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"The little-known stories behind well-known inventions"

What inventions have come from Iraq?

By Paul Niemann

[DEC. 14, 2006]  With the war on terrorism continuing, I thought we'd take a look at a few inventions whose origins trace back to Iraq -- before it was known as Iraq.

While Iraq isn't known for having a rich history of inventions, it is the birthplace of many of the world's most important inventions and developments -- some of which are taken for granted -- such as streets and canals, as well as the first city-states, around 3500 B.C.

Iraq was once home to the Tower of Babel, was probably home to Noah's ark and was possibly home to the Garden of Eden. The area known today as Iraq was once known as Mesopotamia.

The name Mesopotamia means "land between the two rivers" -- the Tigris and Euphrates rivers -- while the name Iraq is an Arab name that means "the shore and grazing area of a river." Mesopotamia is known as the "cradle of civilization," and its people were the first to record history in writing.

The southern part of Mesopotamia was known as Sumer, and it was this region that produced many of Mesopotamia's great innovations. The earliest known wheel was developed here around 3000 B.C. and was soon used for chariots; the flat tire wasn't invented for another 4,900 years. It is possible that the wheel was originally developed somewhere else, as there were no written records up to that point in history.

Sumerians developed the world's first form of writing, called cuneiform, around 3000 B.C., which was before the Egyptians developed hieroglyphics. Cuneiform contained more than 2,000 symbols and was written on clay tablets. The scribes who could read and write were nearly always assured of a job because merchants, priests and judges needed someone to write and read their records for them.

Southern Mesopotamia was also home to the biblical figure Abraham, and it was here that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947. The people of this region were excellent mathematicians. They based their math on the number 60 and numbers that divide evenly into 60. This is where the 60-second minute, the 12-hour clock and the 360-degree circle all come from.

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Heading north, the ancient city of Babylon was located approximately 100 miles south of present-day Baghdad. Here Babylonians built the Tower of Babel in an attempt to reach heaven. When God disapproved, he prevented the people from communicating with each other by making them speak in different languages. This is where the word "babble" derives its meaning (think about it) and where foreign languages originated. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, were also created here.

Other worthy inventions that originated in Mesopotamia are the first stringed harp, the sickle for harvesting grain, the first windmills used to pump water and the first soap.

Some of the modern laws, used in nearly every form of government today, that relate to marriage and divorce, theft, debt, and land rights are derived from the legal codes of Babylon. One of the most well-known codes was the Hammurabi Code, which contained laws such as "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," as well as the practice of cutting off a man's hand for certain crimes.

Speaking of crimes, one modern-day scribe suggested that Iraq should be renamed as Mesopotamia once again. Since there's no chance that Saddam will ever return to rule the country, losing the name of Iraq might be a good way to give the country and its people a fresh start.

[Paul Niemann]

Paul Niemann may be reached at

Copyright Paul Niemann 2006

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