Sumer: Inventions

Sumerian’s most famous invention was writing. Writing developed out of the need to record business transactions. It evolved over hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The first objects to be written were numbers. Numbers were significant for recording purchases, sales, and trades. 

Next, individual words were written using simple pictures similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs. This type of writing was complicated because one picture could represent several different words while other words were not represented by a picture. The Sumerians moved to a system of simple pictures representing sounds. Now, anything that could be said could be written.

The Sumerian written language is called cuneiform. Cuneiform means wedge-shaped in Greek. Scribes in Sumer would use sharpened reeds to make wedge-shaped marks in soft clay.

Most Sumerian records relate to business transactions, but they also used cuneiform to write poems and stories. The most famous Sumerian story is The Epic of Gilgamesh. This epic poem tells of a ruthless king who meets a hero of the gods. The two fight but eventually become friends and travel the world having adventures together. The experience makes Gilgamesh a better king.

Sumerians not only created a system for writing numbers, but they also developed many mathematical principles we still use today. They measured a circle at 360°. They also set a minute as sixty seconds and an hour as sixty minutes. Clay tablets with multiplication and square roots tables have been recovered from the ruins of Sumerian cities.

Sumerian inventions made it possible for them to trade with other civilizations. Writing allowed them to send contracts and negotiate over long distances. They also invented the wheel and the sailboat. Merchants would not have been able to move their goods without these inventions.