Sumerian texts speak of a worldwide flood that wiped out most of mankind's achievements on earth. I had always suspected such a flood -- even if only covering all of Sumer -- was mythical, but then I read the following on Wikipedia:

Archaeologists have confirmed the presence of a widespread layer of riverine silt deposits, shortly after the Piora oscillation, interrupting the sequence of settlement, that left a few feet of yellow sediment in the cities of Shuruppak and Uruk and extended as far north as Kish.

There's no citation listed, unfortunately.

So is there any reliable archaeological evidence of this flood? Can anyone point me in the right direction? A few feet of sediment means there must have been a major event, so I'm surprised I hadn't run across this before.

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    When you downvote a post, it's courteous to say why, and it helps improve the quality of posts on the site. – Joe May 19 '12 at 6:19
  • Do you feel that my answer to another question you have "How often did city-destroying floods happen in Mesopotamia?" answers this question as well. Or could possibly a modified version of that answer be helpful for this question? – E1Suave May 22 '12 at 16:57
  • @E1Suave, that answer would certainly be helpful here. What would make it even better would be: 1) some idea of just how devastating the floods you mention were (big difference between an inch of water and a yard of water), and 2) any information on floods covering a wide area, like the one in the quote above. – Joe May 22 '12 at 17:02
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    The clay deposits found by Woolley were 3.75 meter thick. I have since added to my answer the following (it was available in my provided link, but not as text in my answer. "*The clay deposits found by Woolley were 3.75 meter thick. This is to say that post flood at least (likely much more) 3.75 meters of sediment were found in the area. For that much sediment to be laid down you could expect that said flood consisted of a lot of water." – E1Suave May 22 '12 at 18:25
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    @E1Suave, that is some great information! – Joe May 22 '12 at 20:37


It is important to note that the Sumerian people did not migrate to Mesopotamia until after about 3250 BC near the end of the Uruk Period.

… After about 3250 BC, another people migrated from its homeland, located probably northeast of Mesopotamia, and began to intermarry with the native population. The newcomers, who became known as Sumerians, spoke an agglutinative language unrelated apparently to any other known language. In the centuries that followed the immigration of the Sumerians, the country grew rich and powerful. …

The 3rd millennia proved to be very challenging in terms of finding historical documentation relating to specific Sumerian cities (as this timeframe is often considered Pre-History). That being said, it does seem that archaeology has provided us with some clues as to how often flooding occurred. There are several large clay deposits, which can be dated to several periods, varying from the Late Ubaid period (in Ur) to the Early Dynastic III period (Kiš). Devastating floods were not unheard-of during the first half of the third millennium BCE. The rivers sustained life in Mesopotamia, but they also destroyed it by frequent flooding.

I believe the best place to start would be archaeological evidence. For this we begin with Sir Charles Leonard Woolley. Woolley was a British archaeologist best known for his excavations at Ur in Mesopotamia. He is considered to have been one of the first "modern" archaeologists, and was knighted in 1935 for his contributions to the discipline of archaeology. Woolley does appear to try to tie together ancient "stories/tradition" with his archaeological finds. For the purposes of my answer I am staying away from this portion of his research as this is where things get very tough in regards to accuracy and factual evidence. Regardless, it does appear that the city of Ur did experience a dramatic flood around 3100 BC during the Uruk Period (ca. 4000 to 3100 BC). The clay deposits found by Woolley were 3.75 meter thick. This is to say that post flood at least (likely much more) 3.75 meters of sediment was found in the area. For that much sediment to be laid down you could expect that said flood consisted of a lot of water. However, this flood (much like the others that followed) does not seem to have been a "world" flood. In this particular case no archaeological evidence of flood residue, of the same time period, was found just 23 kilometers (12 kilometers depending on source) from the city of Ur in the Sumerian city of Eridu. Note: Ur was established during the Ubaid Period ca. 6500 to 3800 BC (Sidenotes: Ubadian Culture & meaning of Ubaid).

Woolley's team found evidence of several more floods. The city of [Kish (Kiš)],17 which would have been occupied during the Jemdet Nasr Period (3100 -2900 BC), experienced large-scale flooding. Also, archaeological evidence of flooding was found in the Sumerian city of Shuruppak (Shuruppag/Šuruppak) which would have been occupied during the end of the Early Dynastic I period (c. 2750), and also in the city of Uruk during the beginning of the Early Dynastic I Period. Note: This flood was not during the the Uruk Period, but the city of Uruk was still occupied. Lastly Woolley's team also found archaeological evidence for another flood in Kish during the Early Dynastic III Period (c. 2450 BC).


As previously stated "this timeframe is often considered Pre-History" therefore it is very difficult to suggest, aside from using "stories/tradition", that any of the above mentioned floods "wiped" out any one of the Sumerian cities mentioned above. However, it would be accurate to suggest that due to the archaeological evidence that the flooding was indeed significant. Thus, one could say that possibly a city or cities underwent dramatic change post flooding. One may even suggest that one or more of these floods were reasons for the "changes of power" resulting in "new periods" though this would likely be considered conjecture.


I find the following passage very interesting, however, I could not find verification outside of Sumerian tradition. And in this case it is very unlikely that any archaeological evidence can be found.

The delta could only be made habitable by large-scale irrigation and flood control, which was managed first by a priestly class and then by godlike kings. Except for the period 2370-2230 B. c., when the Sumerian city-states were subdued by the rulers of Akkad , the region immediately to the north

Map of Ancient Mesopotamia:

Map of Ancient Mesopotamia:

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  • '[T]he Sumerian people did not migrate to Mesopotamia until after about 3250 BC near the end of the Uruk Period.' Could you provide a reference for that? (You link to history-world.org/sumeria.htm, but I get a 404 error, which is fair enough, seeing that you linked to it eight years ago!) I ask because I thought the Sumerians moved into Mesopotamia earlier than 3250 BC and I'm curious to know what the current evidence/consensus is. – dwolfeu Jun 16 at 6:37

Every 1000 years or so you can expect a large "1000-year-flood" near large rivers. So it shouldn't shock anybody if the first few millenia of Sumer's history might have included one or two such big flood events. It is a floodplain, after all. Periodic floods were what make agriculture productive enough to create their culture there in the first place.

There were some rather larger "flood" events which happened during human prehistory, cheifly due to rising sea levels as the glaciers melted at the end of the last Ice Age. For example, before about 5.3MYA sea levels were below the level needed to connect the Mediterranian Basin and the Atlantic. When they got high enough one fine day, there was what they call The Zanclean Flood. It is speculated that until about 5600BCE a similar situation existed with the Black Sea at the Bosphorous, and then (again, it is speculated) a similar Great Flood happened there. That is not too far away, in either time or distance, from ancient Sumeria. Close enough that a dim memory of such a thing might have persisted in oral traditions (particularly if it happened to be a really good story).

Personally, I think it more likely it is just an enhanced memory of a large, but otherwise mundane, river flood.

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  • Though I do agree with your premise (1000-year-flood), I am not sure that any "Sumerian" cities were in existence during the timespan you gave. Surely this can be debated in regards to Sumerian traditions that date back for tens of thousands of years but as for archeological evidence it appears that nothing more than small settlements existed until the creation of city states between 3500 BC and 3000 BC during the Uruk Period. The Sumerian peoples did not migrate to to Mesopotamia until about 3250 BC near the end of said Period. – E1Suave May 23 '12 at 17:49
  • @E1Suave - If you are referring to my second paragraph, I wasn't saying there were classical Sumerian cities there at that exact time. I just said it isn't all that far from the time when there were. Perhaps I could have gotten into the differences between Ubiad, Sumerian, and Akkadian civilizations, but frankly that's seems a level of detail not particularly germane to the question at hand. – T.E.D. May 23 '12 at 19:09
  • I felt that the OP was specifically asking about the Sumerian Civilization which would have begun around 3250 BC and in "some ways" ended approximately 2300 BC (Around 2300 BC the Sumerian and the Akkadian cultures began to meld). The Black Deluge refers to a time (5600 BC) nearly 2000 years prior to the Sumerian civilization. The cities the OP sited did not exist at this time. 5600 BC would have closer to the the Ubaid Period. – E1Suave May 23 '12 at 19:29
  • @E1Suave - Yes, but the Ubaid had no writing to record such things, and he wasn't asking about them. I did the best I could in that paragraph, but if you find the logic weak, perhaps you are seeing why I think the logic in the first paragraph is more compelling. – T.E.D. May 23 '12 at 19:53
  • @TED I agree with your first paragraph and also find it compelling. However, I think it is safe to say, based on archeological evidence, they (Sumerian people) did indeed experienced large and destructive floods. :–) – E1Suave May 23 '12 at 20:18


I too am interested in any references to floods, deluges, inundations etc., which may have occurred circa 5,000 years ago,and that is how I arrived at this site.

Some years ago,I read an interesting book called; IRELAND-THE GEOMORPHOLOGY OF THE BRITISH ISLES (1978) by G.L.Herries Davies (Professor of Geography at Trinity Dublin) and Nicholas Stephens(Professor of Geography University of Swansea). I will quote verbatim some passages from above book/text-book. (page 185)

...The tombolo stands at 4m above mean sea level,and at Sutton the shingle rests upon a kitchen-midden containing charcoal with a 14c age of 5,250 + or - 110 years B.P. The maximum of the transgression is clearly younger;further evidence at Sutton and from Dalkey Island,indicates regression by stages from the 4m line.].....and further down the page....[at Leamore a barrier beach-bar may have been breached about 5,000 years B.P.,resulting in a marine incursion across the site of the present coastal marshes to a height of 3.75m above mean sea-level]...

Interesting that the figure 3.75m appears again from a totally different source. My own view is that stagnant water 3.75m deep,away from the main river flow as could have happened at Ur,could over a long period,leave clay deposits 3.75m thick.On the other hand Eridu,being further from the original river bank and probably on higher ground would not be affected by a 3.75m marine incursion.

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    How does a flood in the British Isles indicate a flood in Sumeria? – Joe Sep 24 '12 at 22:22

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