Mesopotamia is an ancient civilization that took up pretty much everything that today is modern Iraq and Syria, a triangular patch wedged between the Tigris River, the Zagros Mountains, and the Lesser Zab River. Mesopotamia is considered the first urban civilization, that is to say, it was the first society which has provided evidence of people deliberately living in close proximity to one another, with attendant social and economic structures to allow that to occur peaceably.
Generally, people speak of north and south Mesopotamia, most prominently during the Sumer (south) and Akkad (north) periods between about 3000-2000 BC. However, the histories of the north and south dating back to the sixth millennium BC are divergent; and later the Assyrian kings did their best to unite the two halves.
Mesopotamian ChronologyDates after ca 1500 BC are generally agreed upon; important sites are listed in parentheses after each period.
- Ubaid 5800-3700 BC (Telloh, Ur, Ubaid, Oueili, Eridu, Tepe Gawra, H3 As-Sabiyah)
- Early Northern Uruk 4400-3600 BC (Brak, Hamoukar)
- Uruk 3800-3200 BC (Girsu/Telloh, Umma, Lagash, Eridu, Ur, Hacinebi Tepe, Turkey, Chogha Mish, Iran)
- Jemdet Nasr 3200-3000 BC (Uruk)
- Early Dynastic Period 3000-2350 BC (Kish, Uruk, Ur, Lagash, Asmar, Mari, Umma, Al-Rawda)
- Akkadian 2350-2200 BC (Agade, Sumer, Lagash, Uruk, Titris Hoyuk)
- Neo-Sumerian (2100-2000 BC) (Ur, Elam, Tappeh Sialk)
- Old Babylonian and Old Assyrian Periods (2000-1600 BC) (Mari, Ebla Babylon, Isin, Larsa, Asssur)
- Middle Assyrian (1600-1000 BC) (Babylon, Ctesiphon)
- Neo-Assyrian (1000-605 BC) (Nineveh)
- Neo-Babylonian (625-539 BC) (Babylon)
Mesopotamian AdvancesMesopotamia was first home to villages in the Neolithic period of around 6,000 BC. Permanent mudbrick residential structures were being constructed before the Ubaid period at southern sites such as Tell el-Oueili, as well as Ur, Eridu, Telloh, and Ubaid. At Tell Brak in northern Mesopotamia, architecture began appearing at least as early as 4400 BC. Temples were also in evidence by the sixth millennium, in particular at Eridu.
Assyrian records written in cuneiform have been found and deciphered, allowing us much more information about the political and economic pieces of latter Mesopotamian society. In the north part was the kingdom of Assyria; to the south was the Sumerians and Akkadian in the alluvial plain between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Mesopotamia continued as a definable civilization right through the fall of Babylon (about 1595 BC).
Of most concern today are the ongoing issues associated with the continuing war in Iraq, which have gravely damaged much of the archaeological sites and allowed looting to occur, as described in a recent article by archaeologist Zainab Bahrani.
Important Mesopotamian sites include: Tell el-Ubaid, Uruk, Ur, Eridu, Tell Brak, Tell el-Oueili, Nineveh, Pasargardae, Babylon, Tepe Gawra, Telloh, Hacinebi Tepe, Khorsabad, Nimrud, H3, As Sabiyah, Failaka, Ugarit, Uluburun
Ömür Harmansah at the Joukowsky Institute at Brown University is in the process of developing a course on Mesopotamia, which looks really useful.
Bernbeck, Reinhard 1995 Lasting alliances and emerging competition: Economic developments in early Mesopotamia. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 14(1):1-25.
Bertman, Stephen. 2004. Handbook to Life in Mesopotamia. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Brusasco, Paolo 2004 Theory and practice in the study of Mesopotamian domestic space. Antiquity 78(299):142-157.
De Ryck, I., A. Adriaens, and F. Adams 2005 An overview of Mesopotamian bronze metallurgy during the 3rd millennium BC. Journal of Cultural Heritage 6261–268. Free download
Jahjah, Munzer, Carlo Ulivieri, Antonio Invernizzi, and Roberto Parapetti 2007 Archaeological remote sensing application pre-postwar situation of Babylon archaeological site—Iraq. Acta Astronautica 61:121–130.
Luby, Edward M. 1997 The Ur-Archaeologist: Leonard Woolley and the treasures of Mesopotamia. Biblical Archaeology Review 22(2):60-61.
Rothman, Mitchell 2004 Studying the development of complex society: Mesopotamia in the late fifth and fourth millennia BC. Journal of Archaeological Research 12(1):75-119.
Wright, Henry T. 2006 Early state dynamics as political experiment. Journal of Anthropological Research 62(3):305-319.
Zainab Bahrani. 2004. Lawless in Mesopotamia. Natural History 113(2):44-49