The Origins of Civilization – Iraq, the Cradle of Civilization

The Origins of Civilization – Iraq, the Cradle of Civilization

Civilization of Sumer

The Origins of Civilization – Iraq, the Cradle of Civilization is one of a series of programs that uncover the history of ancient civilizations and evaluate their effects on present-day people.  Michael Wood, a historian and the narrator of the film, travels to Baghdad, Ur, and Sumer, the locations of the world’s first cities.  The film, created in 1991, promotes the thesis that life in Mesopotamia, or modern-day Iraq, did not change much until the discovery of oil around the time of the Gulf War.

The film covers the time period from the 26th century B.C. all the way to the year 1991.  In order to ensure its accuracy, I cross-referenced some of the information from the film with The American Encyclopedia and the History Channel website.  I also read film reviews from The New York Times,, and

Over the course of the film, I learned a great deal about the rich history of Iraq.  Sumer was the first recorded attempt in history to bring people together into an organized society.   Sumer was located in Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; this area, in Southern Iraq, is considered to be the biblical Garden of Eden.  Mesopotamia did not have stone, wood, or any precious metals, but it did have water and soil.  Every year, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers would overflow, laying down a thick layer of silt, rich with vitamins and minerals; this made farming relatively easy and allowed for permanent settlement on the land because food could be grown and stored in great quantities.  Unfortunately, over the course of time, the land would be destroyed from overuse.  People had yet to discover that the fertility of the Earth had to be balanced with the demands of civilization.

The Sumerian civilization began with the foundation of the first known city in the history of the world, Eridu.  Founded in 5300 B.C., Eridu was built around a religious center.  In the middle of the city was a temple, which was built on top of a step pyramid and then dedicated to the gods; this was known as a ziggurat.

As the Sumerian population continued to increase, new cities were built along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  It was at this time that we saw the creation of the first form of writing and the first law.  Cuneiform script was developed to tell the story of one of the mythical kings of Uruk, Gilgamesh, who was best known for his heroic deeds.  His story gave the world its first piece of literature, known as the Epic of Gilgamesh.  This aided in the creation of the first law because cuneiform was used thereafter to record the legal codes that Sumerian citizens needed to abide by; the problem was that only very highly educated individuals, such as priests and scribes, could read the writing.

Overall, this film was very informative, but it could have been much better. My biggest criticism of the film was that it was relatively boring.  The facts and the history of Iraq were very interesting, but the manner in which the information was presented was not.  The film consisted of images of Iraq as it was in the year 1991.  The ruins of many of these ancient civilizations were either partially or completely covered in sand, meaning that the viewers could not tell what the cities looked like during their prime.  There were a few images of what some of the cities of Sumer may have looked like, but that was not enough.  Also, the constant images of the narrator standing on sand dunes, looking off into the sunset, while describing the destruction of the Sumerian civilization, were very cliché.

The film could be improved by adding more interactive features to better explain the information.  Maybe real photographs from these areas could be put into the film!  My friend Jake does tree removal and travels all over the place studying trees.  Ironically, he would be the perfect candidate because he’s been to the modern day area where Sumer used to be, for research.  Maybe someone could even create three-dimensional images of what the Sumerian civilizations may have looked like and incorporate those into the film.  Anything that would add more color to the film would be helpful as well.  A good film grabs the attention of the audience and holds onto it the whole time.