Mesopotamia: Early Dynastic Period (2900-2300 BC)

God Enlil, seated, from Nippur, Iraq. 1800-1600 BCE. Iraq Museum.jpg

Enlil: King of All the Gods

Episode 7: Early Dynastic Workers and Worshippers

Ancient Mesopotamia: Life in the Cradle of Civilization

Dr Amanda H Podany

Film Review

Podany devotes this lecture to daily life during Mesopotamia’s Early Dynastic Period (2900-2300 BC). Religion was very important – many gods had to be appeased to prevent droughts, floods and disease. In addition to city gods, there were universal gods that all Mesopotamians worshiped. According to the Mesopotamian creation myth, Enlil, the king of all the gods created human beings the other gods rebelled and refused to work for him. Then he tried to wipe humans out with a flood because they were too noisy. Enki, the Sumerian god of water, helped save a single family by telling Ziusudra to build a boat.

City gods lived in the inner sanctum of their temples, which were also industrial estates producing food, beer and textiles for the population at large. Because there was no money, temple workers were paid in rations of barley, oil (used for light and cooking) and wool. Each payment was recorded in cuneiform on a clay tablet.

Mesopotamian women were employed in brewing and weaving and as innkeepers or priestesses.

Farmers were conscripted (during the non-growing season) for frequent wars between city-states. The use of the tight phalanx military formation (later used by the Greeks) developed during this period.

It was typical for Mesopotamian kings and queens to be buried along with dozens of richly robed and adorned attendants, many with lyres and and harps. They latter either suicided or were killed to accompany the royal personage to the afterlife. Many died (with no evidence of struggle) of head injuries. China and Egypt also buried their kings and emperors with attendants during this period.

*The phalanx was a rectangular mass military formation, usually composed entirely of heavy infantry armed with speaks, pikes or similar pole weapons.

Film can be viewed for free with a library card on Kanopy.

The Origins of Agriculture

10 Things About the Agricultural Revolution, History's ...

Episode 4 The Origins of Agriculture

The Big History of Civilizations

Craig G Benjamin (2016)

Film Review

In this presentation, Benjamin offers an interesting perspective on a question that has long bothered me: why our hunter gatherer ancestors gave up foraging 12,000 years ago for agriculture. There is strong evidence that life was much easier for our nomadic ancestors before they took up farming. According to skeletal remains, hunter gatherers were better nourished, lived longer and had lower infant mortality and more leisure time. They were also free of all the viral epidemics domesticated animals have transmitted to us (measles, mumps, chickenpox, influenza, etc).

According to Benjamin, sudden global warming at the end of the last Ice Age (11,500 BCE) led to a big increase in the availability of food. This gave rise to what Benjamin refers to as “affluent foraging” cultures.* Food was so abundant that human beings in many regions abandoned nomadic lifestyles to establish permanent settlements. Benjamin believes this led our ancestors to abandon “natural” forms of population control (including infanticide and senicide*) that characterize nomadic hunter gatherers.

After a few generations, the sedentary affluent foraging cultures lost the skills essential for a successful nomadic lifestyle. Stressed by growing populations and scarce food resources, they were forced to produce their own by domesticating plants and animals. .

According to Benjamin, only 100 plants species and 14 animals species have proved suitable for domestication. The first domesticated plants were barley and emmer and enkorn wheat in Syria around 11,500 BCE. The first domesticated animal was the dog, somewhere between 23,000 and 15,000 years ago.

*The world’s first city, Jericho, was built by affluent foragers around 14,000 BCE.

**Senicide is the killing or abandonment of the elderly


The film can be viewed free on Kanopy

The Advent of Agriculture in Britain: The Archeological Evidence

The World of Stonehenge – Part 2 the Age of Ancestors

BBC (2018)

Film Review

The Age of Ancestors is about the advent of the agricultural revolution (aka the Neolithic Age) to Britain. The Neolithic began spreading across Europe around 5,000 BC and covered the continent by 4,500 BC. It took several hundreds years for neolithic technology to cross the English Channel to Britain and Ireland.

The best evidence of evidence of this transformation is preserved under peat bogs in western Ireland. It includes an elaborate network of stone walls from 3,500 BC. They were most likely used to separate cows from bulls and calves, suggesting that dairy herding was extensive. There are also pottery containers and hand millstones from the same period. Pollen evidence suggests our neolithic ancestors were growing wheat, oats and barley. There is also evidence, from skeletal remains, of violent conflict, presumably over land claims.

Other archeological evidence suggests that isolated pockets of forest needed to be cleared to create grain fields and pasture. However hunter gatherer groups persisted in remaining forest areas. Skeletal evidence indicates that hunter gatherers were much healthier on a diet of fish and red deer, than farming families relying on a diet of dairy products and grains.