Some have suggested that the Sumerians should be researched more in depth because they were the first people. However, this is not true. Homo sapiens, meaning "man who knows," in Latin, is the scientific name for the general human species. Homo is the genus, or, taxonomic category that is positioned above species and below family. This includes Neanderthals and Denisovan, as well as many other of our extinct cousins. In fact, Homo sapiens is the only surviving species of the genus Homo. Modern humans are classified even further as the subspecies, Homo sapiens sapiens. This classification system branches out further and further whenever a new specimen is found. Sometimes, a specimen that does not neatly fit into this ongoing jig saw puzzle gets conveniently forgotten in the basements of museums; museums funded by oligarchs.
Now, you may argue according to your religious beliefs, or personal research theories, that these “ancestors” are of no relation to us modern humans, thus, their existence does not factor into the equation. To which I would point to the Omo remains, discovered between 1967 and 1974 in Africa, at the Omo Kibish sites near the Omo River, in Omo National Park in south-western Ethiopia.
Found at the site were a number of bones including, two partial skulls, four jaws, a leg bone, and about two hundred teeth. This discovery provided evidence of the first anatomically modern humans appearing in the fossil record about 195,000 years ago, right around the time scientists claim modern humans diverged from a common ancestor 200,000 years ago. If the radiocarbon dating is correct, these fossils are the oldest known Homo sapiens remains, “making Ethiopia the cradle of Homo sapiens.”1
Ethiopia may be considered the cradle of Homo sapiens, but Mesopotamia, home of Sumer, is known as the cradle of civilization. The distinction is quite evident. Existing and civilization building are two very different things. However, one could then reasonably ask what about Göbekli Tepe? Evidence found at Göbekli Tepe clearly indicates more than just simple existing was taking place. Considering that the settlement is at least 11,000 years old, it is much older than any settlement found near Ur. Thus, the enigmatic inhabitants of Göbekli Tepe should be considered the cradle of civilization, but the problem with this is how one defines civilization.
Some scholars adhere to the theory that Göbekli Tepe was a temple but not all scholars agree. Archaeological evidence of day to day activities have led other scholars to believe that Göbekli Tepe was a multi-purpose domestic settlement. Still, the general consensus is that Göbekli Tepe was a hunter-gather site with the possibility of rudimentary agriculture. Does this constitute civilization? Perhaps it is the seed of civilization but to date, no evidence of an advanced state of human society where a high level of culture, science, industry, and government has been found.
This is not to suggest that Göbekli Tepe is not a profoundly important site to the history of humanity. After all, its mysteries have only begun to be addressed. I only mean to suggest that in Sumer, something different happened. This something would do more than simply plant the seeds of human civilization, it would go on to develop complex systems and hierarchies the world had never before seen.
While not the first ever people, and not the first to make art or large settlements, the Sumerians forever changed the trajectory of humankind. Thanks to having invented the world’s first true system of writing, 2 the Sumerians have left us with many artifacts and texts to paint a picture of life in their time.
1. Leakey, R. E. F. "Early Homo Sapiens Remains from the Omo River Region of South-west Ethiopia: Faunal Remains from the Omo Valley." Nature, 1969, 1132-133.
2. Millard, A. R. (1986). "The Infancy of the Alphabet." World Archaeology 17 (3): 390–398. doi:10.1080/00438243.1986.9979978
In my research for Land of the Watchers, I have found an interconnected web of facts all leading, perhaps unsurprisingly, to oil. While it may come as no big revelation, America’s war in the Middle East has been over oil, as have both world wars. The quest for oil has been the cause of innumerable deaths around the world for years and this quest is not new. Many are surprised to learn how ancient humanity’s knowledge of oil is. The Sumerians, Akkadians, and Babylonians were aware of the importance of oil, as were Native Americans. Let’s take a quick look at ancient oil, starting with the Sumerians.
To start, the term oil is usually used as a more generalized term referring to a viscous, flammable liquid, insoluble in water. However, petroleum is a more specific term referring to a hydrocarbon oil found in the upper strata of the earth, which goes through a refining process to be used as fuel. The word petroleum literally means “rock oil,” translated from the Greek to Latin form petra ‘rock’ and oleum ‘oil.’ Drilling is not the only way to find oil. Oil can also be found in what are called seeps, or oil springs. When the oil from these springs evaporates, it leaves behind a semi-solid hydrocarbon product called bitumen. This has been used for thousands of years as a waterproofing agent, for plumbing, boat building and brick bonding. There is even some debate on whether or not it was the pitch used to waterproof the reed basket that carried the infant Moses into the Nile River. Herodotus, Aristotle, Strabo, Plutarch, and others have discussed the ancients’ use of bitumen in detail. It is credited as being the literal glue that held together the Tower of Babel. Petroleum was essential to the infrastructure of Babylon the Great. It was also an important component to ritual sacrifice.
Vegetable and animal oils have traditionally been used in Abrahamic religious ceremonies. In fact, the word Christ is from the Latin ‘Christus,’ which is from Greek ‘khristos’ meaning "the anointed.” This anointing refers to a ceremonial process where oil is smeared on the head. Many are familiar with these etymologies and many are familiar with anointing ceremonies which are still performed in numerous modern religious settings. However, the act of anointing with oil predates the Abrahamic religions. It even predates Egyptian religions, which also anointed with natural oils.
In the Sumerian records, there are many mentions of oils and their uses. Cedar oils, vegetable oils, even bitumen was regularly referenced. However, there is one very special oil that was used in an important ritual. It translates simply to “mountain oil.” Could this “mountain oil” be “rock oil” or petroleum? I have spent countless hours combing over Sumerian records, searching for clues to human origins and a better understanding of the power structures that have come to dominate our world. In my personal reading of the Sumerian tablets, I have found more to support that the Sumerian god’s were interested in this mountain oil more than even gold. In fact, I have found very little to support that gold was of special interest to the gods. Mountain oil, on the other hand…
I have traced this particular mountain oil to the Zagros Mountain range, homeland of Enil, Inanna, and other key figures in Sumerian mythology. This oil was used in a strange, yet familiar, ritual to honor Inanna, the daughter of Nanna and Ningal, who is also associated with Venus. Nanna, her father, son of Enlil and Ninlil, later became identified with Assyrian moon god Su'en/Sîn, whose name meant "illuminator." His worship center was Ur, whose name literally meant the dwelling place of Nanna. Now, I will not go too deeply into familial connections in this post but in Land of the Watchers, I do go into more detail and provide clear infographics to simplify the drama of the Sumerian gods. For now, the takeaway is that the oil from the mountain home of the Sumerian creator gods was important to their rituals and civil structure.
It has been known for a very long time that the Zagros Mountains were a special place. In addition to being the dwelling place and retreat of the Sumerian gods, they were also the home to the first known dragon, named Kur. Kur, the serpent, is so much associated with the mountains, that it is depicted as a picture of a mountain in cuneiform. Archaeological evidence has revealed interesting clues to the myths of the Zargos Mountain dwellers. The serpent-man hybrid clay figurines, excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley, have been associated with this civilization, the Ubaid peoples, who originally down from the Zagros Mountains of Kurdistan, hence the 'Kurd' in Kurdistan (stan = place of or home). So, in addition to the Zargos Mountains being associated with the Sumerian gods, they are also known as housing a great serpent or serpents.
The importance of this mountain range to the modern oil industry cannot be stressed enough. Iran's main oilfields are located in the western central foothills of the Zagros mountain range. What I have found in researching Land of the Watchers has lead me down a path that follows big oil, the Kurdish conflict, WWI & WWII, the current war on terror, and the invention of the modern Middle East. The families behind the wars for oil are all too familiar names. The connections are astounding.
I have traveled down a road which starts in ancient Mesopotamia, goes through the Crusades, and onto the Americas, during a time when the Seneca people used petroleum from oil seeps in their rituals (rituals strangely similar to those of the Sumerians). In fact, the tribe became known by pioneers for their oil, which they traded. It would later become known as snake oil, the same snake oil that William Rockefeller, Sr., father of John D. Rockefeller, made a living as a con man selling. William Rockefeller, Sr. took snake oil as it was called, and bottled it under “rock oil.” He claimed it had special life-extension capabilities. He peddled it like a carny in the same way you would expect from a snake oil salesman.
My research has brought me full circle in a way. It has brought me to Cleveland, Ohio, a seemingly unlikely place with connections to Sumerian myths, the Crusades, Native American myths, ritual sacrifice, environmentalism, the quest for the elixir of life, and the strange insatiable thirst for oil. I have walked the paths of the oil barons, looking for the details that others have missed. I have visited newly discovered mysterious Rockefeller archaeological sites and found a series of clues that have been hidden in key places in the area. I have been completely thrown by what I have found and my experience has caused me to question everything I thought I knew.