Thursday, April 6, 2017

E for Enheduanna: Female Scientists Before Our Time

Travel back in time some 4300 years to Sumer in southern Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the site of the earliest known civilization (modern-day Iraq and Kuwait). 

Writing had been developed around 3000 BC, by imprinting script on damp clay hardened into tablets small enough to fit in one’s pocket (known as cuneiform script). It made record keeping, letter writing, and literature possible. The beginnings of modern astronomy and mathematics too had been undertaken in Sumeria and Babylon. The priests and priestesses observed the moon and movements of stars regularly from observatories.

A Cuneiform Tablet with script

Sargon of Akkad was king of Sumeria and Babylon (Sargonian Dynasty, c.2340-2284 BC). He had built the world’s first empire, sending his troops as far as Egypt and Ethiopia. He was known to be a fair king, respectful of other traditions, and supportive of art, culture, and science.

King Sargon had a daughter named Enheduanna (c.2285-2250 BC). The Princess came by her name when the king made her En-priestess of the moon goddess. “En” was a prestigious title of leadership for ‘high priest’. She managed the great temple complex in Ur, its trade activities, and the agriculture surrounding the temple. 


 The alabaster disk. Enheduanna is 3rd from right.
Dressed as En-priestess of Ur.

The temple was also an important knowledge center. As the temple's Chief Astronomer Priestess, Enheduanna joined a long line of female astronomers who had tracked the stars and cycles of the moon. Because she was also a prolific poet/writer, she became the first of these women known by name.

Her poems later discovered on cuneiform tablets also became the first written form of a religious belief system discovered. She has been called the “Shakespeare of ancient Sumerian Literature.” Five hundred years later after her death Enheduanna’s poems were still being read.

One of her poems:

“The true woman who possesses exceeding wisdom,
She consults a tablet of lapis lazuli
She gives advice to all lands...
She measures off the heavens,
She places the measuring-cords on the earth.”







Source:
http://womeninastronomy.blogspot.com/2013/05/enheduanna-our-first-great-scientist.html
http://4kyws.ua.edu/EN.html
http://www.ancient.eu/Enheduanna/ Bernardi, Gabriella, 2016. The Unforgotten Sisters: Female Astronomers and Scientists before Caroline Herschel. Springer

26 comments:

  1. I knew Enheduanna as the first writer/poet - didn't know she was an astronomer too! Cool!

    Nilanjana
    Madly-in-Verse

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  2. And you would know, Nilanjana! Perhaps the stars were her source of inspiration.

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  3. This was pure genius on your part Sharon. A most wonderful post......and I learned something new today. Thank you.

    Yvonne.

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    1. Yvonne I'm so happy to see you here. Thank you for visiting. Take care!

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  4. Hi Sharon - I'd never heard of her - but I knew the Sumerians were early astronomers .. fascinating to read about Enheduanna ... and those early tablets using cuneiform. Love the poem and Lapis would be easy to carve into ... it's a soft stone ... cheers Hilary

    http://positiveletters.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/e-is-for-extinct-animals-and-endangered.html

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    1. I knew nothing about the softness of this stone. That explains it's use. Thanks for sharing, Hilary

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  5. This is very interesting. I'd never heard of her before.
    @msdeniseh553
    Denise at My Life in Retirement Euromast Tower, Rotterdam

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    1. And to think we know something about her that far back. We are fortunate she was a writer. Thank you, Denise.

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  6. I have eye shadow named after her... :D (Aromaleigh did a Famous Historical Women make-up line)

    The Multicolored Diary: WTF - Weird Things in Folktales

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    1. Oh, I love that:) Very cool. Thanks for letting us know.

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  7. I have not heard of her before and enjoyed this read and her poem.

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    1. Thank you, Birgit. I read only a couple of her poem, but apparently a lot of people know her as a poet and writer more.

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  8. Gorgeous. What a find. You wonder how amazing these women would be to day. Or maybe, without the struggle, they wouldn't have tried as hard.

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    1. Hi! Thank you for visiting. There are a lot of amazing women today. Unfortunately, not all of them know that!

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  9. Oh dear I have never heard of any of these women. What a narrow life I have led.

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    1. Not really :) They are new to a lot of us. Most of these ladies are unknown because we know so little about them. Thanks, Alex.

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  10. Astronomer AND poet? Impressive! Well. Caroline Herschel was an astronomer and musician, hope you will get to her at some stage, but this lady certainly seems to have had more responsibility than Caroline H!

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    1. Not this time. I'm concentrating on women of antiquity, going back in history as far as I can. Caroline would be fun to do in another a-z :) Thanks, Sue!

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  11. Another interesting post. Thank you!

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  12. Enheduanna was the temple's Chief Astronomer? What an achievement!
    I've never heard of her. Thank you for introducing us to this amazing woman.

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    1. I like that she was both a poet and an astronomer. Her poem reflects some of that. Thanks, Michelle.

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  13. I've never heard of her either. So glad you pointed her out to me. (A religious woman who was both an astronomer and a writer? I can relate.)

    --Her Grace at Romance Spinners, where I am blogging about Astronomy.

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    1. I'm not sure what her religion was exactly. I suspect they worshiped different gods back then. Nice to meet you, Heidi, and thanks for letting me know you are blogging on Astronomy!

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  14. I love how art and science used to be so closely linked. It's a shame we separate them now, as if they have nothing in common. Enheduanna would probably be pretty fascinating to converse with if you could go back in time (and magically speak the same language).
    A-Z of Printmakers

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    1. The time traveler in me gets excited about that :) I'd love to travel back and visit! I'm pretty sure there are novelists with science backgrounds. I remember reading the bio of one at least, of a doctor turned novelists. Thanks, Anne!

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