Masato wrote:^ OK, forgive my lack of ancient history
So what kind of timespan are we looking at between Sumerians - Mesopotamians - Babylonians (is that the right order?) ?
Mesopotamia is the name the Greeks gave to anyone who lived in the flood plains of Iraq and the Syrian jizirah. It literally means "The land in the middle of rivers." So Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians were all "Mesopotamian" by virtue of where they lived. Sumerians were speakers of the Sumerian language which was spoken since the beginning of history until its death somewhere between 2000 BC and 1800 BC. Babylonians were those who spoke the southern dialect of the Akkadian language. Akkadian is first attested around 2400 and by about 1800 it had split into the distinct yet intelligible Babylonian and Assyrian dialects in the south and the north respectively.
My point is that the OP suggests many great leaps of wisdom and knowledge (Pythagoras, etc) accredited to one time in history actually came from earlier times. Aren't we supposed to get dumber the farther back we go?
This came up when I was researching the origins of "Archimedes' screw" the spiral crank operated water lifting device attributed to the Greek inventor Archimedes. The Greek and Latin words for "invent" literally mean to find/come upon so they can more accurately be translated as "discover" with no implication of being the original progenitors. This is relevant in this example because Greco-Egyptians had described Egyptian farmers using water screw devices before the time of Archimedes, and Sennacherib writing hundreds of years earlier mentions inventing a device for elevating water to high garden terraces with brass cylinders and "brass palm trunks" which could very well be the word they decided to use for the concept of a screw, as palm trunks have a spiral pattern which would mean that the Egyptian farmers had it because it had spread from Mesopotamia(sound familiar?) I can't find the documentary BBC made on this theory but here is one on the same theory by PBS:
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/the-los ... ylon/1169/
http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/the-los ... sode/1203/
Masato wrote:So where did the Mesopotamians/Babylonians get it from?
Or did the fertile soil just spawn a sudden generation of geniuses?
What are the legends of where this civilization came from?
So weird, our history just kind of starts/stops there, no?
They got it from their long and rich tradition of social and technological development.
According to the earliest legends the wisdom of civilization was given to mankind by Enki(Sumerian for "earth/place lord") who is the god of wisdom said to dwell in a watery underground realm known as the abzu(Sumerian for "sea of wisdom"). Enki was the patron deity of Eridu so gave civilization to the folk of the city but no others. This was until the lady Inanna(from an unattested earlier ninanak "lady of the heavens") grew jealous and wanted civilization for her own city, Uruk. Inanna went to Enki in Eridu and partied with him, convincing him to drink more and more until he passed out of drunkenness. Inanna then took Enki's secrets of civilization, loaded them into a great barge and sailed them up the Euphrates to Uruk, from which they spread to the rest of the world. This myth is supported by archaeological evidence which demonstrates that Eridu developed the most advanced phase of Sumerian proto-civilization, which spread to Uruk in which it developed into earth's first true civilization.
2000 years later a very different origin myth was given to the Greek world by Berossos; iirc he said they civilization first arose in Eridu when it was brought to the Eridish by fishmen who rose from the waters. Note that all those thousands of years later the Mesopotamians were able to preserve the very legitimate detail that many of the pivotal foundations of their society were developed first in Eridu.
The sudden start of history in Sumer is simply the result of nothing counting as history unless it is written down. The archaic Urukean writing civilization was virtually identical to the prehistoric Eridu civilization save for the fact they had writing. Eridu itself was proceeded by the slightly more primitive Ubaid culture found at Tell al-'Ubaid. The Ubaid culture is very clearly a development from the Halaf culture spread from the north Mesopotamian plains, the Halaf was clearly a development of neolithic semi-nomadic herding/farming cultures of northern Syria and southern Turkey. All that development isn't is the history books but its about 9000 years of highly significant developments.