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Early Humans Unit: Sumerian Achievements - Reflections of Civilization

Assignments to hand in: Sumerian Achievements Notes Graphic Organizer [PDF Version] |    Performance Task [PDF Version]  |  Civilization Writing Prompt [PDF Version]

essential questions, shared learning target & introduction:

Paleolithic hut

Essential Question 2 - Why do people live the way they do?
Essential Question 3 - How and why do humans organize their societies the way they do?
Essential Question 4 - How does technology affect peoples' lives?
Essential Question 8 - Why do civilizations rise and decline?

Shared Learning Target:
What will I be able to do?:
You will describe the significance of various Sumerian achievements, analyze the six characteristics of a civilization as they relate to Sumer, and come to a conclusion as to whether the U.S. is a civilization today.
What idea, topic, or subject is important for you to learn and understand so that I can do this?: You will learn about many Sumerian achievements. You will also learn about the six characteristics of a civilization and how they relate to Sumer and the United States.
What I will do to show that you know this?: You will complete the Sumerian Achievements Graphic Organizer, answer the comprehension questions about the Six Characteristics of a Civilization, and write a brief essay on whether the U.S. is, in fact, a civilization or whether all of the characteristics are necessary.

Understanding Checks


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(A brief intro video for some background)

Sumer was a region located on the southern Mesopotamian plains. It was settled around 3,500 B.C.E. by Mesopotamians who were later known as Sumerians. Sumer extended over 10,000 square miles - an area about the size of the state of Maryland - and consisted of various powerful city-states, such as Lagash, Ur, and Uruk. The Sumerian environment had a number of disadvantages - hot summers, a lack of rainfall, and rivers that flooded unpredictably. Historians believe the Sumerians' struggles with this harsh environment inspired some of their greatest achievements. Many inventions, such as writing, the plow, and the sailboat, were adapted by other civilizations, and some are still in use today. For these reasons, some historians refer to Sumer as the "cradle of civilization."

Step 1: Notes About Sumerian Achievements -  Complete the handout Sumerian Achievements Notes Graphic Organizer [PDF Version] by clicking on each achievement. Look at the pictures and read the corresponding information for each one. (Download the complete Achievement Summaries here):

The Arch



Devotional Statues







Organized Armies




Written Laws


Step 2: [Performance Task] Characteristics of a Civilization - Analyzing the Evidence

The Standard of Ur
The Standard of Ur
(click image for larger version)

The Standard of Ur consists of four panels inlaid with shell and lapis lazuli. The two larger panels, shown here, depict scenes of war and peace. The Standard of Ur consists of four 4,500-year-old decorated panels that archeologists found buried in royal graves located in the Sumerian city-state of Ur in modern-day Iraq. The two main panels are 18.5 inches wide and 8 inches long and are covered with shell and lapis lazuli decorations. The British archeologist Sir Edward Leonard Wooley excavated the Standard in the 1920's. He believed that a man known as the king's standard-bearer carried the Standard's two panels in royal processions. Other archealologists believe that the Standard's panels were part of a sound box on a harp. The Standard continues to attract world-wide attention as one of the richest clues to Sumerian civilization in the third millennium B.C.E.
The decorations on The Standard of Ur illustrate the six characteristics of civilization featured in this activity: government, stable food supply, social levels, specialization of labor, religion, and a culture that includes the arts and sciences. For example, the first side of the Standard, which illustrates war, shows a king being presented with prisoners captured by the king's army. The king's large size and elevated position represents his high social level and leadership in government. The large size of the king also represents the Sumerian's belief that their kings were appointed by the Gods. The soldiers driving chariots and marching reveal that Sumerian cities had strong govewrnments that could defend themselves. The second side of the Standard illustrates peace. It shows farmers bringing the king gifts of animals and crops, both of which are proof of the city's stable food supply. A royal victory banquet is also shown, with a singer and a harpist providing entertainment. These performers reflect the presence of the arts in Sumerian culture. Items connected to various specialized occupations are shown on both sides of the Standard. For example, spears represent professional soldiers and golden cups represent artisans. The Standard of Ur is a magnificent record of Sumerian civilization and achievements.

Video Clip: The Standard of Ur (Smarthistory)

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(YouTube link)

Helpful Notes & Graphics (by Mr. Howman):
How does a civilization begin?
What is a civilization? - Notes
What is a civilization - Flowchart?

Video: How Civilization Began (Free School)

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(YouTube Link)

Analysis of Sumerian Achievements Task (Word Version) (PDF Version)

Directions: Based on your interpretation of the multiple sources in this lesson, support the following claims with evidence.

Handout: Performance Task [PDF Version]

Claim #1: "Sumerians developed and maintained a system of government."

Claim #2: "Sumerians developed an agricultural system that provided a stable food supply."

Claim #3: "Sumerians practiced a system of specialized labor."

Claim #4: "The Sumerians were a highly developed culture."

Step 3:  Writing Prompt - Answer the following two-part writing prompt using evidence from the lesson to back up your responses.

Writing Prompt:
1. Is the U.S. a civilization according to the Six Characteristics of Civilization? Provide examples for each characteristic.
2. Does a civilization, in your opinion, need to have all of the characteristics mentioned? Why or why not?

Handout: Your Response [PDF Version]

The Six Characteristics of a Civilizations:

1. A system of government that directs and controls some actions of the members of society.
2. A regular food supply that is not likely to suddenly change.
3. Specialization of labor, in which members of the society perform different jobs.
4. Different social levels, in which some members of the society are given higher status than others.
5. A highly developed culture including art, architecture, music, literature, science, writing and other complex technologies..
6. A religious system or shared values, which might include priests and temples.

Before Sumer: Neolithic Societies - Egalitarian or Hierarchical?