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Ancient Mesopotamia
The Sumerian Civilization



The Sumerian Civilization
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 9 to 11
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   9.22

Vocabulary
     challenging words:    al-Muqayyar, best-kept, mud-brick, ziggurat, ziggurats, egypt, meticulous, cuneiform, penned, triangle-shaped, wedge-shaped, fanatical, shrine, mathematical, city-states, deity
     content words:    Agade Dynasty, Akkadian Empire


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The Sumerian Civilization
By Vickie Chao
  

1     Egypt, India, China, and Greece all had very long histories dating back thousands of years. Yet, none of them were as old as the Sumerian civilization in Mesopotamia.
 
2     Mesopotamia is a triangle-shaped land sandwiched between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers. Located within the borders of today's Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, this fertile ground was the birthplace of the earliest known civilization on Earth! About 9,000 years ago, people began to take up residence in this area because of its rich soil. Though they had to deal with the scorching heat in summertime and learn to live for months without rainfall, they managed to survive by making the best out of whatever resources they had. To those early settlers, agriculture was their primary livelihood. To be sure that they could plant crops all year round, they dug canals diverting water from the Tigris and the Euphrates for irrigation. At the beginning, their communities were more like small farming villages. But over time, they grew increasingly sophisticated. By 3500 B.C., some of the world's first cities began to emerge in Sumer, the southern region of Mesopotamia. While those cities shared a common culture and spoke the same language, they did not answer to a single leader. As a result, each Sumerian city was an independent state by itself. Each had its own government, its own patron gods and goddesses, and its own king.
 
3     Despite their differences, all Sumerian cities were laid out in a similar fashion. At the center of every city, there was always a temple dedicated to its favorite deity. This place of worship, called ziggurat (pronounced "ZIG-oo-rat"), often featured a mud-brick structure with several layers of stepped platforms stacked up to form a terraced pyramid. Topping the building was a shrine, which housed a statue of the city's patron god or goddess. To enter the shrine, the Sumerians built outside staircases and spiral ramps around their ziggurats. In their heyday, ziggurats could have had up to eight stories. But sadly, none of the surviving buildings were preserved to their original height. Today, one of the best-kept ziggurats is at Ur (present-day Tell al-Muqayyar, Iraq). The original building was a three-staged tower dedicated to the moon god Nanna. Over the course of several millenniums, its top two layers have disappeared, leaving only its broad, rectangular base (about 200 feet long and 150 feet wide) to remind us of the glorious time it had once enjoyed.

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