Did the World's First Civilization Start in Mesopotamia or Somewhere Else?
Over the millennia, countless civilizations have risen and destroyed. Which, however, is the oldest one known to man?
This question seemed to have an easy answer about thirty years ago. All I remember from my grade school education was the mantra that Mesopotamia was the “craddle of civilization,” and the first stage of the Sumerian culture, the oldest civilization in what is now primarily Iraq, emerged around 4000 B.C. The ancient city of Sumer, which was located in eastern Iraq just a few miles south of the present-day city of Kut, inspired the name of the Sumerians.
After the similarly ancient city of Uruk, located approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) to the southwest and the location of many of the first Sumerian artifacts, archaeologists refer to the earliest Sumerian phase as the Uruk period. However, evidence discovered in the last few decades suggests that there are a few rivals to the Sumerians for the title of "oldest civilization," including ancient Egypt.
See, the concept of a civilization is nebulous. Generally speaking, a culture must attain many trademarks, most notably urbanization, or cities, irrigation, and writing, all of which the Sumerians possessed. The Babylonian civilization, which flourished in Mesopotamia after 2000 B.C., is credited with discovering mathematical truths like trigonometry and prime, square, and cube numbers. These ideas were eventually expanded by the ancient Greeks more than 1,000 years later.