Sumerian Farmer's Almanac

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Map of Sumer

Sumerian Farmer's Almanac is the first farmer's almanac on record.[1][2][3] 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.[4]


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.[4] The tablet had to be completely restored as it was in poor condition when discovered.[5]

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 It was originally made by a farmer for his son.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.[4]

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.[4]


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.[5]

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.[5]

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.[5]

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.[5]

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.[4] This translation of the complete text is by Kramer.[6] Items in (parentheses) are added for meaning (by Kramer). Italics are original Sumerian words.


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ 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."
  3. ^ "The Fertile Crescent". Retrieved 2008-09-10. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Kramer, S.N., November 1951, Scientific American, pages 54-55.
  5. ^ a b c d e Kramer, pp. 65-69, History Begins At Sumer (1959).
  6. ^ a b 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)

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