The term "Sumerian" is the common name given to the ancient non-Semitic inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Sumer, by the Semitic Akkadians. The Sumerians referred to themselves as ùĝ saĝ gíg-ga, phonetically uŋ saŋ giga, literally meaning "the black-headed people", and to their land as ki-en-gi(-r) ('place' + 'lords' + 'noble'), meaning "place of the noble lords". The Akkadian word Shumer may represent the geographical name in dialect, but the phonological development leading to the Akkadian term šumerû is uncertain. Hebrew Shinar, Egyptian Sngr, and Hittite Šanhar(a), all referring to southern Mesopotamia, could be western variants of Shumer.
- 1: an ancient region in southwestern Asia, in present-day Iraq, comprising the southern part of Mesopotamia. From the 4th millennium bc it was the site of city states that became part of ancient Babylonia.
Sumer was one of the ancient civilizations and historical regions in southern Mesopotamia, modern-day southern Iraq, during the Chalcolithic and the Early Bronze ages. Although the earliest specimens of writing in the region do not go back much further than c. 2500 BC, modern historians have suggested that Sumer was first permanently settled between c. 5500 and 4000 BC by a non-Semitic people who spoke the Sumerian language (pointing to the names of cities, rivers, basic occupations, etc., as evidence).
These conjectured, prehistoric people are now called "proto-Euphrateans" or "Ubaidians", and are theorized to have evolved from the Samarra culture of northern Mesopotamia (Assyria). The Ubaidians (though never mentioned by the Sumerians themselves) are assumed by modern-day scholars to have been the first civilizing force in Sumer, draining the marshes for agriculture, developing trade, and establishing industries, including weaving, leatherwork, metalwork, masonry, and pottery.
However, some scholars contest the idea of a Proto-Euphratean language or one substrate language. It has been suggested by them and others, that the Sumerian language was originally that of the hunter and fisher peoples, who lived in the marshland and the Eastern Arabia littoral region, and were part of the Arabian bifacial culture. Reliable historical records begin much later; there are none in Sumer of any kind that have been dated before Enmebaragesi (c. 26th century BC). Professor Juris Zarins believes the Sumerians were settled along the coast of Eastern Arabia, today's Persian Gulf region, before it flooded at the end of the Ice Age.
Sumerian civilization took form in the Uruk period (4th millennium BC), continuing into the Jemdat Nasr and Early Dynastic periods. During the 3rd millennium BC, a close cultural symbiosis developed between the Sumerians (who spoke a language no relatives of which are known today; see language isolate) and the Semitic Akkadian speakers, which included widespread bilingualism. Sumerian culture appears to have appeared as a fully formed civilization, with no pre-history. A theory is that the Sumerian culture appeared 3500-3000BC as the Western European Grooved Ware People disappeared from the North-West coastal regions of Europe. The Grooved Ware People were sea-going people, and the stone builders who built Stonehenge; which pre-dates the Pyramids of Egypt by a few hundred years. Theory posits that the Pyramids of Egypt were built with the help of technology and stone building methods brought to Sumeria by the Grooved Wear People, who were known at their time in Western Europe as makers of fine quality stone and copper axes, as well as other felling and construction implements. Their language remains a mystery, though their religious beliefs share some commonalities with the earliest writings of the Jewish faith, which perhaps sprang forth from the "new" Sumerian Culture homology.
The influence of Sumerian on Akkadian (and vice versa) is evident in all areas, from lexical borrowing on a massive scale, to syntactic, morphological, and phonological convergence. This has prompted scholars to refer to Sumerian and Akkadian in the 3rd millennium BC as a Sprachbund. Sumer was conquered by the Semitic-speaking kings of the Akkadian Empire around 2270 BC (short chronology), but Sumerian continued as a sacred language.
Native Sumerian rule re-emerged for about a century in the Third Dynasty of Ur (Sumerian Renaissance) approximately 2100-2000 BC, but the Akkadian language also remained in use. The Sumerian city of Eridu, on the coast of the Persian Gulf, is considered to have been the world's first city, where three separate cultures may have fused — that of peasant Ubaidian farmers, living in mud-brick huts and practicing irrigation; that of mobile nomadic Semitic pastoralists living in black tents and following herds of sheep and goats; and that of fisher folk, living in reed huts in the marshlands, who may have been the ancestors of the Sumerians.
Sumer was also the site of early development of writing, progressing from a stage of proto-writing in the mid 4th millennium BC to writing proper in the 3rd millennium BC (see [Jemdet Nasr period]).
When archaeologists dig up the clay-tablet records of the later-day Sumerian descendants of the Nodites, they discover lists of Sumerian kings running back for several thousand years; and as these records go further back, the reigns of the individual kings lengthen from around twenty-five or thirty years up to one hundred and fifty years and more. This lengthening of the reigns of these older kings signifies that some of the early Nodite rulers (immediate descendants of the Prince’s staff) did live longer than their later-day successors and also indicates an effort to stretch the dynasties back to Dalamatia.