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  • 87 b/w illus. 9 maps
  • Page extent: 264 pages
  • Size: 246 x 189 mm
  • Weight: 0.57 kg


 (ISBN-13: 9780521533386 | ISBN-10: 0521533384)

Sumer and the Sumerians

Mesopotamia produced one of the best-known ancient civilisations, with a literate, urban culture and highly developed political institutions. In this fully revised and expanded edition of her classic text, Sumer and the Sumerians, Harriet Crawford reviews the extraordinary social and technological developments in the region from 3800 to 2000 BC. Drawing on the most up-to-date historical and archaeological sources, she provides a thematic exploration of this ancient civilisation, examining its physical and historical background, changing settlement patterns, public and private architecture, and cultural developments of the period. In this new edition, the chapter on manufacturing industries and trade has been enlarged and divided into two chapters. In addition, a new chapter on the contemporary developments in Upper Mesopotamia is included. The final chapter reflects on the future of the heritage of Iraq in the aftermath of the second Gulf war.

HARRIET CRAWFORD is an Honorary Visiting Professor in the Institute of Archaeology, University College London and Research Fellow at the McDonald Institute, Cambridge. She has excavated extensively in Iraq and the Gulf. Her previous publications include The Architecture of Iraq in the Third Millennium BC (1977) and Dilmun and its Gulf Neighbours (Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Sumer and the Sumerians

Institute of Archaeology, University College London

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© Cambridge University Press 1991, 2004

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 1991
Second edition 2004

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

Typefaces Swift 9.5/13 pt. and Frutiger   System LATEX 2e   [TB]

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data
Crawford, Harriet E. W.
Sumer and the Sumerians / Harriet Crawford. – 2nd edn
   p.   cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Contents: The rediscovery of the ancient Near East – History, chronology and social organization – Patterns of settlement and agriculture – Town planning and temple architecture – Public buildings and private housing – Upper Mesopotamia – Life, death and the meaning of the universe – Manufacturing industries – Trade – Writing and the arts.
ISBN 0 521 82596 2 – ISBN 0 521 53338 4 (pbk.)
1. Sumerians.   2. Iraq–Antiquities.   I. Title.
DS72.C73   2004
935 – dc22   2004045116

ISBN 0 521 82596 2 hardback
ISBN 0 521 53338 4 paperback


    List of illustrations    page vi
    Preface    ix
1   The rediscovery of the ancient Near East: the physical environment    1  
2   History, chronology and social organisation    16  
3   Patterns of settlement and agriculture    37  
4   Town planning and temple architecture    60  
5   Public buildings and private housing    89  
6   Upper Mesopotamia    115  
7   Life, death and the meaning of the universe    135  
8   Manufacturing industries    158  
9   Trade    177  
10   Writing and the arts    193  
11   Conclusions: the development of Sumerian society    214  
    References    222
    Index    234


I   Scarlet ware vase from Tell Gubba page 20
II   The circular building at Tell Gubba 93
III   A votive couple from Nippur 151
IV   Copper figure of Agade date found near Dohuk 172
V   Female head from Uruk 205
1   The early explorations in Mesopotamia 2
2   Greater Mesopotamia, showing climate/ecological zones 7
3   The Near East, with routes described in the text 14
4   The cities of the Sumerian plain 27
5   Early Dynastic Ⅰ period settlement patterns 41
6   Late Early Dynastic period settlement patterns 42
7   Ur Ⅲ–Isin–Larsa period settlement patterns 43
8   Sites in Upper Mesopotamia 116
9   Major trade routes to Iran and the Gulf 181
2.1   Naram-Sin wearing the horns of divinity 22
2.2   Ur-Nanshe, governor of Lagash, carrying bricks to build a temple 29
3.1   Soft stone vase showing date palm 53
3.2   The vegetation on the Uruk vase 55
3.3   Cylinder seal of ED Ⅲ date with a plough and seed funnel 56
3.4   Saluki hunting dogs on a seal from Tepe Gawra 58
4.1   Schematic plan of Habuba Kabira in Syria 62
4.2   Plan of the city of Ur around 2100 BC (Courtesy British Museum) 63
4.3   Sketch plan of part of Ur around 2100 BC (Courtesy British Museum) 65
4.4   Plano-convex bricks and how they were laid 67
4.5   Builders’ tools carried by Ur-Nammu of Ur 68
4.6   Gudea, governor of Lagash, with architect’s plan (inset) 70
4.7   Plans of Stone Mosaic and Limestone temples, Eanna Ⅴ/Ⅳb 71
4.8   Plan of Eanna Ⅳb 73
4.9   Plan of Temple C, Eanna Ⅳa 74
4.10   Animal figures from the frescoes at Tell Uqair 75
4.11   Multiple shrines, Sin temple level X, Khafaje 78
4.12   A house-plan temple with courtyard, Ishtarat temple, Mari 78
4.13   Reconstruction of the interior of a shrine with statues of worshippers and offering stands 79
4.14   The Temple Oval at Khafaje 80
4.15   The decoration of the temple at Tell al-Ubaid (Courtesy British Museum) 81
4.16   The tombs of the Ur Ⅲ dynasty (Courtesy British Museum) 84
4.17   Ziggurat on a cylinder seal of ED date 86
4.18   The ziggurat at Ur (reconstruction by the excavator, courtesy British Museum) 87
5.1   Priests’ (?) house at Eridu 91
5.2   (a) Plan of round house at Gubba and (b) a possible method of roofing 94
5.3   Plan of round building at Uch Tepe 96
5.4   The palace at Mari at the end of ED Ⅲ 99
5.5   The later Northern palace at Tell Asmar 101
5.6   The palace of the rulers at Tell Asmar 104
5.7   Compound in a modern Iraqi village (Courtesy Tessa Rickards) 107
5.8   Plan of house from Jebel Aruda 109
5.9   The Arch house, Tell Asmar 112
5.10   Plan of house from Ur Ⅲ period Ur 113
6.1   Plan of the Round house at Tepe Gawra 117
6.2   Plan of a so-called megaron building from Tepe Gawra 118
6.3   A middle Uruk cylinder seal from Tell Brak 120
6.4   Ninevite Ⅴ pottery 121
6.5   ‘Eye’ idols from Tell Brak 123
6.6   Tell Beydar, Syria: plan of a ‘Kranzhugel 125
6.7   Cylinder seal impression in the northern style from Beydar 126
6.8   Seal impression of the royal nanny from Mozan 127
6.9   Lapis lazuli goat from the ‘royal’ grave at Umm al-Marra 128
6.10   Part of the town of Tell Taya (Courtesy Dr Julian Reade) 130
6.11   Plan of a house from Tell Taya (Courtesy Dr Julian Reade) 131
7.1   Electrum wolf’s head from a tomb at Tepe Gawra 139
7.2   Grave 99 from Khafaje showing conical bowls probably used for funerary offerings 144
7.3   A royal tomb from Ur (Courtesy British Museum) 146
7.4   Male dress, Early Dynastic period 149
7.5   Female dress, Early Dynastic period 150
7.6   Banquet scene on an Early Dynastic cylinder seal 152
7.7   A wrestling match shown on a stone plaque 153
7.8   A silver model of a boat from the Royal graves at Ur 153
8.1   A woman spinning from Mari 160
8.2   Decoration of tassels and beads on a robe of the late third millennium 161
8.3   A horizontal loom on a seal of c. 3000 BC 162
8.4   A gold goblet from the tomb of Puabi 163
8.5   Kilns/granaries on Susa seal 165
8.6   Decorations from Puabi’s diadem 169
8.7   A Sumerian soldier with axe and spear 170
8.8   Copper figure of Agade date 171
8.9   Metal-worker’s tools from Tell edh Dhiba’i 174
9.1   Lion Hunt stele 179
9.2   Design on a Piedmont seal 183
9.3   Decoration on a ‘hut pot’ 186
9.4   Figure from Tarut 188
9.5   An Indus valley seal 189
10.1   Tokens 194
10.2   Pictograms 194
10.3   Developed cuneiform as it was written in the Ur Ⅲ period 196
10.4   Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon of Agade 197
10.5   A stamp seal of c. 3000 BC 198
10.6   An Uruk period seal with a pastoral scene 201
10.7   An early ED combat scene 202
10.8   An Agade combat scene 203
10.9   Kneeling figure from Telloh in naturalistic style 206
10.10   The singer, Ur-Nanshe 208
10.11   Gudea of Lagash 209
10.12   An Agade stele showing prisoners of war 210
10.13   Stone plaque showing a fisherman with his catch 212
10.14   Shell inlays from the temple at al-Ubaid 212


This book is intended for students, and especially for students beginning to study the archaeology and history of the ancient Near East. The changes which took place on the Mesopotamian plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in the fourth and third millennia BC are of crucial importance in understanding subsequent developments in western Asia and beyond. A range of major innovations in both technology and social development is attributed to this period and it is these innovations which will be described in the following chapters. Many of them have their roots in much older periods. Where evidence which complements or extends that from Mesopotamia is available from adjacent geographic areas, it too will be included. Since 1991 it has not been possible to dig in Iraq itself and, as a direct result of this, there has been an explosion of archaeological activity in neighbouring countries such as Syria and the Gulf states. This new evidence has brought important new insights and has led to a reappraisal of the Sumerian world.

   There are several ways of approaching such a study. One is the straightforward chronological account traditionally favoured by historians and archaeologists, which tries to describe a society in its entirety from genesis to extinction. More recently, authors have begun to isolate specific aspects of a society, taking one stimulus such as trade, or one theme such as the ecological background. The role of that specific factor in the development of the society is then explored.

   This book attempts to combine these approaches and looks at a number of major themes, each of which will be explored chronologically, beginning with the physical environment and the historical background. There follows a description of how the environment was used, with sections on agriculture, irrigation and settlement pattern. Next is a chapter on the built environment and the use of space within the settlements; this includes a section on public buildings and on domestic housing. An important new chapter summarises the new evidence from Upper Mesopotamia. In all areas the best evidence for the reconstruction of everyday life comes, ironically, from the funerary remains. The industries which underpinned the Mesopotamian economy and provided the goods for the essential export trade are also examined, together with the trade itself. The penultimate chapter traces the development of writing, which was intimately linked to the economic development, and then there is a summary of the changes in the fine arts.

   Each of these topics is followed throughout the two thousand years covered by the book. An attempt is then made in the concluding chapter to bring all these different themes together, and to isolate a number of major trends which can be seen in most, if not all, of the areas described. The most important thread, which links many of the topics discussed, seems to be the change which took place on the southern plain of Mesopotamia from a temple-dominated, politically fragmented pattern of city-states, to one of tight centralised control in which power was in the hands of a single divine ruler backed by a massive bureaucracy. The effects of this political transformation can be traced in almost every aspect of the material culture, as well as in the social system.

   The emphasis in this book is on description rather than on explanations, because more accurate description of the archaeological phenomena is the essential basis for any attempt at understanding or explanation. Our evidence is still fragmentary, but the quantity is increasing at a rapid rate, largely as a result of rescue work ahead of major development schemes such as the Saddam dam in northern Iraq. The first task must be to try and incorporate this mass of often rather inchoate new information into our existing framework. The framework itself may have to be modified to accommodate the new facts, but, once this has been done, attempts at explanation can begin.

   It is hoped that the thematic approach adopted in this book may throw new light on the period from about 3800 to 2000 BC by providing a different perspective. By assembling the evidence in this slightly different way, it may, perhaps, delineate more sharply some characteristics of the civilisation which is often loosely described as Sumerian. It is also hoped that this approach will provide easily accessible comparative data for people interested in particular aspects of the cultures of other archaeological areas.

   Many people have helped me to write this book, colleagues and students have helped me with advice, and I am extraordinarily grateful to all of them for their generous help. It has been particularly stimulating to work with scholars in the adjacent disciplines of ancient history and ancient language and it is perhaps to Mark Geller, Amelie Kuhrt and Roger Matthews, all at UCL, that I owe the greatest debt. I am also most grateful to Dr Uwe Finkbeiner, the University of Chicago Press, Dr Julian Reade, and the Trustees of the British Museum for permission to use illustrations of which they hold the copyright. Kate Morton, Neville Parker and Tessa Rickards drew the illustrations for me with endless patience and great skill and Georgina Herrmann allowed me to use two of her excellent photographs. My husband has been the kindest and most meticulous of unofficial sub-editors. Finally, the idea of presenting the material in a thematic way came from Peter Richards at Cambridge University Press and made the writing of the book stimulating and exciting for me. I hope it may do the same for the reader.

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