Did the ancient Sumerians know about our “solar system?”

Dick: Ed, the ancient Sumerians knew about our “solar system” long ago.
Look at the image of the “sun” being circled by ten planets in the upper left of this ancient Sumerian cylinder seal:
The Sumerians were clearly intelligent people with a value system, a set of laws, diversification of labor, a monetary system, marriage and divorce, and many of the attributes of a sophisticated culture. I think it likely that, as this image shows, they perceived the earth to be one of many spherical globes circling the sun, since everything in the sky was round, and the moon can be seen to be a spherical object.

Edward: You are speaking of an image on an ancient Sumerian cylinder seal that the “alternative archeologist,” Zechariah Sitchin (in his books The 12th Planet, and, Genesis Revealed) claims represents “our solar system.” However, the “likelihood” that the Sumerians knew the earth was one of many planets circling the sun remains questionable, because much is known about ancient Sumerian cosmology from pictures they drew and words they wrote, and they depicted the earth in both cases as flat:

Sumerian Artifact
Source: http://www.bunkahle.com/

From verses scattered throughout hymns and myths, one can compile a picture of the universeʼs (anki) creation according to the Sumerians. The primeval sea (abzu) existed before anything else and within that, the heaven (an) and the earth (ki) were formed. The boundary between heaven and earth was a solid (perhaps tin) vault, and the earth was a flat disk. Within the vault lay the gas-like ‘lil’, or atmosphere, the brighter portions therein formed the stars, planets, sun, and moon. (Kramer, The Sumerians 1963: pp. 112-113) Each of the four major Sumerian deities is associated with one of these regions. An, god of heaven, may have been the main god of the pantheon prior to 2500 BC., although his importance gradually waned. (Kramer 1963 p. 118) Ki is likely to be the original name of the earth goddess, whose name more often appears as Ninhursag (queen of the mountains), Ninmah (the exalted lady), or Nintu (the lady who gave birth). It seems likely that these two were the progenitors of most of the gods.

Typical of ancient flat earth cosmologies, the Sumerians depicted the sun moving across the sky each day:

Shamash (Babbar, Utu) Shamash is the sun god, the son of Sin and Ningal. He rises from the mountains with rays out of his shoulders. He enters and exits the underworld through a set of gates in the mountain (exits from Mt. Mashu, “Gilgamesh IX ii”) guarded by scorpion-people. He travels both on foot and in a chariot, pulled by fiery mules. He upholds truth, and justice. He is a lawgiver and informs oracles. Nergal is a corrupt aspect of his nature.

Each morning Utu rises from the ‘interior of heaven’ with rays out of his shoulders in the East and crosses the firmament and all heavenly luminaries before finally reentering through the corresponding set of gates in the west. This means the Sun god travels to the Underworld everyday, becoming one of its Luminaries of the Land of No Return during nighttime. Thus, Utu/Shamash is one of the Ever-Returning Deities of Mesopotamia, who travel to the Depths Below entering its Gates at Sunset and returning to brighten up the Heights Above at dawn every single day. The West Gates where the Sun sets in the Epic of Gilgamesh are said to be guarded by the Scorpion People, beings half human, half scorpion, the first Otherworldly challengers Gilgamesh had to meet and win over in his search for immortality. Utu/Shamash travels the skies either on foot or in a chariot, pulled by fiery mules. His domain is called in The Phoenician Letters (by Wilfrid Davies and G. Zur, Mowat Publishing, Manchester, UK, 1979) the High Country, the heavenly sphere where the stars can be found.

Flip through Othmar Keelʼs Symbolism of the Biblical World to see the symbols and ancient iconography related to the Babylonian sunʼs movement across the sky.

Sumerian symbology stressed the power of the gods, and also honored the moonʼs phases with monthly rites: “on the day of the disappearance of the moon, on the day of the sleeping of the moon.” Did they know what the moonʼs phases really constituted?
The Sumerians celebrated these aspects of the moonʼs phases on the first, seventh, and fifteenth of each month. These three days formed the monthly “Essesu” Festival. The importance of these scared days is articulated in the Atrahasis myth, Tablet I, columns 204-207, as Enki sets about the creation of man, “Enki opened his mouth and addressed the great Gods, ‘On the first, seventh, and fifteenth day of the month I will make a purifying bath’ {43} The necessity for observation of these sacred days is reiterated in a number of collected Mesopotamian letters which refer to the necessity of ‘passing the first, seventh, and fifteenth as you have been taught.’ This observance, in the minimum, included a ritual bath: a sacred immersion in the symbolic ‘Waters of Life.’

In ancient Egypt “the mythological explanation of the moonʼs phases was that the eye was healed by the god Thoth.” or check this link.

The Cylinder Seal, My Interpretation

Firstly, cylinder seals are not the most convincing evidence upon which to hang “proofs” that Sumerians believed the earth was a planetary sphere and that other such spheres of nearly the same size existed and they all circled the sun. Cylinder seals are not like clay tablets used in ancient astronomy/astrology schools that taught mathematics and star observations, etc. Such seals were merely rolled on wet clay and used as signatures, confirmations of receipt, or to mark bricks. They primarily expressed peopleʼs identities and authority.

The seal looks to me like two people standing and holding hands, facing a man who is sitting with a staff of authority in his hand. The sitting man might be a king or religious leader. Since the two people are holding hands, I wonder if itʼs a “wedding or joining ceremony” being depicted? The so-called “sun and planets” that appear in the sky over the shoulders of the couple could be auspicious stars, denoting the time was ripe. The ancients often looked to the heavens for signs that directed their actions on earth, like planting and harvesting, among other activities. Also, some stars are brighter than others, like Venus, which is most probably what the large central object in the sky is. (See below)

Since you prefer to interpret the seal as “telling us what the Sumerians knew” about our “solar system,” I will simply ask you some questions below.

If the couple and the seated man have the entire “solar system” in the sky above their shoulders, then that cannot be an image of a solar system at all. Because you canʼt be on earth and also have the earth in the sky as a sign as to whatʼs going on below. The things in the sky are obviously heavenly signs accompanying whatever important activity is depicted as taking place between the three people below.
Why is the alleged “sun” symbol not the normal sun symbol, nor the symbol for the sun god Shamash which was usually depicted as a disk with flame-like lines inside the disk, or a winged disk against a background of stars.
The central object is instead an 8-pointed star with the circle in the middle, which was often associated with Ishtar/Inanna as the morning or evening star:
The goddess Inanna (Innin, or Innini) was the patron and special god/goddess of the ancient Sumerian city of Erech (Uruk), the City of Gilgamesh. As Queen of heaven, she was associated with the Evening Star (the planet Venus), and sometimes with the Moon. She may also have been associated the brightest stars in the heavens, as she is sometimes symbolized by an eight-pointed star, a seven-pointed star, or a four pointed star. In the earliest traditions, Inanna was the daughter of An, the Sky, Ki, the Earth (both of Uruk, (Warka)). In later Sumerian traditions, she is the daughter of Nanna (Narrar), the Moon God and Ningal, the Moon Goddess (both of Ur)… Inanna was also the Queen of beasts, and the Lion was her sacred animal.

There is much known about ancient Sumerian iconography, including what symbols they used for the god of the sun Utu/Shamash, and for another bright celestial object, Saturn:
“Saturn through the Ages”, an article that includes Sumerian symbols for “sun” and “Saturn”.

Sumerian symbol for Saturn:

Another Source: symbol for Saturn seen in Sumerian iconography:

I have yet to see the name of an ancient Sumerian god, or that godʼs identifying symbols, that would suggest that the Sumerians knew of any “wandering stars” beyond Saturn. (“Wandering stars” was the name the ancients gave to the few tiny lights in the sky that didnʼt move in unison with the rest each night. The word “planet” in fact, means, “wanderer.”) Here is a list of the FIVE “wandering stars” (the earth was not a wandering star, but instead was the firm foundation of creation) and their names by accepted Babylonian (and Sumerian?) sources:


  • Mercury: Ubu-idim-gud-ud,Gud-ud,Gu-ad,Gu-Utu, Nebo
  • Venus: Nindaranna,Ninsianna,Dibalt,Dilbad,Dilipat,Ishtar
  • Mars: Salbatai,Salbatana,Sanumma,Nergal
  • Jupiter: Udaltar,Mul-Babbar,Sagnae-gar,Nibiru-Marduk,Marduk
  • Saturn: Genna,Sagus,Uduidim,Ninib

Add the above FIVE “wanderers” to the sun and moon which also traced their own unique paths across the sky, and you get a total of SEVEN major heavenly objects. The ancients imagined that these SEVEN were special gods overseeing the flat earth below. For instance, the Babylonians referred to the “watchful eye” of Shamash, the sun, who notes all things. And a prayer to Mars (Nergal) states, “With Sin (the Moon) in Heaven thou perceivest all things.” Compare the Hebrew notion that “these SEVEN [lights] are the eyes of the Lord which range to and fro throughout the earth” (Zechariah 4:10).
Sources: Christianson, Gale E. This Wild Abyss, The Free Press - A Division of Macmilan Publishing Co. Inc., NY., 1978. OʼNeil, W.M. Early Astronomy from Babylonia to Copernicus, Sydney University Press, Portland, Oregon, 1986. Thurston, Hugh Early Astronomy, Springer-Verlag New York Inc., NY, 1994. E. C. Krupp, Echoes of the Ancient Skies: The Astronomy of Lost Civilizations (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), p. 65-70. Gertrude and James Jobes, Outer Space: Myths, Name Meanings, and Calendars from the Emergence of History to the Present (New York: Scarecrow Press, 1964), p. 81-83. Langdon, Semitic Mythology, p. 136.

Of the planets that lay beyond Saturn (namely, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) the ancients show no sign of having been aware of them. Uranus was only discovered and named in the post-telescope era by William Herschel in 1781. That goes doubly for Neptune or Pluto that lay beyond Uranus, and were discovered much later. None of those three planets show up on any known pre-Galilean sky charts. (But wait, your “solar system seal hypothesis” features those planets and more then even science today knows about! [sic])

Neither are the things that you call “planets” on the cylinder seal in proportion to the relative sizes or relative brightnesses of the planets modern astronomers know about, and there is no evidence on the seal itself that the smaller objects are “moving in circles” around the larger object. They frame the larger object, just as the symbol of the sun god (a different symbol as I said above) is seen in other ancient iconography is sometimes framed by stars.
Neither can we ignore all that we do know about ancient Sumerian cosmology, which was a flat earth cosmology. Above questions are from an historian of ancient Sumeria and a student of Sumerian mythology.
edited by E.T.B.

A Related Question: What Are The Odds Of Finding Another Example Of “Modern Science” In Ancient Near Eastern Pictures?

If you think Sitchin and Dick Fischer “beat the odds” by finding a “solar system” on an ancient Sumerian cylinder seal, think again. David Hatcher Childress (in his book Vimana Aircraft of Ancient India & Atlantis) sees an Egyptian holding a “lightbulb on a plinth with the filament clearly seen, as well as an electric lead” in this relief from the Temple of Hathor at Dendera in Egypt:

However, when one understands the ancient mythologies which claim that life/the world came from the sun (symbolized by a lotus - the bayonet fixing), in the form of the egg (the bulb itself), and from which emerged the life principle (almost universally symbolized by the snake/sun-spirit - the filament), one begins to realize what this picture is referring to. The egg also rests upon the pillar (other depictions have a god suspending the egg/sky - the world pillar mentioned elsewhere in ancient Egyptian mythology and iconography).

Another famous Egyptian artifact was found at the temple in Abydos - a ‘cartouche’ showing what appeared to be the engraving of a helicopter and other ‘craft’:

However, it was later realized that the picture was a composite of two quite ordinary hieroglyphic texts laid over each other. The appearance of the helicopter on the artifact was actually an artifact itself, and was formed from two separate hieroglyphs - only resembling a helicopter to our modern eyes.

One Key to deciphering religion, New Age and Illuminati-sponsored Revision of Mythology - the Zodiac by Ivan Fraser

Also Of Interest…

ETCSLcorpus: Catalogue of all available compositions and translations by text category [Sumerian Literature, Poems, Hymns, Proverbs, ONLINE]

King Shulgi (c. 2100 BCE) on the future of Sumerian literature:
“Now, I swear by the sun god Utu on this very day — and my younger brothers shall be witness of it in foreign lands where the sons of Sumer are not known, where people do not have the use of paved roads, where they have no access to the written word — that I, the firstborn son, am a fashioner of words, a composer of songs, a composer of words, and that they will recite my songs as heavenly writings, and that they will bow down before my words…”