Who are the Sumerians?

Ben Johnson
Dec. 12, 2023


If you are thinking about travelling to Iraq to visit the sites of Mesopotamia , you will undoubtedly have come across information on the Sumerians, an ancient people who created some of the world’s first organised cities in southern Iraq. But who were they actually? Where did they come from? And if they are so ancient, how do we know so much about them?


Their origins

Sumerians appeared on the scene in southern Iraq around the year 5000 BC. There are several theories and origin stories about why they settled there, but most involve a great flood that moved them from far away. Some think it was from the Persian Gulf which flooded 1000s of years ago to join the ocean, and others think they may have sailed from somewhere further away.

The Sumerians believed they we created by gods that came from space who taught them how to cultivate crops and a writing system. Whatever the truth, what we do know is that the ruins of their settlements show some of the first signs of large human cities ever in human history. The cities of Uruk and Ur are some of the first cities to have had huge populations, long before they existed anywhere else.


How do we know so much?

Well, whether they created it themselves, or it was taught by some intergalactic deity, Sumerians created a system of writing called cuneiform. This was written on clay tablets which have survived the test of time and are still readable today. The Sumerians had a big influence on other civilisations with their writing system and language which spread to the Akkadian and Hittites. These latter civilisations speak ancient versions of modern languages such as Arabic and so we are able to decipher sounds and meanings from the old alphabet they used which came from Sumerian.

From this we have been able study the structure of Sumerian society and even some of their stories such as the famous ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’.


How have they influenced us?

The Sumerians were some of the first to engage in organised agriculture which led to the development of more complex and advance societies. These practices spread throughout the region and ultimately led to more and more civilisations following suit. The way we structure our calendars and lives around agricultural cycles is very much a remanent of practices the Sumerians started.

The Sumerians were the ones who divided day and night into 12 hours each, as well as dividing time further into 60 minutes and 60 seconds. If you grab your phone and look at it now those numbers are there in that order because some people 9000 years ago determined that was the best way to count time.

How about that?!


What can we see from them now?

Many of the sites in Iraq are very rough and raw but are amazing to visit. The sites of Uruk and Ur are littered with ancient pottery fragments and old cuneiform tablets. Not to metion the remains of the great zigurats (giant temples) and the city walls that are still visible after all this time.


What is the best way to see them?

Well obviously yhe best way would be to come with us to Iraq on our next tour where will hit up all the greatest ancient cities of Mesopotamia from Babylon to Ur!

Contact us to secure your space!



Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson

Originally from Perth, Australia, Ben has had the travel bug from a young age starting from a school trip to Beijing and Tokyo. He is known as a language nerd, having studied Mandarin, Japanese, French, Russian and now Arabic. In his downtime he loves to spend hours cooking and eating foods he’s discovered across the globe.

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