The Great Fatted Bull
Tablet #36
Sumerian Images
Sumerian History
The Royal Tombs of Ur
The Standard of Ur:  War
The Standard of Ur:  King
The "Standard" of Ur?
Vulture Stele Translation
Sumerian War Chariots
War Chariot Deconstructed
Gudea Translation
The Face of Gudea
The Face of Ur-Ningirsu
The Face of Lugal-agrig-zi
Ur-Namma Translation
The Face of Ur-Namma
Face of Ur-Namma, part II
I am Ur-Namma
The Face of Shulgi
Who Were the Sumerians?
Other Sumerian Kings
The Princess Wife
The Great Fatted Jackass
Sargon's Victory Stele
Helmet: the King of Kish
The Standard of Mari?
The Invention of Writing
Adventures in Cuneiform
The Sumerian Scribe
A Masterpiece
Site Map

A map showing a bewildering array of possible migrations to and from Sumer.

The Sumerian Problem

There is a lot of speculation about the origins of the Sumerian people. Historically speaking,
it seems like they suddenly appeared from out of nowhere. Several different theories
have been offered about their origins. It has been suggested that they migrated from Africa,
India, Iran, Tibet, or the Caucasus mountains (Caucasia). People have been speculating
on the subject ever since the Sumerians were first discovered in the mid nineteenth century
(until then, the Sumerian civilization was buried so deeply that people forgot it ever existed).
Scholars debated this topic for more than 150 years without reaching a definitive conclusion.
The mystery surrounding the origins of the Sumerian people continues to vex the scholars
even to this day. They call it “The Sumerian Problem”.

In the quest to determine the origin of the Sumerians, numerous attempts have been made
to link the Sumerian language to other languages in the world. One example is an effort to connect Sumerian to the ancient Ural-Altaic language system, from which the modern languages of Finnish and Hungarian were derived. This theory proposes that the Sumerians and the modern Europeans developed from the same genetic stock that originated in Caucasia. The Europeans moved north, the Sumerians moved south, and their languages evolved independently from the same root language.

Efforts were also made to link Sumerian to the Indic languages. Another effort involves the language of Tibet. The theories suggest that the Sumerians came from these regions,
or conversely, the early Proto-Sumerians moved into the areas and influenced the languages.

The main difficulty is that Sumerian is a “language isolate”, meaning it's not related to any 
language in the world, ancient or modern. As a result, Sumerian ties to other languages remain tenuous at best. If there was a clear indication that Sumerian is similar to another language, the scholars would have already discovered it during the past 150 years, and it would be common knowledge by now. Since it's impossible to link Sumerians to other people using linguistics, it is therefore necessary to look for other evidence to find the origin
of the Sumerian people.

It has been suggested that the Sumerians were foreign invaders that subjugated the indigenous people who already lived there. However, this seems unlikely. It is very difficult for conquerors to impose their language on a native people, and it’s doubtful that the Sumerians could last for thousands of years, through every kind of vicissitude, if they had forced their civilization on an unwilling population. Besides, this still doesn’t answer the basic question about how the Sumerians got there in the first place.

The Sumerians were probably the first nomadic hunters that ventured into this fertile region. The land had wild grain that could be harvested and there was plenty of water for irrigation, which guaranteed a steady food supply. This was a strong inducement for the hunters to
settle down and become farmers. But it still doesn’t tell us where the hunters came from.

People don’t just spring up from the soil. Everyone came to their land from somewhere else.
So where did the Sumerians come from?

There is no archaeological evidence to trace the path of Sumerian migration and there is no linguistic evidence. I suggest the best way to solve “The Sumerian Problem” is to look at it geographically. Let’s take a look at some of the areas in the region and see if we can find
the most likely birthplace of the Sumerian people.

The Arabian Peninsula:   

The simplest and most obvious conclusion is that the Sumerians were a Semitic people,
just like their Akkadian neighbors and everyone else in the region (bear in mind that Semitic doesn’t just mean Jewish, it also means Arabic). The Sumerians were literally surrounded by Semites, so it’s natural to assume that the Sumerians themselves were also Semitic.
There’s a serious problem with this assumption, however. The Sumerians didn’t speak a
Semitic language. It is absolutely inconceivable that the Sumerians were a Semitic people −
living in a sea of Semitic people – who did not speak a Semitic language.

History confirms the fact that Sumerians were not ethnically the same as their neighbors.
In 2350 BC, the Sumerians were conquered by the Akkadians under Sargon the Great.
The Akkadians ruled Sumer for the next two centuries. During that time, it would be so easy for the Sumerians to be assimilated, to “blend back in”, if they were like their neighbors. Instead, they maintained their ethno-cultural identity for 200 years, even as a subject nation.
Then they regained their independence, conquered the Akkadians, and began the
Neo-Sumerian Revival, the ultimate expression of Sumerian civilization.

If the Sumerians weren’t Semitic like their neighbors, then what are some other possibilities?


Tibet is just too far away. The ancient Tibetans would have to move through India, Pakistan,
and Iran to get to Sumer. Besides, there is nothing Asiatic about the Sumerians, so we can
reject this hypothesis right from the get-go.  


India is a possibility. Civilization began to develop early in the Indus Valley. The question is:
why would the Indians leave India?  There was still plenty of room in India to accommodate
an expanding population. As seen on a map, the Indians would have to leave the lush
and fertile Indian subcontinent to venture into the rough and mountainous terrain of Iran, and
then battle against the warlike people in the region. Of course, they could avoid the problem
by traveling by boat, hugging the shoreline (although there is no evidence of this). If they did
travel by boat, slowly migrating over the course of several generations, they would still arrive in Sumer relatively quickly, in which case there would be a strong Indic influence on the Sumerian language, and this has not been proven.  


Iran seems to be reasonable choice for the origins of the Sumerian people. After all, it is
right next door. This would be a very ironic choice, however, since the Iranians (Elamites)
destroyed Sumerian civilization in 2004 BC. Needless to say, the Sumerians themselves
would highly resent the suggestion that they were Elamites. The Sumerians were at war
with the Elamites (and the Gutians, the barbaric tribesmen of northern Iran) throughout
their entire history, so they certainly didn't believe that Iran was their beloved Motherland.




Top:  Left, two female singers in a religious procession.  Right, the goddess Ba-u.
Bottom:  Left, a standard bearer (click here to see the entire image).  Right, Gudea.

Some early Sumerian artifacts, along with the images from the Gudea Stele, has prompted
some writers to suggest the Sumerians were of African descent. The theory is farfetched,
to say the least, but for the sake of argument, let’s look at the possibility. The map at the top
of the page shows that the shortest route between Africa and Sumer goes across the
Arabian Peninsula. Unfortunately, this means crossing the Arabian Desert, which would be
impossible for Stone Age nomads that included women and children. An alternative
route is to move northeast along Mediterranean coastline, turn east below Asia Minor, and
then turn south toward Sumer. This is a long, circuitous path, and the nomads would have to
battle against the indigenous people who lived all along the route.

The “African” features of the people on the Gudea Stele is a stylistic device developed by
sculptors during the artistic renaissance that occurred in the city of Lagash. The Sumerians
didn't really look like this. A realistic portrait of Gudea is shown below, and he clearly isn’t
African. Besides, if the Sumerians were of African descent, it would be obvious, and it would
show up on all Sumerian artifacts, not just a few.

So, to summarize:  The Sumerians weren’t Semitic like everyone else in the region because
they did not speak a Semitic language. They weren’t Tibetan because they weren’t Asiatic
and Tibet is too far away. They weren’t Indian because India is also too far away, there was
little incentive for the Indians to leave the subcontinent, and there aren’t any clear Indic
elements in the Sumerian language. They weren’t Iranian because they hated the Elamites
(and the Gutians). Needless to say, the Sumerians were certainly not African.

Only one possibility remains for the origin of the Sumerian people.

It has been the most obvious choice all along.


With the exception of Iran, Caucasia is the region closest to Sumer. Early in pre-history,
the Sumerians moved south from the Caucasus mountains. At the time, the region between
Caucasia and Sumer was sparsely populated, so their progress was not too greatly impeded
by the indigenous people. There may have been some nomadic hunters in the region,
but they were displaced when the Caucasians settled into farming and their population
started to multiply. At the same time, the growing population of the surrounding region
filled in around the Sumerians, effectively cutting them off from their Caucasian homeland.
This was early in the formation of human speech, so the Sumerians developed their
unique language in relative isolation, while the surrounding population developed their own
Semitic languages. Since the Sumerians were the first to actually settle in the region,
they can properly be considered the indigenous people. It then took several thousand years
for the population to grow and to develop into a discernible civilization. The rest, as they say,
is history.

It's the only scenario that makes sense. I therefore categorically state, in no uncertain terms:
The Sumerians were Caucasians.

And they looked like Caucasians.

The Sumerians created portraits of themselves that clearly show their true appearance.
At first, human portraiture in Sumerian art was very primitive, so early depictions of the
Sumerians are completely useless in showing us what they really looked like. This includes
all of the artifacts from the Early Dynastic periods, such as Eannatum’s Vulture Stele and
the Standard of Ur. The images of people are very crude and formulaic. They are generic
representations of people and not recognizable portraits of individual men and women

The king on the Standard of Ur, from the Early Dynastic III period. The king and his friends
sit a victory banquet. Two servants stand in attendance. All of their faces look the same.
There is no attempt to individualize the faces of the different people.

Very late in Sumerian history, during the reign of Gudea, Sumerian artists began to create
highly realistic sculptures that are recognizable portraits of distinct individuals. For the
first time in world history, sculpted portraits actually resembled the people they portrayed.
These portraits show us the Sumerians as they really were.

The riddle of The Sumerian Problem is best answered by the Sumerian themselves.
To decide if the Sumerians were Caucasians, you need only look at their faces:

Gudea. This is the first realistic, recognizable portrait of any human being in all of history.

Ninalla, the wife of Gudea.


Lugal-agrigzi (left) and Ur-Ningirsu, the sons of Gudea.

See a profile view of Gudea and Ur-Ningirsu.

Bust of an unknown man.

Profile view.

High Priestess of the goddess Ninsun, from the Ur III period.

Ur-Namma. The king of Ur, the king of Sumer and Akkad.

Shulgi, the son of Ur-Namma.

The Sumerians are clearly Caucasians.

It’s as plain as the rounded nose on their rounded face. Sumerians (as a rule) didn't have
the sharp and angular facial features that are generally associated with a Semitic people.

These are the Sumerians of the Neo-Sumerian Revival. This is how they looked after
thousands of years living with their Semitic neighbors, how they looked right after 200 years
of Akkadian subjugation. They still retain their distinct Caucasian identity.

Caucasia is generally considered to be the homeland of the Caucasian people (of course). However, some scholars have recently suggested that Caucasians actually originated in Anatolia, what is now modern-day Turkey.  These are the so-called “Anatolia Caucasians”.
In any case, whether Anatolian Caucasians or Caucasian Caucasians, the Sumerians are still Caucasian. Wherever the Caucasians came from, that’s were the Sumerians came from.

By “Caucasian” I do not mean “blond and blue eyed”.

Early Dynastic III statue of Eannatum, the king of Lagash, with blue eyes. Many Sumerian
statues of men and women have blue eyes of lapis lazuli. This prompted some people to
suggest  the Sumerians had blue eyes. The blue eyes of lapis lazuli don’t mean anything,
however. Many animal statues also have eyes of lapis lazuli; for example, this statue of a
Sumerian bull. Cattle, of course, don't have blue eyes, and so far as we know, neither did
the Sumerians. There are no references to blue eyes in Sumerian literature.

The same is true for blond hair. There aren’t any references to blond, yellow, or golden hair
in Sumerian literature. Supposedly, the genes for blond hair and/or blue eyes first appeared
6,000 to 10,000 years ago. This is well within the time frame of the Sumerians, but there is
no evidence that the Sumerians had blond hair or blue eyes. If indeed the Sumerians had
these very distinctive features, it seems they (or someone else) would have mentioned it −
quite often, in fact. Sumerians would be known as "the blond-headed people" rather than
"the black-headed people" as they are commonly described. If Sumerians had blue eyes,
there would be many references to their blue eyes in Sumerian literature.

Sumerians were Caucasian in the same way that the ancient Greeks and Italians were
Caucasian, the same as most ancient Europeans, for that matter. They all had black hair
and brown eyes. I suggest that a Sumerian could pass unnoticed in the middle of any
European city, ancient or modern.

I also suggest that the answer to "The Sumerian Problem" is obvious: The Sumerians were
definitely Caucasians. After all, who else could they be?

A Caucasian origin for the Sumerians is the only one that makes any sense. Caucasia is
very close to Sumer. The other possibilities for Sumerian origins (Iran, India, Tibet, Africa,
and the Arabian Peninsula) can be ruled out for all the reasons listed above. Besides that,
the Sumerians look like Caucasians. The evidence is provided by the Sumerians themselves.

August 16, 2016