Re: Curse of Akkad - What happened to Sumer

Timo Niroma (
8 Aug 1996 20:01:23 GMT

In article <4uau2u$>, (HARRY R. ERWIN) says:
>Prior to the development of modern medicine, urban centers had higher
>death rates than birth rates (among other sources, Trout Rader, 1971,
>Economics of Feudalism). To maintain an urban center, there had to be
>immigration of population from the countryside. This was generally (about
>90% of the time) maintained by elite policies at a rate that was
>unsustainable in the long term (Hodges and Whitehouse, 1983, Mohammed,
>Charlemagne and the Origins of Europe). This usually led to urban center
>collapse. See my paper (H R Erwin, 1990/1996, "The Dynamics of Peer
>Polities," chapter 3 in van der Leeuw, S E, 1996, Time, Process, and
>Structured Transformation, Routledge, One World Archaeology Series,
>originally presented at the Cambridge Conference on Dynamic Modelling and
>Human Systems, December 10-13, 1990).
>Harry Erwin, Internet:, Web Page:
>49 year old PhD student in computational neuroscience ("how bats do it" 8)
>and lecturer for CS 211 (data structures and advanced C++)

That is certainly true as far as we discuss the medieval Europe and probably for all
urban centers after AD500 until about 100 years ago and somewhere even later, but I
have not found any evidence of this phenomenon in earlier societies.

Especially for the three great early civilizations of Sumer, Egypt and Indus, I do
not see any evidence that would point to this direction.

If we make our conclusions about the times 4000 or 5000 years ago based on what
happened 1000 or 2000 years ago, we are guilty of a faulty linearity in our views.

When I sometime ago read Norman Yoffee and Geoger Cowgill (ed.): "The Collapse of
Ancient States and Civilizations" plus Joseph Tainter: "The Collapse of Complex
Societies", I was both surprised and deeply disappointed of the self-contradictory
and illogical theories that are built around the theme of collapse of the ancient

If Sumer would have collapsed in 2000 BC, if Egypt's Old Kingdom would have
collapsed 2500 BC, if Indus would have collapsed 1500 BC, the theme would not be so
interesting as it now is.

Akkadian Sumer collapsed 2200 BC (maybe 2193 BC to be precise), Egyptian Old Kingdom
collapsed, depending on the calibration used, between 2200 and 2150 BC, Indus
collapse is radiocarbon-dated as 1950+-50 BC, meaning very near 2200 BC calibrated.

And - all these societies were mighty and well 2300 BC.

But then suddenly there was total chaos, which Indus never recovered, Sumer tried
with the 3rd dynasty of Ur after a 100 years of interregnum, but failed, Egypt had
to live in chaos 300 years before recovering. But even Egypt had lost something of
its golden days, the ability to build pyramids being the most famous example.

Something really profound and devastating had happened - but what?

It was not a question of disability to maintain an urban center during those
centuries, it was a total disability to maintain an organized civilization.

It was a total disability to even feed people, the famine was allover.

The ground base of the whole society, its microstructure including agriculture was
in ruins.

Why - what happened 2200 BC?

That's the question.

I have no answer, but I haven't seen any other answers either.

Timo Niroma