What happened at Girsu?

It is rare for mainstream newspapers to get excited about prehistory, but the Guardian ran a whole page about Girsu the other week (find it here). We’ll take it from the top and explain that what used to be an administrative centre of the Sumerian world in the second and third millennia BCE started life as Girsu. Now called Tello, it is in southern Iraq.

One of the earliest cities known to humanity, Girsu was first excavated by teams of French archaeologists 140 years ago, but the site has experienced significant losses among its artefacts. Since the most persistent artefacts are administrative records, archaeologists have pieced together some first impressions of a civilisation that had a fiscal policy as just one part of an elaborate social structure. To inhabit a site for millennia, as the Sumerians obviously did, can only happen with a balanced and extensive environmental skill set. So no flushing toilets in Girsu, then, but something altogether better adapted to a densely-populated seat of power.

Weighty measures

To get a proper grip on the workings of the food industry, it is vital to understand the units that are used to organise and quantify production. Since this website sets out to cover historical aspects of food production, it is only fair to offer a brief outline of the systems in place during the formative years. We live in a metric world and should not imagine that any other set of measures is going to return to re-establish the status quo ante. But we need to have a clear idea of how we started.

The starting point for present purposes is the 1824 Weights and Measures Act, for reasons which will be made clear to subscribers in a fuller treatment of the topic. It will come with a basic tool kit for managing the practical aspects of modern metrology. For seekers of the arcane, visit Wikipedia’s excellent listing of the many post Sumerian systems and notations for weights, here. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Mesopotamian_units_of_measurement)