growing crops and keeping animals as pets. They also had some social order. The Sumerians were the first people to make wheels out of wood.

They put the logs together and rolled them so it would be easier to move the heavy things. Step by step, they watched how the cart moved and then drilled a hole through the cart’s frame to make room for the axle. In the end, they put the wheels together to make a chariot. Today, this wheel is used in transport systems all over the world.

Numeral System

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Babylonian tablet YBC 7289 showing the sexagesimal number 1;24,51,10 approximating √2. © Wikimedia Commons

Another important thing the Sumerians made was a way to count. It was first used in the third millennium BCE and was called Sexagesimal. The ancient Babylonians and other countries then used it. The people came up with this idea because they needed a way to keep track of the crops they traded.

Over time, they started marking the number one with small clay cones. In the same way, a ball meant ten, and a big clay cone meant sixty. They made a simple model of an abacus and a system of numbers based on 60. Here, the numbers were counted using 12 brass knuckles on one hand and five fingers on the other hand.


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© Wikimedia Commons

The Sumerians made sailboats because they needed them about 5,000 years ago. They wanted some help to grow their trade business. So, to make it easy to get around on the water, they made sailboats out of wood and papyrus that were light and easy to move.

The sails were square and made of cloth. It was a simple boat. These sailboats helped with trade and business, but they also helped with irrigation and fishing. It is thought to have been one of the most important things that helped the Mesopotamians build a great empire.


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From left to right: bronze Sumerian-style dagger from Lorestan Province, Iran (ca. 900 BCE, RC 1716); 3 bronze daggers from near Rudbar, Gilan Province, Iran (ca. 900 BCE, RC 1898, 1899, 1902). Bronze axe head and mattock (ca. 1000 BCE, RC 1023, 1024). On display at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California. © Wikimedia Commons

People think that the Sumerians were the first to make weapons, but other cultures wiped them out. Because there was always fighting between the city-states of Sumer, they made weapons that were used for years afterward. Chariots, sickle swords, and bronze socket axes, which changed over time into piercing axes, were all very useful weapons.


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Cuneiform writing on a clay brick, written in the Sumerian language (during the time of the Akkadian empire), and listing all kings from the creation of kingship until 1800 BC when the list was created. © Wikimedia Commons

Around 3000 B.C., Sumer and Egypt both got their first kings. Summer, the “land of people with blackheads,” needed a leader to run the many people living there. The priests ran these states in the past, but they had no real power. This led to the idea of monarchy, in which the leader was both in charge of and responsible to the people who lived in the Sumerian states in the future.

Lunar calendar

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Lunar Phases. © Wikimedia Commons

The Sumerians are thought to have been the first people to create a lunar calendar. This calendar is based on the repeating phases of the moon. This means that the moon’s phases were used to count the 12 months. The Sumerians had two seasons, summer and winter, and sacred marriage rites were held on the beginning day of the new year.

They used the moon’s phases to count a year as 12 months. And, to make up for the discrepancy between this year and the year seasons, they added a month to each succeeding year following four. The best part is that some religious groups still use this lunar calendar today.

Code of Ur-Nammu

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Ur Nammu code Istanbul. © Wikimedia Commons

The oldest law code still around was written on clay tablets in the Sumerian language at the end of the third millennium BCE. This law gives us an idea of how justice was done in Sumerian society long ago.

Board Game

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Game box for playing Senet and Twenty Squares. © Wikimedia Commons

The royal game Ur, also called The Game of Twenty Squares, was a board game from ancient Mesopotamia that was played around 2500 BCE. In the 1920s, Sir Leonard Woolley set up its remains. The British Museum of London still has one of the two boards. This was one of the most popular and oldest board games, but two people could only play it.