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Althou gh there is evidence that writing began about 5000 BCE, Sumer became the first literate civilization about 3000 BCE, after their invention of cuneiform around 3300 BCE .� Mesopotamian peoples had used clay tokens for accounting since about 8000 BCE, and elite accounting was typical of the first writing systems, or tales to aggrandize the elite.� For instance, the quipu of the preliterate Incas was an accounting tool.� By the Third Dynasty of Ur, silver became the official unit of accounting, to be supplanted by gold a millennium later, probably due to Egyptian influence. [628] � One of th e earliest known works of literature is the Epic of Gilgamesh, dating to as early as the Third Dynasty of Ur, which began about 2150 BCE.� A brief review of the epic highlights elite themes and dynamics of early civilization.� Gilgamesh was a king of Uruk around 2500 BCE, and was one-third man and two-thirds god.� In the epic�s first tablet, he used his kingly prerogative to sleep with Uruk�s young women the night before marriage, and his subjects beseeched the gods for assistance.� The gods responded by creating a � wild man � to distract Gilgamesh, and after Gilgamesh defeated him in battle they became friends.� Gilgamesh then suggested that they travel to Lebanon�s cedar forest and kill the demigod guardian of the forest .� They journeyed to the cedar forest, killed the demigod, deforested the groves, and rafted back to Uruk with the demigod�s head and a particularly large tree to be used in a temple .� After the wild man�s untimely death at the hands of the gods as punishment for killing the demigod, Gilgamesh then made otherworldly journeys to learn how to become immortal.� After defeating stone giants and felling more than a hundred more trees, Gilgamesh built a boat to survive the coming flood, sent by the gods, and in a story that almost certainly inspired the Old Testament�s tale of Noah, Gilgamesh survived the flood along with the animals he saved, and gods gathered around the sweet smell of Gilgamesh�s sacrifice.� After more adventures in an attempt to become immortal, Gilgamesh lamented his folly.� The writers of the Epic of Gilgamesh knew that deforestation led to droughts, and Gilgamesh�s war against the forest foreshadowed the fate of numerous Old World civilizations. [629] �The city-states of southern Mesopotamia made regular journeys to Lebanon�s cedar forest.� The ruler of Lagash, not far from Uruk, had plans for aggrandizing his legacy and leveled cedar forests and rafted their logs downriver to Lagash to fulfill his grandiose schemes. [630] �The city-states of southern Mesopotamia deforested upstream river valleys and rafted logs to their downstream cities.� Wars between the city-states, and wars of foreign conquest to secure forests and navigable rivers (particularly the Tigris, Euphrates, and Karun of today�s Iran), were common then.� Wood became such a coveted commodity that it could approach the value of precious metals and stones, and Akkad�s rulers placed names on mountains corresponding with what tree predominantly grew on each one. [631] What came with the logs, ho wever, was silt and salt.� Southern Mesopotamia practiced irrigated farming, so salination and siltation eventually wrecked Sumer.� By the Third Dynasty of Ur around 2100 BCE, the king Ur-Nammu made dredging silt from canals a high priority, and his dredging initiative temporarily revived agriculture and made Ur�s port navigable once again, which had already filled with silt. [632] � Wheat is more sensitive to saline soil than barley.� In 3500 BCE, wheat and barley were grown in equal amounts, but salination began taking its toll.� By 3000 BCE, when Sumer became the world�s first literate society, their tablets record Sumer�s decline.� By 2500 BCE, wheat amounted to only 15% of the total crop.� By 2100 BCE, wheat comprised only 2% of Sumer�s crops.� Wheat was not the only casualty.� Salt-tolerant barley did better, but crop yields began falling precipitously around 2400 BCE, and a steady decline reached only a third of 2400 BCE yields by 1700 BCE. [633] � Sumerian people began migrating upriver to lands that had not yet been devastated, Sumer�s population declined by more than half, and famine was a regular visitor as croplands became white with salt.

Pages: 496

Publisher: Perennial Press (February 23, 2016)


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