Preview of this Post. In the last post, we introduced the Sumerian people by examining the Sumerian language and its linguistically controversial substrates. We also examined recorded creation myths of the mature, then-literate Sumerian civilization of the 3rd millennium. I expressed a strong desire to hear oral versions of the creation myths from the preliterate 4th millennium–the epoch of my novels. I was ready to give up on finding anything more about the earlier legends of preliterate Sumer, but I’ve since decided I can do better than that for both you and me by pursuing the Dilmun legends, threads of which are recorded in Sumerian literature and creation myths. As we investigate both Dilmun and the natural history of the Tigris-Euphrates valley back to the last ice age, the two exploratory tracks will complement each other and provide us with surprising insights into a factual history that was undoubtedly remembered by early Sumerians in the form of common oral creation legends tracking back to hoary memories of Dilmun. We must not confuse this mythical Dilmun with the later historical civilization of Dilmun, which was a regular trading partner of Sumerian and post-Sumerian city states in Mesopotamia. There undoubtedly is a continuity between Dilmun legends and historical Dilmun, and we will not ignore it.
Sea Level Rises From Glacial Melt During Current Global Warming. Partial Source.
Paleoclimatology, Migration, and Cultural Memories. We can compare the facts shown in the above chart of the rise of sea level over time with the facts in the modern depth chart of the Persian Gulf shown below. For instance, we can locate the seashore of the people of the ancient Tigris-Euphrates valley at the 120 meter depth contour in the southeast corner of the map, lying unlabeled between the 140 and 100 meter contours. Just southeast of the 140 meter contour, the depth of the Gulf of Oman plummets to a 1,000 meter contour. The above chart defines the 120 meter contour as the lowest sea level of the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM). So, we can be confident that the ancestors of the people who migrated northwest up the Tigris-Euphrates Valley were located along the now-submerged 800 mile course (1250 kilometers) of the river and also in its ancient river delta, where the fresh river water flowed into very deep ocean (where the map is marked “Arabian Shelf).” Over 20,000 years ago, these people gradually moved upriver as the first Melt Water Pulse (MWP-1Ao) raised their shoreline to the 100 meter contour (their latest coastline) about 15,000 years Before Present; then with MWP-1A to the 80 meter contour about 13,000 B.P. and 60 meter contour about 11,000 BP; then with MWP-1B to the 40 meter contour about 8,000 BP, and 20 meters by 7,000 BP (5,000 BC), and had pretty much reached the present sea level around 5,000 BP (3,000 BC), the time setting of my novels. Wikipedia provides a useful summary of this Holocene Glacial Retreat in the Persian Gulf, and on a global scale. The marshy delta facing the sea was continually moving upriver toward today’s location as the sea level rose. We suggest that marshy delta on the Arabian Shelf at the LGM was the legendary paradise of Dilmun.
Persian Gulf Was a River Valley East of the Arabian Shelf at Last Glacial Maximum.
A Gentle Migration. Not everyone would have moved upriver with the rising sea level. During the Holocene Wet Phase (HWP), the last “Wet Sahara” moistened weather downwind across Egypt, the Sinai, and into the Arabian Peninsula from 7,500 to 3,000 BC. The south and north shores of the newly forming sea would have remained arable, especially during the HWP peak from 7,500 to 5,500 BC. Some of the riverine culture would have simply moved to the closest higher ground, into what is now Oman, the U.A.E., and Qatar on the south shore or into Iran on the north. But after 5,500 BC and with the slow shutdown of the HWP (desertification), many river folks would have followed the river delta upstream into southern Mesopotamia. Those who found a lively business trading with now blossoming southern Mesopotamia to their west and the budding Indus Valley civilization to their east, would have stayed put and pioneered shipbuilding and sailing to move trading goods over the new Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
By 6,500 BC the coastline of the newly formed Persian Gulf was above the 10 meter contour line in the above map (virtually at the classic Mesopotamian delta) after having submerged 800 miles of the lower Tigris-Euphrates Valley. Many migrants from the submerged valley now populated the delta. This moment also coincides with the beginning of the Ubaid culture in southern Mesopotamia. The coincidence is not a proof, but is certainly strong evidence, that the Ubaid culture came upriver from Dilmun, a legendary paradise in the people’s cultural memories. Our reasoning is fortified by the fact that the historical cultures and places called Dilmun, a land of traders, and Magan, a land of copper miners, were both located along the southern coast of the new Persian Gulf in Qatar, the U.A.E., Oman, Bahrain, and southern coast of Saudi Arabia. The map below shows the historical trading relationships between Mesopotamia, Dilmun, Magan, and Meluhha (see Indus Valley Civilization in prior posts 33-37 starting here). Don’t overlook that the trading was bilateral, everyone on the circuit had something to sell and wanted to buy from the others. So, at this point file away in your memory that Sumer in Mesopotamia had deep trading, cultural, and familial ties with both the mythical and the historical Dilmun. In my novels, I factored this cultural linkage into the plot, giving my characters reasons and means to travel throughout the entire Middle Eastern world of the 4th millennium B.C.
Southern Mesopotamia, Dilmun, Magan, Meluhha trade 4-5,000 Years Ago
We have now advanced our journey well into the heart of southern Mesopotamia and its earliest cultural roots. But, we’re just getting started in this easternmost corner of the Fertile Crescent. We have much more to learn in southern Mesopotamia before we can move northwest, but this is a good point to end this post. We’ll pick up seamlessly in the next post with further investigation of the Ubaid culture, and introduce an influence on the Ubaid from a northern Mesopotamian culture.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke