11 Fascinating Sumerian Inventions That Changed the World

Find out some of the important inventions by Sumerians that change the world for good.
Kashyap Vyas
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Have you ever thought of inventing something that has an exceptionally brilliant concept? Do you want to become a famous discoverer who can transform society for the better?

If yes, then hang on!  You are not alone. The technological innovations are happening almost every other day.

This means there is a range of possibilities that you can explore and come up with some fantastic innovations. People of ancient times definitely considered this as an opportunity and they not only built something but also succeeded in whatever they discovered.


The world really owes an innumerable number of discoveries of an ancient civilization. They really did wonders and their contributions have changed the world for good.

Today, people are enjoying the fruits of their incredible inventions. One such civilization that we’ll talk about today is of Mesopotamia – the Sumerian inventions.

Sumerians Were Known for Some Incredible Inventions

The Sumerians were the first Mesopotamian civilization who lived in independent walled city-states. They were known to be very rich and inventive, having a varied culture, including farming, trading and playing music.

One of the significant inventions by the Sumerians was writing. They invented a form of communication called pictographs. These were the pictures and images drawn on rocks or stone which further evolved into a writing system called cuneiform.

This Sumerian writing system had a writing pattern from top to bottom that later changed from left to right. By 2800 BC, the use of phonetics too had begun. Well, that was just the beginning as there were many other incredible Sumerian inventions that came to life one after another.

How about knowing such amazing Sumerian discoveries one by one? Let’s begin!

1. Fabrication of Copper

Copper Fabrication by Sumerians
Source: BabelStone/Wikimedia Commons

Sumerians were known to be the first users of copper – the earliest non-precious metals. The archeological evidence states that they harnessed the skill of extracting and working with copper around 5000 to 6000 years ago.

By developing this skill of fabricating copper, they helped in significant growth of various Mesopotamia cities like Uruk, Sumer, Ur, and al’Ubaid. Sumerians used copper in making heads of arrows, razors, harpoons and many other small objects.

Later, they also began making vessels, chisels, and jugs from copper. These objects reveal excellent craftsmanship of the Sumerians.

Today, copper fabrication has reached to another level, but it was the Sumerians who kick-started this process of copper fabrication.

2. Time

The world was definitely aware of the day and night system but, yet again, Sumerians were the first ones to divide the passage of time. They introduced passage of weeks, months and years to the world.

The Sumerians did the astronomical calculation in the base 60 system. Their work was appreciated and accepted throughout Eurasia.

3. Wheel

Source: tuchodi/Flickr

You may think that the wheel is a primitive invention, but, the fact is somewhat different. It was actually invented at a relatively later part of human history, around 3500 BCE in Mesopotamia.

During this Bronze Age, people had already begun planting crops, herding domestic animals and also had some form of social hierarchy.  It was none other than Sumerians, who were the firs to use wood as wheels.

They joined the logs together and further rolled them in a way that made it easier for moving the heavy objects. Gradually, by observing the movement, they went one step further by drilling a hole through the frame of the cart while making a place for the axle.

Ultimately, they connected the wheels to form a chariot. Today, this wheel caters to transportation systems spread worldwide.

4. Numeral System

Another significant invention by Sumerians is a numeral system. Known as Sexagesimal, it originated in the third millennium BCE and was further passed to ancient Babylonians as well as other nations.

The reason behind this invention was out of an urgent need of keeping the records for their traded harvests. Gradually, they started using a small clay cones to denote the number one.

Similarly, a ball denoted the number ten and a large clay cone denoted sixty. They further came up with an elementary abacus model and developed a numerical system based on the number 60.

Here, the numbers were counted on 5 fingers on one hand and 12 knuckles on another.

5. Cuneiform Script

Cuneiform Script
Source: Jastrow /Wikimedia Commons

Cuneiform script isn't just ancient, it's the oldest writing form in the world and was first used by the Sumerians in 3400 BCE. Here, a stylus is pressed into soft clay that produces a wedge-shaped style of writing.

These impressions represent word signs which they used to keep a record of everything. It started with pictorial cuneiform and later changed to phonograms or word concepts.

The cuneiform script was used for more than three millenniums until the Roman era introduced alphabetical forms.

6. Sailboat

The invention of sailboats by Sumerians some 5000 years ago was out of the need. They wanted a helping hand to expand their trade affairs.

So, in order to make it easy to move on the waters, they came up with lightweight sailboats made from wood and papyrus. It had a simple design – the sails were square-shaped and made up of cloth.

Not only were these sailboats helpful in trade and commerce, but they also proved to be of great use in irrigation and fishing. It is considered to be one of the crucial inventions that really helped in making the Mesopotamian civilization a great empire.

7. Weapons

Sumerian Weapons
Source: © BrokenSphere/Wikimedia Commons

It is believed that the Sumerians were the pioneers of ancient weapons, though, they fell to neighboring civilizations. The weapons invented by them due to constant war-like situations among the city-states of Sumer were even used for years afterward.

Some of the inventions that proved to be of great use as weapons include chariots, sickle swords and bronze socket axes that gradually evolved into the piercing axes.

8. Monarchy

The earliest monarchies began around 3000 BC in Sumer as well as Egypt. The land of black-headed people i.e. Sumer needed a ruler to govern diverse people living here.

Earlier, these states were ruled by the priests, but, there was no legitimate authority. This further gave rise to the concept of monarchy and the ruler was in the dominant position of both – ruling and serving the later generations that settled in the Sumerian states.

9. Lunar Calendar

It is believed that the Sumerians were probably the first to develop the lunar calendar. This calendar is entirely based on the recurrence of lunar phases which means, the phases of the moons were used to count the 12 months.

The Sumerians observed two seasons – summer and winter and the sacred marriage rites were performed on New Year. They used the phases of the moon to count 12 lunar months as a year.

And, to make up the difference between this year and the year of seasons, they added an extra month to every year after four years.

The best part is that this lunar calendar is still used among certain religious groups today.

10. Code of Ur-Nammu

The oldest surviving law code produced towards the end of the third millennium BCE was written on clay tablets in the Sumerian language. This code gives us an insight into how justice prevailed in the ancient Sumerian society.

Listed below are some laws followed under the Code of Ur-Nammu:

  • A man must be killed if he commits a murder
  • A man will be killed if he commits a robbery
  • A man must be imprisoned and asked to pay 15 shekels of silver if he commits a kidnapping
  • If a slave marries a slave and if that slave is set free, he does not leave the house
  • If a slave marries a native, he should hand over his first son to his owner

11. Board Game

The Royal Game of Ur
Source: BabelStone/Wikimedia Commons

The royal game named Ur or The Game of Twenty Squares is a Sumerian version of the board game from ancient Mesopotamia that existed around 2500 BCE. Its remains were founded by Sir Leonard Woolley during 1920s.

You can still find one of the two boards in the British Museum of London.  Known to be one of the oldest and most popular board games, this could be played by only two people.


The original rules of this game are not known, but, a few historians have reconstructed it based on the cuneiform tablet.

Aren’t These Sumerian Inventions Incredible?

Indeed, they are! After all, Sumerians had that intellect of understanding the needs of the people even before other civilizations came into existence.

They gifted us the things which have turned out to be the basic necessities of today. Whatever they discovered, every invention proved to be of significance and has been serving the world even today, even after so many years.

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