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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 15

A Central Asiatic source for Sumerian culture has also been urged of late with much circumstantial detail. It breaks quite fresh and interesting ground. Recent scientific expeditions in Russian and Chinese Turkestan have accumulated important archaeological data which clearly establish that vast areas of desert country were at a remote period most verdurous and fruitful, and thickly populated by organized and apparently progressive communities. From these ancient centres of civilization wholesale migrations must have been impelled from time to time in consequence of the gradual encroachment of wind-distributed sand and the increasing shortage of water. At Anau in Russian Turkestan, where excavations were conducted by the Pumpelly expedition, abundant traces were found of an archaic and forgotten civilization reaching back to the Late Stone Age. The pottery is decorated with geometric designs, and resembles somewhat other Neolithic specimens found as far apart as Susa, the capital of ancient Elam, on the borders of Babylonia, Boghaz Köi in Asia Minor, the seat of Hittite administration, round the Black Sea to the north, and at points in the southern regions of the Balkan Peninsula. It is suggested that these various finds are scattered evidences of early racial drifts from the Central Asian areas which were gradually being rendered uninhabitable. Among the Copper Age artifacts at Anau are clay votive statuettes resembling those which were used in Sumeria for religious purposes. These, however, cannot be held to prove a racial connection, but they are important in so far as they afford evidence of early trade relations in a hitherto unsuspected direction, and the long distances over which cultural influence extended before the dawn of history. Further we cannot go. No inscriptions have yet been discovered to render articulate this mysterious Central Asian civilization, or to suggest the original source of early Sumerian picture writing. Nor is it possible to confirm Mr. Pumpelly's view that from the Anau district the Sumerians and Egyptians first obtained barley and wheat, and some of their domesticated animals. If, as Professor Elliot Smith believes, copper was first used by the Ancient Egyptians, it may be, on the other hand, that a knowledge of this metal reached Anau through Sumeria, and that the elements of the earlier culture were derived from the same quarter by an indirect route. The evidence obtainable in Egypt is of interest in this connection. Large quantities of food have been taken from the stomachs and intestines of sun-dried bodies which have lain in their pre-Dynastic graves for over sixty centuries. This material has been carefully examined, and has yielded, among other things, husks of barley and millet, and fragments of mammalian bones, including those, no doubt, of the domesticated sheep and goats and cattle painted on the pottery.[13] It is therefore apparent that at an extremely remote period a knowledge of agriculture extended throughout Egypt, and we have no reason for supposing that it was not shared by the contemporary inhabitants of Sumer.

The various theories which have been propounded regarding the outside source of Sumerian culture are based on the assumption that it commenced abruptly and full grown. Its rude beginnings cannot be traced on the banks of the Tigris and Euphrates, but although no specimens of the earliest form of picture writing have been recovered from the ruins of Sumerian and Akkadian cities, neither have any been found elsewhere. The possibility remains, therefore, that early Babylonian culture was indigenous. "A great deal of ingenuity has been displayed by many scholars", says Professor Elliot Smith, "with the object of bringing these Sumerians from somewhere else as immigrants into Sumer; but no reasons have been advanced to show that they had not been settled at the head of the Persian Gulf for long generations before they first appeared on the stage of history. The argument that no early remains have been found is futile, not only because such a country as Sumer is no more favourable to the preservation of such evidence than is the Delta of the Nile, but also upon the more general grounds that negative statements of this sort cannot be assigned a positive evidence for an immigration."[14] This distinguished ethnologist is frankly of opinion that the Sumerians were the congeners of the pre-Dynastic Egyptians of the Mediterranean or Brown race, the eastern branch of which reaches to India and the western to the British Isles and Ireland. In the same ancient family are included the Arabs, whose physical characteristics distinguish them from the Semites of Jewish type.


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