In the second article of our series, in which we try to examine the development of science and technology in the history of humanity, we will examine the developments in the Mesopotamian region, where history emerged. In our first article, we examined the scientific and technological activities that took place with the emergence of modern man. Today, we will discuss the scientific and technological developments of the civilizations established in the region we mentioned. At this point, let’s start with the Sumerians, one of the most important civilizations in ancient history.
Science and Technology in the Sumerians
Mesopotamia literally means “the place between two rivers”. The region, in its simplest terms, covers the geography between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and extends to the Persian Gulf. In order to classify the civilizations established in this geography more easily, it is possible to examine Mesopotamia under two different headings as Northern and Southern Mesopotamia. The civilization that we will discuss first, the Sumerians, arose in Southern Mesopotamia. The first Sumerians or Proto-Sumerians are notable for being the first settled people of Southern Mesopotamia. Settled life means that there are agricultural activities. This shows that the Sumerians were intertwined with agriculture and advanced agricultural activities.
So much so that the Proto-Sumerians were aware of mudbrick and pottery making. Among the findings obtained as a result of the excavations in the region, weaving tools made of terracotta were also found. This shows that the Sumerians were also interested in weaving along with agriculture. These mentioned tools can be described as the first technological tools in Mesopotamia. Today, technology continues to develop in parallel with human needs. This situation has followed the same line since the first time technology emerged. The beginning of the technological development in Mesopotamia took place in this way, in line with various human needs, especially agriculture.
If we are to give a good example of the technological development of the Sumerians, we will have to talk about the simple machine called the “shaduf”. Shaduf was a water drawing device working with seesaw logic. In order to increase the arable land in Sumer, new water channels were created. In order for the water channels to be used actively, water wells were dug. In order to easily extract water from water wells, they designed a simple machine called şaduf. There was a weight at one end of the shaduf, and an earthen vessel at the other end. In this way, the underground water could easily be brought above ground for use.
After giving an example of the technological development in Sumer in this way, it is necessary to take a look at the scientific development of this civilization. When science is mentioned in Sumerians, the first thing that comes to mind is the invention of writing. The writing, which the Sumerians began to use in accordance with their own language, changed the course of history. Thanks to the written texts created by the discovery of writing, we can also examine the scientific development of the Sumerians. So much so that the first written texts of the Sumerians were created on clay tablets. These tablets, besides the political issues such as the wars of the kings and diplomatic correspondence; The courses given in schools carry information about mathematics, astronomy and other branches of science.
The Sumerians gave importance to the observations of nature because they were interested in agriculture. As we will see in the section we will talk about Egyptian Civilization, societies interested in agriculture have taken the movements of the rivers around them, the movements of the Sun, and the soil structures to study. These activities, which were undertaken to increase agricultural productivity and prevent famine, also became the pioneers of science in the aforementioned societies. The Sumerian temples, which they called the Ziggurat, were used both as a food store and in a suitable design for sky observations, in addition to their religious dimensions. These observations provided a suitable environment for the advancement of astronomy. At the same time, the development of mathematics and geometry continued in the same parallel. Today, we can determine, through archaeological findings, that the Mesopotamians also knew the rule we call the “golden ratio”.
Technological Development in Mesopotamia
The technological development of Mesopotamian civilizations was not limited to the above example. In addition to the Sumerians, other civilizations established in this geography also played an important role in the emergence of new technological tools. The most important technological development in this period is the invention of the wheel. The wheel has been one of the most important elements for land transportation since ancient times. In ancient times, valuables or any object that was difficult to move with human power was carried by carts, which became more useful with wheels. In addition to the advantages it provides in transportation, the wheel has also made a great revolution in production, especially in the field of pottery.
In addition to the wheel, the sheltering needs of the Mesopotamian peoples who lead a settled life have also become more important than the societies that lived a nomadic life in the past. In line with this need, they have constantly developed their living spaces. The houses built with simple trees were replaced by adobe houses. Afterwards, this would not have been enough, as Mesopotamian peoples succeeded in making bricks by baking clay dough. So they began to build houses from bricks. This development is a very valuable innovation as it is one of the important technological developments in the field of construction.
A good example of the contribution of the civilizations in the geography of Mesopotamia to the development of technology is the use of materials such as tiles and glass. In the archaeological excavations, items made of these two substances were unearthed. At the same time, metallurgy also continued its development in this region. The processing and transformation of copper and iron into useful objects paved the way for technological developments in the ongoing process.
Scientific Development in Mesopotamia
Mesopotamians introduced mathematics using the base 60 number system. Later, with this system, they achieved significant improvement in mathematics and reflected this to geometry. Today, the basis of the 60-based measurements of time, arc and angle is the number system used by the Mesopotamian peoples. The inventors of algebra, which has an important place in mathematics, were Mesopotamians. The origin of the word “algebra” lies in Mesopotamia.
Mesopotamians also defined the area of geometric objects such as square, rectangle, trapezoid; they knew how to calculate the volume of geometric objects such as prisms and cylinders. The Tales theorem, which is still used today for right triangles, was also known by the societies in the aforementioned geography. Thus, it is possible to say that Mesopotamians left a very important legacy to the development of mathematics and geometry by the civilizations that followed them, by revealing the basic concepts.
The scientific activities of the people of the region are not limited to mathematics and geometry. Mesopotamian astronomy is also a highly developed branch of science. The first society to observe Venus in 1600 BC was again the Mesopotamians. In addition, they invented an instrument called “Polos” and were able to detect the daily movements of the Sun, the solstice and tropic times through this instrument. Astronomical observations have also shown themselves in separating the day into certain times. The Babylonians, another civilization from Mesopotamia, divided the day into twelve parts of two hours each. The Assyrians, another civilization in the same geography, draws attention as the civilization that gave the names of April, July, September and February.
Another branch of science dealing with Mesopotamian peoples is medicine. Medical science in the region was in the hands of the priestly class. The priests would detect the signs of the disease and make predictions about the development of the disease. Among the priests, there was also a section who thought that they could cure diseases with magic. However, the activities that would form the basis of today’s modern medicine were also practiced in this period.
As a result, Mesopotamia should not only be considered as the center where humanity emerged and the first settled civilizations were established, but also as a geography where science and technology developed rapidly. The above-mentioned activities of the Mesopotamians also directly affected the societies that would continue to establish civilizations after them. This interaction accelerated over time and spread all over the world.