Kramer of Sumer -- By: Mary Lucy Wood

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 08:4 (Autumn 1979)
Article: Kramer of Sumer
Author: Mary Lucy Wood


Kramer of Sumer

Mary Lucy Wood

[Mary Lucy Wood was educated in Florida, did graduate work at Columbia University and spent a year doing historical research in Uruguay and Argentina where her interest in archaeology was sparked by the discovery of Inca bones in Peru.]

According to Genesis 11:2 the Tower of Babel was built in the land of Shinar. Many scholars believe that this is a reference to the ancient land of Sumer. In this article, Mary Wood describes how scholars are gradually unlocking the mysteries of this long-lost kingdom. — Ed.

At 82, Samuel Noah Kramer, a scholar who describes himself as a man who “knows mostest about the leastest,” is still engaged in what he calls “the universal question for origins.” For Dr. Kramer, now Professor Emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania, that quest has meant 52 years devoted to the translation of man’s first written records: the clay tablets on which the people called the Sumerians inscribed the wedge-shaped writing known as cuneiform about 3, 500 years ago.

According to archaeology, the Sumerians, who called themselves the “blackheaded people,” were among the first civilizations. Nomads, migrating from some place still unknown, they settled near

Samuel Noah Kramer with his beloved tablets.

and between the two great rivers of Mesopotamia — the Tigris and the Euphrates — about the 35th century B.C., and began to develop the fundamentals of civilization. They systematized agriculture, developed irrigation, constructed the first wagon wheel and the potters’ wheel, a great technological breakthrough, experimented with a form of democracy, built cities and — Professor Kramer’s lifelong studies show — wrote poetry and literature that in the West still echo through the pages of the Bible.

Over the millennia, however, Sumer vanished, as did its successors, Babylon and Assyria. Abandoned, and gradually covered by the earth, Sumer disappeared and was forgotten for over 2, 000 years, its cities and culture buried in mounds of earth looming up from the muddy flatlands of the “land between the rivers,” in what is now southeastern Iraq. But then, about 140 years ago, the first of the great Middle East archaeologists began to dig into those mounds, called “tells”, found artifacts and gradually — as they uncovered temples, monuments, tombs, sculpture, ornaments, tools and finely worked gold — drew a profile of a complete, hitherto unknown,

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