The term Mesopotamia is derived from the greek word ‘Μεσοποταμία’, which translates into ‘land between rivers’.
While often referred to as the cradle of civilization, Mesopotamia was situated near the Tigris–Euphrates river system.
In modern times this would correlate to northwestern Iraq, southeastern Turkey, and much of Syria.
Many distinct concepts and easily recognizable Mesopotamian inventions are still used today.
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One of the most used Mesopotamian inventions is the concept of time, and the division of time units into 60 parts.
This led to the creation of minutes, hours, days, and the rest of our time system.
The Babylonians chose the number 60 likely due to their sexagesimal system of mathematics being based on their calculation of the 360 degrees around the sun. People of this time and age kept a 360 day year, rather than the 365 days we measure today. The number 60 also has a lot of divisors and is easy to work with.
The first wheels are believed to have been crafted around 3,500 BC in the region of Mesopotamia.
Initially these wheels were used as pottery wheels, irrigation, or for milling purposes.
Of course, this inevitably led to the invention of the chariot as well.
Fun Fact: Although the wheel is believed to have originated from Mesopotamia, the oldest physical wheel known to man was found in Slovenia in 2002.
The birth of agriculture was also from the ancient lands of Mesopotamia. Stone hoes were used to score the ground prior to the conception of the more modern plow.
A certain ingenuity was proclaimed by routing the nearby Tigris and Euphrates rivers into irrigation systems to water their agriculture. These systems were heavily regulated by the communal leaders and water consumption via these efforts were thought to have been rationed.
As society grew, there was an urgent need for the ability to count and perform trade in a mathematical fashion. Sumerians were among the first groups embrace the concept of counting and to use it in everyday life. Another Mesopotanian invention was the sexagesimal. This sexagesimal, the base number 60, was eventually used to develop figurative concepts such as the mathematical proportions of a circle and 12-month calendar dates. The Babylonians are also thought to have developed the concept of zero. The understanding of zero helped breed fire to some aspects of philosophical thought and the concepts of property valuation.
The oldest map found so far was discovered in Babylonia, roughly 2300 B.C. Crude sketches of the Akkadian region adorned onto rough clay tablets. It is believed to have been used as either a city guide, hunting maps, trade routes, or military maneuvers. Although the idea of the map was conceived in Mesopotamia, Europeans such as the Greeks and Romans are attributed with developing it to a more usable standard. It is worth noting that most humans believed in a flat earth at this time, and it wasn’t until 350 B.C. that the Greeks developed the concept of a spherical planet. This variation in concepts heavily altered the perception and use of maps in ancient societies.
Astronomy & Astrology
The concept of astrology was thought to have been developed by Sumerians, long ago. People in this time were mostly ignorant about the world and therefor attached spiritual meaning to almost everything in life. Concepts similar to Karma were also commonly practiced in this time, and people for the most part understand good and evil. Astrologers during this often derived spiritual meaning, and acted sort of like seers to high ranking members of society, by finding divine meaning within the constellations and patterns in the sky. This was the beginning of astrology, as the astrological signs, such as cancer, leo, and capricorn, were all derived from constellations in the sky. This knowledge was also used as a time signature for agriculture.
One particular tool led to the agricultural boom of the Mesopotamian period. Prior to this, humans were primarily hunter and gatherer types.
The plow allowed a vital supply of farmable land and without it, it is questionable whether society would have stayed around in a single location long enough for further discoveries.
With so many humans grouping into one area, there came a need for leadership. As far as we know, the first kings of the world were in Southern Mesopotamia in Sumerian land. This was the first hierarchal system in history and allowed for greater organization of supplies and labor, and of course, allowed for oppression as well.
Pottery and the Pottery Wheel
Pottery wheels were also invented during this time period in Mesopotamia and allowed for clay bowls, pots, and even primitive weapons to be easily crafted.
The First Form Of Writing
The Sumerians are believed to have developed the first form of writing known as ‘Cuneiform’, primarily to keep business records and for use in trade.
Merchants would record attributes of a trade or sale such as the amount of grains traded, or amounts received and sent out. Eventually it made it’s debut, to make journals, or to write about astronomy.
Originating as a pictograph, the language had very limited words and characters. It’s been suggested it may have taken 12 years for an individual to learn to write Cuneiform. The scribes of the time eventually reduced the word count to an even less 600 characters due to it’s difficulty, and then inevitably changed from pictographs to more standard imprint writing. Cuneiform scripture was used for roughly 3,000 years in ancient times.
One of the most infamous Mesopotamian inventions was the chariot. Around this time, humans began domesticating horses and other animals to help in their everyday manual labor. Scholars believe the first chariot was built circa 3200 B.C. in Mesopotamia. In terms of personal transportation, the chariot is where it all began. Although this ancient Mesopotamian invention was often reserved for citizens of status, they were also occasionally used for ancient sports, or for battle. Although the earliest chariots may have been made entirely from wood, the invention of the chariot shaped history for thousands of years after it’s conception.
It wasn’t long before society learned the difficulties of traveling by land. Not only was it slow, but also required a lot of manual labor to transport supplies or goods. Sumerians eventually decided that traveling by sea may prove to be less cumbersome. The first prototypes were primitive in nature and design, likely using cloth as a sail. These early boats had no way to steer the direction of the sail and had to rely heavily on wind, but nonetheless they helped spur travel and therefor trade among neighboring tribes and cities. These boats were also used for fishing and to explore nearby regions.