Thursday, September 2, 2010
Writing, Civilization, and History
Early Sumerian Civilization--there was no country named Sumer; rather, it was a collection of substantial cities--city-states, in modern usage--that shared a common language and cultural traits.
1. Barley--Sumerians came to favor growing barley, because it was more resistant to the increased salinity of the soil that occurred because of the irrigation that had to be used in the increasingly arid region.
3. Boiling the wort--boiling the malted barley allowed the Sumerians to extract much of the sugar from the barley that had been created in the malting process.
4. Fermentation--allowing the wort to cool in large open vessels permitted wild yeasts to settle in the concoction, consume a significant portion of the sugar, and convert that sugar into alcohol. Sumerians also discovered that by using the same vessels multiple times, they could obtain more predictable results (the yeast became cultivated).
5. Uses--beer (and its antecedent mead) became a staple in the diets of peoples throughout Eurasia. In the days before sanitation, it was a way of ensuring that what you were drinking was relatively free of harmful microbes--plus beer retains a portion of the nutritional value from the grain that it is made from. In addition, becoming inebriated consuming beer helped to the edge off a harsh existence.
B. Writing--earliest writing largely consisted of pictographs--pictures that represented things. As communication became more sophisticated and complex, cultures used these pictures to represent sounds, and many simplified their pictures to more symbolic representations of these sounds--what we today throughout much of the West call "the alphabet" and phonics. Cultures in the East, particularly in China, continued to use abstract pictographs for this purpose.
2. Chinese writing--rather that developing a phonic system like that in the West, China (and those countries in Asia influenced by Chinese culture) retained a greater pictograph element in their writing.
C. The Creation of the Epic
1. Gilgamesh--one of the earliest epic stories tells the story of a Sumerian king by the name of Gilgamesh. Although much of the story verges on mythology (and was created to ensure loyalty to Gilgamesh, and to ensure his legacy--much as leaders of countries today attempt to craft the story of their own time in power), it can be a valuable tool for historians, as well.
Posted by Gregory M. Miller at 10:01 AM