Sumerian Farmer's Almanac
Sumerian Farmer's Almanac is the first farmer's almanac on record. The farmer's almanac is dated to around 1700 to 1500 BCE. It was discovered in 1949 by an American expedition in Iraq sponsored jointly by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago and the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania.
The farmer's almanac is a small clay tablet of 3 inches (7.6 cm) by 4.5 inches (11 cm) with an inscription that is more than 3,500 years old. It was found in the ancient Sumerian site of Nippur. The tablet had to be completely restored as it was in poor condition when discovered.
The "Nippur tablet" has 35 lines of text and is part of the middle of the complete overall document. Different parts of the agricultural "primer" were already known in eight other clay tablets and fragments before the Nippur part was discovered. The complete Sumerian Farmer's Almanac document has 111 lines of text. It was originally made by a farmer for his son. The document has prime importance in the history of agriculture and its techniques. The document consists of a series of instructions for the purpose of guiding one throughout their yearly agricultural activities.
Before this document was discovered there were two similar farmer's "handbooks" known from ancient times. One was Virgil's Georgics and the other was Hesiod's Works and Days. Hesiod's "handbook", written probably in the eighth century BCE, was considered the earliest known farmer's almanac then known until the Sumerian Farmer's Almanac officially took the title in 1951. The Sumerian Farmer's Almanac predates Hesiod's almanac by approximately a millennium.
The instructions start with the flooding of the fields in the spring and ending with the cleaning and winnowing of the freshly harvested crops. The Sumer's soil was parched so irrigation was important. The almanac instructions began with advice concerning putting water into the fields and caring for the ground. The farmer was instructed to have his help prepare in advance all the necessary farming implements and tools. The farmer was instructed to make sure that he had an extra ox for the plow. The instructions were that before plowing, the farmer should have the ground broken up twice by the mattock and once by the hoe. The hammer was to be used to pulverize the clods. The farmer was instructioned to make sure he had a good manager to control the laborers to make sure they didn’t slough off.
The instructions from the Sumerian Farmer's Almanac were for the farmer to plow eight furrows to each strip of land, which was approximately 20 feet long. Plowing and sowing was carried on simultaneously. It was done with a seeder. A plow was used that had an attachment that carried the seed. A container dropped the seed through a narrow funnel down to even depths of just plowed furrows. The depth was to be that of the width of two fingers and if not the plow was to be adjusted to make it come out this way.
The furrows that had been plowed straight this year were to be plowed diagonal the next year and vice versa. The almanac gives instructions for the farmer to pray to Ninkilim, the goddess of field mice and vermin. This was so the pests would not harm the grain when it would start growing. There were special instructions on when to water the growing grain. There were three different watering times. If the farmer spotted reddening of the wet grain it was the dreaded samana-disease that endangered the crops. If the crop came out of this, then there was to be a fourth watering which usually yielded an extra ten percent.
When the farmer was to harvest the barley, he was not to wait, but was to harvest just at the right moment. This was when the barley stood tall and did not bend over under its own weight. Three men were to do the harvesting as a team using a reaper and a binder. The threshing was done by means of a sledge for a period of five days. This was a device drawn back and forth over the heaped-up grain stalks. The barley was then "opened" with an "opener". A team of oxen drove this primitive machine to crush the barley-(sheaves). The barley, kernels and sheaves, were then winnowed-(of the sheaves) with pitchforks and laid on sticks to make clean.
The writer of the Sumerian Farmer's Almanac said that the agricultural instructions were not his, however those of the god Ninurta, the son and "true farmer" of the leading Sumerian deity, Enlil. This translation of the complete text is by Kramer. Items in (parentheses) are added for meaning (by Kramer). Italics are original Sumerian words.
|“||(1-12) In days of yore a farmer instructed his son:
When you are about to take hold of your field (for cultivation), keep a sharp eye on the opening of the dikes, ditches, and mounds, (so that), when you flood the field the water will not rise too high in it. When you have emptied it of water, watch the field's water-soaked ground that it stay virile ground for you. Let shod oxen (that is, oxen whose hooves are protected in one way or another) trample it for you; (and) After having its weeds ripped out (by them) (and) the field made level ground, dress it evenly with narrow axes weighing (no more than) two-thirds of a pound each. (Following which) Let the pickax wielder eradicate the ox hooves for you (and), Smooth them out; Have all crevices worked over with a drag, and have him go with the pickax all around the four edges of the field.
(13-21) While the field is drying, let your obedient (household (workforce)) prepare your tools for you, make fast the yoke bar, hang up your new whips on nails, and let the hanging handles of your old whips be mended by the artisans. Let the bronze ..... your tools "heed your arm"; let the leather "headbinder", goad, "mouth-opener", (and) whip uphold you (in matters requiring discipline and control); let your bandu-basket crackle; (all this) will make a mighty income for you.
(22-40) When your field has been supplied with what is needed, keep a sharp eye on your work. After adding an extra ox to the plow-ox — when one is harnessed to another ox, their plow is larger than (an ordinary) plow – make them ..... one bur; they will make for you a ..... like a storm, so that three gur barley will be planted in that one bur. Sustenance is in a plow! (Thus) Having had the field worked with the bardil-plow – (yes) the bardil-plow – (and then) having had it worked over with the shukin-plow, repeat (the process). (After) Having had it (the field) harrowed, (and) raked three times and pulverized fine with a hammer, let the handle of your whip uphold you; brook no idleness. Stand over them (the field laborers) during their work, (and) brook no interruptions. Do not [distract] your field workers. Since they must carry on by day, (and by) Heaven's stars for ten, (days), Their strength should be spent on the field. (And) They are not to dance attendance on you.
(41-47) When you are about to plow your field, let your plow break up the stubble for you. Leave your "mouth-cover" of the plow ....., (and) leave your ..... on a narrow nail. Let your moldboards spread to the side, set up your furrows — in one garush, set up eight furrows. Furrows which have been deeply dug — their barley will grow long.
(48-63) When you are about to plow your field, keep your eye on the man who puts in the barley seed. Let him drop the grain uniformly two fingers deep, (and) Use up one shekel of barley for each garush. If the barley seed does not sink in properly, change your share, the "tongue of the plow". If the ....., (then) plow diagonal furrows where you have plowed straight furrows, (And) Plow straight furrows where you have plowed diagonal furrows. Let your straight furrows make your borders into tulu-borders; let the lu-furrows make straight your borders; (and) Plow ab-furrows where .....; (Then) Let all its clods be removed; all its high spots be made into furrows; (and ) all its depressions be made into low furrows — (all this) (It) will be good for the sprout.
(64-72) After the sprout has broken through (the surface of) the ground, say a prayer to the goddess Ninkilim, (And) Shoo away the flying birds. When the barley has filled the narrow bottom of the furrow, water the top seed. When the barley stands up high as (the straw of) a mat in the middle of a boat, water it (a second time). Water (a third time)-its royal barley. If the watered barley has turned red, what you say is: "It is sick with the samana-disease." But if it has succeeded in producing kernel-rich barley, water it (a fourth time); (and) It will yield you an extra measure of barley in every ten (+10 %)
(73-86) When you are about to harvest your field, do not let the barley bend over on intself, (but) Harvest it at the moment of its (full) strength. A reaper, a man who bundles the mown barley, and a man who [sets up the sheaves] before him — these three (as a team) shall do the harvesting for you. The gleaners must do no damage; they must not tear apart the sheaves. During your daily harvesting, as in "days of need", make the earth supply the sustenance of the young and the gleaners according to their number (that is, presumably, he must leave the fallen kernels on the ground for needy children and gleaners to pick); (and) Let them sleep (in your field) as (in) the (open) marshland. After you have obtained ....., do not ....., (but) Roast (some of) the mown barley, (so that) the "prayer of the mown barley" will be said for you daily.
(87-99) When you are about to winnow the barley, let those who weigh your barley [prepare] for you (bins of) thirty gur. Have your threshing floor made level, (and) The gur (-bins) put in order (ready for) the road. When your tools have been [readied] for you, (and) your wagons put in order for you, have your wagons climb the (barley) mounds — your "mound-threshing" (is to take) five days. When you are about to "open the mound", bake arra-bread. When you "open" the barley, have the teeth of your threshing sledges fastened with leather and let bitumen cover the .....; When you are about to hitch the oxen (to the threshing sledge), let your men who "open" the barley, stand by with food (that is, the oxen's food).
(100-108) When you have heaped up the barley, say the "prayer of the (still) uncleaned barley". When you winnow the barley, pay attention to the men who lift the barley from the ground — two "barley-lifters" should lift it for you. On the day the barley is to be cleaned, have it laid on the sticks, (and) Say a prayer evening and night. (Then) Have the barley "unloosed" (from the chaff) like (with) an overpowering wind; (and) The "unloosed" barley will be stored for you.
(109-111)(These are) The instructions of Ninurta, the son of Enlil. O Ninurta, trustworthy farmer of Enlil, your praise is good.
- Winegrad, Dilys Pegler, Through Time, Across Continents, University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology (1992), ISBN 0-924171-16-2, p. 16, Sumerian firsts are: ...the first Farmer's Almanac on record.
- Kramer, Samuel Noah, In the World of Sumer: An Autobiography, Wayne State University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-8143-2121-6, p. 139, ... a first "Farmer's Almanac."
- "The Fertile Crescent". Retrieved 2008-09-10.
- Kramer, S.N., November 1951, Scientific American, pages 54-55.
- Kramer, pp. 65-69, History Begins At Sumer (1959).
- Kramer, pp. 340-342, Appendix I, Farmer's Almanac (1963)
- Kramer, Samuel Noah, History Begins At Sumer, Doubleday, 1959, Original from the University of Michigan
- Kramer, Samuel Noah, History Begins At Sumer, Twenty-seven "Firsts" in Man's Recorded History, University of Pennsylvania Press; 3rd edition (April 1988)
- Kramer, Samuel Noah, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, 1963, 1971 (paperback), pp 1–355. Plates, Figues, Appendixes A-I, I, Farmer's Almanac, p 340-342, Index.
- Civil, Miguel, The Farmer's Instructions. A Sumerian Agricultural Manual, Aula Orientalis - Supplementa 5; Editorial AUSA (Barcelona 1994)