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Sumer was an ancient civilization in Mesopotamia that is accepted by historians as one of the oldest known civilizations in the Middle East, if not the oldest. Depending on the definition of "civilization", Sumer can be argued to be the oldest known civilization in the world.[note 1]
Cuneiform, so far the oldest example of a complex writing system known[note 2] was invented by the Sumerians some time before 2,700 BCE, the dating of the first known written record of the Sumerians. As a result, the Sumerians hold the record for "world's oldest fart joke".
The Epic of Gilgamesh[note 3] contains, among other things, the plot outline for what might have been the very first buddy road flick, as well as the most significant attestation of the ancient Sumerian creation myth. Sumer can be credited with the origins of the ancient Middle Eastern temple-state, and the overall culture proved to be highly influential on the development of ancient civilizations. Over a 500-1000 year period, the Sumerian culture, including the language and religion, was subsumed into the Akkadian empire.
The modern descendants of the Sumerians — to the extent that Sumerian genes can be picked out of the background noise of the many groups to inhabit and commingle in the Middle East — make up much of the indigenous population of Kuwait. Noted astronomy crank Zecharia Sitchin had a peculiar fascination with the Sumerians, doing for them what Immanuel Velikovsky did for Greek mythology.
- Several other archeological areas, including Gobekli Tepe were settled earlier, but are smaller settlements.
- There are earlier proto-writing systems, consisting of symbolic images that carry specific meaning, that have been found throughout the world, but they are merely symbolic, and not actual codifications of the language
- The oldest written account of Gilgamesh dates to 1,800 BCE