National Geographic : 1951 Jan
Ancient Mesopotamia: A Light That Did Not Fail It should not sur prise one, therefore, to learn that we still use botanical terms which first appeared in cunei form records-that is, in the wedgelike script into which Mesopota mian writing developed (pages 52 and 53). Words like cassia, chicory, cumin, crocus, hyssop, myrrh, nard, and saffron are all bor rowed from Mesopo tamia.* Among the other fields of culture which writing helped to pro mote or stimulate are linguistics, mathemat ics and astronomy, law, and literature (page 49). The study of lan guage was a subject of immediate practical importance to Mesopo tamian society because the cultured stratum of that society had to be bilingual. Together with the vernacular Akkadian one had to be versed in the totally dissimilar Sumerian. To meet this need, local scholars had pro duced by the end of Builders of Ancient the third millennium Nippur was the reli such seemingly modern its libraries, which wer sylvania half a centur manuals as grammars, historical masterpieces, lexicons, and commen- wonder, therefore, that taries; they compiled city map was first publ numerous bilingual texts, occasionally with interlinear trans lations. Mesopotamian mathematics made many contributions which it takes an expert to ap preciate. But all of us have had ample proof of the vitality of its sexagesimal system-in the division of the circle into 360 degrees and the division of the hour into 60 minutes and 3,600 seconds. The allied discipline of meteorology was so proficient that Babylonian weights and meas ures spread to neighboring centers, and beyond these to the Hebrews and the Greeks. Prog ress in mathematics encouraged advances in astronomy, a field of many applications, some Aiert T. ilay SNippur Had a Clay Blueprint to Guide Them gious and scientific center of ancient Babylonia. From e uncovered by the Museum of the University of Penn y ago, have come collections of religious, literary, and as well as elaborate grammars and dictionaries. Small building, too, proceeded according to careful plans. This ished by H. V . Hilprecht in 1904. practical, as in the case of agriculture and fiscal organization (page 85), others quite abstruse. The astrological lore of the Chal deans, a late name for the inhabitants of Babylonia, has remained proverbial to this day. Law and Literature Law was accorded a place of special honor and prominence in the cultural structure of Mesopotamia (page 78). It was indeed in many ways the keystone in that structure. The legal code was the charter and the con * See "The World's Words," by William H. Nicholas, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, December, 1943.