Five Mesopotamian Inventions that Changed the World

Geographic map of Mesopotamia (1)
Abstract: Many scholars refer to Mesopotamia as "the cradle of civilization" for good reason. People living in this part of the world created several inventions which were vital to the growth and development of modern civilizations.

Per a Penn Museum site, Mesopotamia "includes most of modern-day Iraq, parts of Syria, Iran, and Turkey." Many scholars refer to this region as "the cradle of civilization." Some of the world's earliest farming communities developed in this region around 6500 B.C.; their citizens took advantage of the fertile lands that surrounded the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to plant a variety of crops. These villages grew into powerful urban centers whose populaces were credited with creating a number of important inventions.

The Wheel
Chariot (3)

Scholars do not know which culture actually invented the wheel. However, a University of Chicago article from 2003 credits the Mesopotamians with being the first people, beginning around 3500 B.C., to utilize it for everyday purposes. "They used the potter's wheel to throw pots and wheels on carts to transport both people and goods." The wheel was especially vital to the development of trade between Mesopotamian city-states because it allowed people to ship large quantities of goods over long distances. This invention is vital to modern civilization; we use wheels to help us run everything from cars to watches.

The Sail

The same University of Chicago article also credits the Mesopotamians with inventing sails, which they used "to harness the wind to move boats." This invention was important in helping to spur the growth and development of trade between the city-states along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Ships using sail power could often transport goods to another location much faster than their counterparts who were moving over land. However, this invention is just as vital in helping foster the growth of almost every major civilization in the world. The United States, as we know it, would not exist if Europeans had not had access to sail technology.

Mesopotamian balance sheet (2)

Another University of Chicago site credits the Mesopotamians with inventing the "earliest form of writing." Their written language, called cuneiform, used pictographs to "represent an object or idea." They would imprint these pictures onto clay tablets. The development of a written language is one of the most important inventions of all time. It allowed people to record information for future reference and to transmit data between towns and cities "without having to rely on a messenger's memory." This invention helped to foster the growth and development of complex societies in Mesopotamia and later in other areas of the world.

The Seeder Plow

The Mesopotamians also invented the seeder plow. A University of Chicago article hails this invention as "a major technological achievement. It revolutionized agriculture by carrying out the tasks of seeding and ploughing simultaneously." Its development helped spur population growth in the region by increasing crop yields. Advancements in plow technology have also been vital to the growth of many other civilizations, including the United States.

The Division of Time into 60 Parts

The 2003 University of Chicago article credits the Mesopotamians with being the "first to divide time units into 60 parts." This invention probably allowed them to pinpoint times for astronomical events and to help organize the complex interactions that are part and parcel of urban life. However, it has had a significant impact on the growth and development of modern civilization. Our cities would come to a standstill if people all of a sudden stopped using the concept of a "60-second minute and 60-minute hour" to organize their activities.

Modern societies owe a debt to the early civilizations which developed along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Our cities rely on several, key technologies and ideas which were first developed by people living in Mesopotamia.

1. Creator/Photographer: Teka and NASA
    Date: September 15, 2010
    Title/Description: Geographic map of Mesopotamia
    Location/Permission: Wikimedia Commons - Author's notes/U.S. government map/photo.
    (click on the title/link for photo, credits, permissions).

2. Photographer: Marie-Lan Nguyen
    Date: June 14, 2006
    Title/Description: Annual balance sheet of a State-owned farm, drawn-up by the scribe responsible for 
                              artisans: detailed account of raw materials and workdays for a basketry workshop. Clay,                               ca. 2040 BC (Ur III).
    Item Location: Louvre Museum
    Photograph Location/Permissions: Wikimedia - Author's notes (click on the title/link for more info.).

3. Creator: Unknown
    Date: 1914
    Title/Description: Drawing from an Egyptian relief - from Paul Volz: Die biblischen Altertümer (1914), p. 
                               514. copied from de:Hethitischer Streitwagen.jpg.
    Location/Permission: Wikimedia Commons - Copyright expired (click on title/link for art, credits,

-- Anthony Hopper

#Mesopotamia #Iraq #Iran #inventions #agriculture #technology #history #ancienthistory

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