Mesopotamia, for those who need a quick reminder, is the area of land around Egypt, Turkey, and Iraq. If you can picture that part of the world, then that is Mesopotamia.
10,000-2,000 BC is the time period covered in this lecture.
People living in the Mesopotamia around this time were hunter-gatherings; you hunted animals, gathered berries and nuts, and frequently moved your campsite to keep up with food. Though you had domesticated dogs to assist you in hunting, you did not have any domesticated cats. Occasionally, you would even have brief “turf wars” with other hunter-gatherers.
In 9500 BC this part of the world emerges from the last Ice Age and vast grasslands begin to emerge from underneath the ice. This is the “Neolithic Revolution” period though much continuity with the Paleolithic period remained. This period is marked by Sedentarism lifestyles, or by remaining in place. Natufians were among the first people to practice this lifestyle. With their homeland primarily located in the Levant (Jordan, Israel, Syria), with other sites existing in Mesopotamia, with this kind of lifestyle also came the introduction of agriculture.
Around 11500 BC the Natufians were likely the first people to become farmers. From this, people learned how to mark fields, plant seeds, harvest crops, and make bread. Following this, animals such as sheep, cattle, and pigs were all eventually domesticated. Farming in these communities was on a small, micro-scale within largely isolated communities.
Fertility Religion developed in this part of the world in response to early man being wholly ignorant of the natural seasons. In trying to tame the while chaos of the natural world, each action was accompanied by ritual to try and carry the favor of the supernatural.
With the introduction of sedentary farming, came security. Food production allowed Man in this period to store access food and ward away starvation and famine. With security like this also came art, story-telling, and jewelry or pottery creation due to the abundant amount of free-time that one now had on hand. All of this came with an identity and a sense of territory, a sense of needing to protect one’s livelihood against the encroachments of others.
Living near the riverbanks (Tigris and Euphrates), one would make their homes out of mud or mud bricks before covering the surface of the walls in plaster.
Fast forwarding to 3000 BC (The Bronze Age), the Kingdom of Sumeria was a series of city-states, some exercising authority over others. At this point, however, distinct nations with political boundaries remain far off and no Sumerian ruler ever was able to secure the entirety of Sumeria to their rule. Cities such as Jericho, settled as early as 9000 BC, would dot the landscape here and there.
One such city, Cattlehooic (I didn’t spell that right), proves that people weren’t predesigned to live in cities. Cattlehooic, for example, didn’t have any streets or a center. In fact, it is not even clear whether this city had doors. These are things that had to be invented. There were no public spaces to gather, either. This city survived for around 1000 years thanks in part to its trading in obsidian, the all-important material during this period.
Other than administration, one such thing that Sumerian people share in common with us Moderns is wedge-writing. Originating around 3000 BC, writing emerged from various isolated cultures around the world. How this happened remains a mystery. The Mesopotamians write on moist clay tablets using a stylus. Once the writing was done, the tablets were left to dry in the sun, though some were apparently deliberately baked. When dried, they proved to be near indestructible and so in the British Museum alone, there are over 130,000 surviving tablets. (Mostly, these tablets were pictographic in nature representing the things written, though later they would become phonetic so as to represent sounds and eventually more complex forms.)
Writing enabled these early people to transfer knowledge among themselves and reach higher mathematics. Though most of these tablets were administrative, as Dr. Garland calls it, “bean counting,” some were literary. Some tablets were used to depict shared systems of belief, ritual, law and historical records (which appear to have influenced later Bilibcal laws), and narratives. The most celebrated story in this period seems to be The Epic of Gilgamesh.
As early as 9500 BC, Mesopotamians were trading with one another. Exports included barley, wheat, textiles, and silver. Imports included Ivory, tin, copper, and gold.
Around 3500-3200 BC the wheel was invented. First made out of solid wood and then spokes. Around 2000 BC onwards horses were used for transportation and then camels near 1500 BC. As far as technology production, copper manufacture, glass making, and textile weaving were all shared among the people in this area.
The Societal Order: among the final point in Dr. Garland’s lecture is that subjection of one people by another became a feature in this period. He gives the example of the Royal Cemetary or Urr (2600-2800 BC). In the “death pit” several dozen bodies of women and guards were discovered with depictions of defeated war enemies being lined up, presumably for either execution or enslavement.
Near 2300-2100 BC, these Mesopotamian city-states were unified under the rule of the Acadian Empire, a sprawling civilization with territory across the middle east. What this means is that now diverse peoples were under the heel of oppression with punishments for resisting occupation being cruel practices of torture, mutilation, and death.