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6-08-2015, 00:16

Agriculture and Technology

Agriculture and war have always been driving
forces behind technological change, and this
was particularly true in ancient Mesopotamia. The
prospect of settling into cities only to starve, or
building thriving cities only to lose them to invaders,
was horrifying enough to drive technological advancement in the ancient
world. Those are reasonable fears for almost any nation, and the ancient
civilizations of Mesopotamia were no exception.
The single greatest agricultural contribution of Sumerian culture was
irrigation, the manual modification of the land to create channels of water,
distributing it over a wide terrain and making it possible to grow crops in
what would otherwise be unmanageably dry land. This invention made
possible the existence of urban life in ancient Mesopotamia. Similarly, it was
the building of walls—usually made of mud brick or the mineral gypsum—
that shaped ancient Sumerian cities and helped transform them from
temporary settlements into permanent communities.


Animals were key to life in ancient Mesopotamia and were related to cultural
advances, including agriculture and hunting. What has been described as
evidence of human intelligence or technological achievement often turns out
to be evidence of collaboration with other species. For example, a study has
found that prehistoric humans became effective hunters not only because
they invented projectile weapons, but also because dogs helped them find
prey and protect their kills.

In Sumer, at the dawn of intensive agriculture, domesticated livestock
played a similarly essential role. Oxen, the heavy-duty agricultural
machinery of their era, were necessary to plow fields. Goats provided milk,
butter, and cheese. Sheep provided wool. Virtually any available creatures
provided food, leather or fur, bone tools and trinkets, and manure, which
provided both fertilizer and cooking fuel.


The Babylonians developed an advanced system of astronomy that used
mathematics to accurately predict the motions of the sun and moon. This
made it possible for them to establish their lunar calendar. A combination of
observations and mathematics also allowed astronomers to predict future
events, such as eclipses or the appearance of
planets in the night sky.
However, the evidence suggests their interest
in astronomy was strictly limited to religious
purposes. They were interested in predicting events
because of the event’s potential impact on human
fates. Unlike the ancient Greeks, the Babylonians
were not interested in using their data to determine
the physical structure of their universe.


One of ancient Mesopotamia’s greatest
technological accomplishments is its status as home
to the first civilizations. Other settlements came
before those in Sumer. Even within the general area
of Mesopotamia, several Turkish villages predate
the city-state of Eridu by thousands of years. But
it was in the permanent structures of city-states
such as Eridu, and the permanent social identities they represented, that
archaeologists found evidence of civilization. Advanced city-states were
products of investment in the land and attempts to create permanence
within it. Settling in one place provided the time, safety, and resources
needed to develop new technological innovations to improve life.
There had been temples, housing, and agriculture before Eridu. But
putting all of these elements together in the same city, surrounding it
with walls, and filling it with streets, markets, public accommodations,
and written records are what created the first city—and with it the first
recognizable civilization.