THE BOOK LOCKER: Beyond Sumer

It is, well, eerie and disturbing-and ultimately challenging.

Think of it: a sea people who came by boat to found this Tigris-Euphrates civilization!

The little clay model sailboat we’d found, dating to about 3100 BC, did not evolve on those meandering muddy rivers which we had thought embraced the cradle of civilization.

It was made by people who came in under sail, from another civilization whose identity we do not know.

The city of Ur, a thousand years old when Abraham left it to start the stillcontinuing story of Israel, was not the origin point of civilized, aware, timebinding man. Beyond Ur and its parent civilization Sumer

(a civilization so old that the ancient Greeks and Romans had forgotten its existence) lies another civilization:

a civilization that came ashore with a crash around 3100 BC, with wheeled carts, with bronze tools,

weapons and ornaments (the raw materials for bronze did not exist in Sumer, so not only the materials,

but the concept of bronze had to be imported from elsewhere)

and with the agricultural and other disciplines necessary for urbanization.

This is what Thor Heyerdahl, that invaluable world citizen, tells us, with the authoritative support of scholarly colleagues,

 in his Tigris book, which recounts his venture at deepsea voyaging in the kind of reed boat he believes these people might have sailed in.

His book is thoughtfully reviewed by the second-remove speculations as to the nature of the founding civilization that came in from the sea.

I think we may now accept what the legend of Gilgamesh told us, that his home, as prototypical Sumerian similar to Theseus who taught the Greeks

(much later) to furrow the land with plows and the sea with oars, was overseas-in an island where he went to renew his youth toward the end of his life.

A respectable body of opinion now holds that island to be Bahrein, off the Omani coast.

And Bahrein clearly was a way station and probable entrepot for a seaborn commerce whose reach

and power archaeologists are only now beginning to appreciate fully. How odd:

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