What did the Sumerians look like?
This is a question that has been asked many times throughout history. There is no correct or authentic answer because none of us have ever met a Sumerian nor do we have highly pixelated candid images of the Sumerian people in their native attire.
Nevertheless, this article aims at bringing you the closest details and descriptions of the looks of the Sumerians, based on extensive research on the genetics and history of these people.
What Did the Ancient Sumerians Look Like
The Sumerians were a large group of people living in the southern part of Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. This region originally hosted only scattered tribes. Eventually, the tribes unified and powerful kingdoms came into being.
The Sumerians were the inhabitants of the kingdom of Sumer. The actual origin of the ancient Sumerians is a mystery to everyone. This is because the Sumerians were considered to be the earliest civilization and no one knows who is responsible for creating this kingdom.
Nevertheless, the kingdom of Sumer has given humanity uncountable gifts and creations and we are forever indebted to them. The Sumerians are the ones who invented writing. Carved clay tablets dating back thousands of years were found in the archaeological sites of present-day Iraq.
The Sumerians gave the concept of cities and the first-ever city is thought to be in Sumer. All that we know about the Sumer, Sumerians, Their inventions, their characteristics, and their looks, is through the artifacts, literature, carvings, and the clay tablets.
The Sumerians were, no doubt, ingenious people. One wonders many different questions about their origins and looks. Understanding the physical characteristics of the Sumerians let us dive deep into their world.
The Origins of Sumerians
There are many different theories on where did the Sumerians come from. One theory is that the Sumerians were West Asian settlers that came looking for new land. Another theory states that the Sumerians were North African people that came to the area looking for asylum and safety.
Recently, the DNA taken from four unearthed skeletons near the area suggests that the Sumerians may be from the Indus Valley Civilization. This is an interesting turn of events. This theory has a good weight to it because the ancient Mesopotamians had good trade and diplomatic relations with the Indus Valley, as both these civilizations were at the peak of their rule at roughly the same time.
Whatever the actual origins were of the Sumerians people, they settled in the north of Mesopotamia and soon were an integral part of the Mesopotamian dynasty.
The Sumerians spoke the language Sumer, which roughly translates to “city.” This makes sense, because Sumer was never a country, rather it was a very large city with a lot of towns and tribes.
The Sumerian language is the earliest documented language. Sumerian is written in the cuneiform script and is the first language to be written in this form.
Physical Characters of the Sumerians
The actual physical characteristics of the Sumerians are a mystery to us all, but the generic features of these ancient people can be described based on the inscriptions and DNA that researchers collected as evidence.
Evidence Found in Inscriptions
At one instance, the Sumerian king, Shulgi, refers to himself as the king and pastor of the black-headed people. In other places in the literature, the people refer to themselves as the black-headed people or as the black-headed ones.
These inscriptions are the only written material on the physical characteristics of the Sumerians. From this, we can speculate Sumerian genetics and they were dark-colored people.
The archaeologists unearthed many statues of the Sumerian culture in present-day Iraq. Many important hypotheses can be drawn from these artifacts about the physical features of the Sumerians. All the statues have bodies of a large build. This can be a sign of the fact that the important people of the Sumerian civilization were fit and bulky.
The statue of another Sumerian king, Gudea, is very interesting. In the statue, Gudea’s face has sharp features. He has a long sharp nose with long ears. He is shown to have a small neck and elongated fingers and toes.
We can speculate that if the King of Sumerians has such features, the Sumerian descendants might also have similar features. But exceptions are always there. In the following sections, we explore the mystery of the blue-eyed sumerians.
The Blue-Eyed Sumerians
An interesting inscription found at one of the archaeological sites narrates the account of a native Sumerian ethnicity. The Sumerians describe that their ancestors came to this place from somewhere they don’t know. This is because their ancestors did not know how to write. The writer further recounts that the only thing he is sure of is that they migrated from mountainous regions to the plains.
The most interesting thing that he mentions in his account is the presence of blue-eyed people among the Sumerians. He writes that there are blue-eyed people in the region with some having blond hair. This is the most interesting combination of features, considering the location of Mesopotamia, situated between Asia and Africa.
The Attire of the Sumerians
The explanation of looks and physical characteristics of the inhabitants of the Sumer cannot be complete without describing the Sumerian attire and clothing. The ancient civilization of Sumer was located in a predominantly hot region of the world.
The information about the Sumerian clothing is found from the remnants of scriptures and statues:
– Sumerian Men Clothing
The Sumerian culture was based on patriarchy, and the patriarchs took pride in it. This is the reason why clothing was a prominent differentiating factor between different classes of Sumerian men.
The most common attire for men was skirts. These skirts were made of wool and sometimes flax. The length of these skirts was proportionate to the status of the man in society. The lower the rank of the man the shorter was the length of his skirt. These skirts were only used to cover the lower parts of their bodies.
The upper parts of the bodies were mostly left uncovered by the common people. The dignitaries and nobilities, however, did cover the upper parts of their bodies with ornate triangular pieces of clothing.
The armies usually wore full armors that covered everything except their arms and lower legs for enhanced mobility. The religious pastors wore long coverings that covered everything except their faces.
– Sumerian Women Clothing
Sumerian women had different clothing rules as compared to Sumerian men. The women were directed to wear long clothing made mostly of wool. The clothing was made to cover everything, from their hair to their ankles. The clothes were however made to fit the body tightly, so that their figures were prominent.
Like the men, women also wore skirts. However, unlike the skirts of male attire, these skirts were long and fitted.
In some social classes, women were allowed to keep one of their arms uncovered, which helped them to work more efficiently. Mostly their right shoulder and arm were uncovered and the left arm was kept inside the cloth.
The Sumerian women’s clothing was beautifully decorative and colorful. The women used stones and dried flowers to add beauty to their clothes. Different types of ornate belts were also very famously worn by the ancient women of Sumer.
– Ancient Sumerian Accessories
The Sumerians were very fond of wearing accessories on top of their normal clothing in their everyday routines. These accessories were belts, headdresses, earrings, necklaces, bangles and anklets.
Each of these accessories was made with various techniques and precious materials. The materials used were gold and silver with precious gemstones.
The Sumerians were an ancient civilization present in the place of present time Iraq. Their advanced techniques in many facets of life suggest that they were genius people that changed the course of history for the humanity.
Many Sumerian inventions and scientific theories are still implemented in today’s time. So, naturally, the human mind drifts into imagining the Sumerian people and their characteristics.
Did they look like us? Were they of the same height as the people of today?
The exact answers to these questions were a mystery, is a mystery, and will probably remain a mystery.
The article aimed to develop a generic image of the Sumerians based on their origin, language, and physical features based on unearthed artifacts, scriptures, and statues.
Some information about ancient Sumerian clothing might help in visualizing the look of the Sumerian people.
- The Sumerians were located in the northern part of Mesopotamia.
- Sumerians were ingenious people who invented writing.
- The Sumerians called themselves as black-headed people or the black-headed ones.
- Everything that we know about the Sumerians is through the ancient artifacts, statues, and scriptures found at the archaeological sites in Iraq.
- The Sumerian men wore skirts whose length described their social status in the society.
- The Sumerian women covered themselves from the head to their ankles — but could keep one arm outside of their dress if this allowed them to work better.
We are hopeful that the archaeologists might someday unearth a descriptive clay tablet or find an exceptionally preserved skeleton of a Sumerian so that we can solve the mystery of the appearance of the Sumerians. Until then, we can only rely on scientific literature or dive into our imagination.
- Empires of Ancient Mesopotamia; Barbara A. Somervill
- Encyclopedia of the Ancient World; Shona Grimble
- Al-Zahery N, Pala M, Battaglia V, et al. In search of the genetic footprints of Sumerians: a survey of Y-chromosome and mtDNA variation in the Marsh Arabs of Iraq. BMC Evol Biol. 2011;11:288. Published 2011 Oct 4. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-11-288
- Black, J., et. al. The Literature of Ancient Sumer. Oxford University Press, 2006.
- Kramer, S. N. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. University of Chicago Press, 1971.