Friday, May 4, 2012

Sumerian Origins - Trades and Occupations

Sumerian Carpenter
The Sumerians were very adept at a number of skilled trades.  We read of carpenters, sculptors, jewelers, smiths, leather workers, fullers, textile workers and basket makers.  Of course, there were all the various skills associated with agriculture and animal husbandry.  I addition, we find teachers, scribes, doctors, priests, government officials, etc.  Below I have included a number of quotes from Samuel Kramer regarding the Sumerian trades.  Some of these quotes have been modified to facilitate the flow of the subject.  
"The Sumerian craftsmen were among the most highly skilled in the ancient world (1332). Aside from agricultural workers, some of the trades listed in the Sumerian tablets are: sculptors, jewelers, lapidaries, carpenters, smiths, leather workers, fullers, textile worker and basket makers (1335).
"Eight specific crafts are listed in one of the tablets: that of the chisel worker, or sculptor, the jeweler, the lapidary, the carpenter, the smith, the leather worker, the fuller, and the basket maker (1335).
"Carpenters were always quite numerous in Sumer, for in spite of the dearth of wood, it was utilized on a large scale for making all kinds of furniture as well as boats, wagons, and chariots. To make up to some extent for the difficulty of obtaining wood, old furniture was constantly reused. 1345). The carpenter performed his work with saw, chisel, hammer and drill bit (1347).
"The smith worked in gold, silver, tin, lead, copper, bronze. Copper work was highly developed as early as the beginning of the third millennium B.c.; not only was copper casting well known, but also such other techniques as hammering, annealing, filigree, and granulation. The smith, or metallurgist, had at his disposal a special type of bellows which could be worked by hand or foot to raise the temperature of his furnace to a degree of heat that would melt copper. Wood and reeds were used as kindling, and it took two pounds of wood and three "reed bundles"-or six reed bundles if no wood was used-to melt half a pound of copper (1349).
"A metal called “sugan” (probably antimony) was used as an alloy (1349). The more common products made of copper and bronze were tools such as hoes, axes, chisels, knives, and saws; arms such as lance points and arrowheads, swords, daggers, and harpoons; vessels and containers; nails, pins, rings, and mirrors (1353).
"The leather worker mentioned received a large number of skins each year of bulls, calves, pigs, and especially sheep. From the skin and leather quite a number of objects were manufactured: water skins, bags, harnesses and saddles, tires for chariot wheels, slings, and above all, shoes and sandals (1353).
"The fuller of our tablet seems to have had only a small shop, and little is said about him. The last of the artisans is the basket maker. He received quantities of reeds, a very important commodity in Sumer, and bitumen in order to manufacture baskets and boats (1358)."
In addition to the above trades the textile industry was probably the largest in the land and the most important from the point of view of commerce. Many thousands of tons of wool were worked annually in the city of Ur alone. "Tremendous flocks of goats, sheep, and lambs were raised to obtain wool. The 'shearing' was done by plucking. A spindle was used to spin the wool, and the weaving was done on both horizontal and vertical looms; usually, these two operations were performed by a team of three women (1362).
"The woven cloth was then turned over to the fullers, who soaked it in an alkaline solution in large vats and then trampled it by walking over it with their feet. Although wool was by all odds the most common textile used for cloth, flax was also cultivated, and linen garments seem to have been used especially by certain priests and holy men (1365)."

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