It may not be welcome news to xenophobes, bigots, and white christian nationalists, but Western civilization owes more to the ancient peoples of Iraq and Syria than I imagined.

The Mesopotamians left an incredible legacy to the world.

They invented the very idea of writing and built the world’s first cities.

They wrote down the earliest laws, and created a judicial system that prized evidence and fairness, a system that still influences us today.

They created mechanisms of diplomacy that never stopped being used.

Looking to the stars, they figured out how to calculate the dates of eclipses and anticipated the movements of the planets. Many achievements credited to the Greeks had their origins long before in Mesopotamia, like the calculation of the sides of a right angle triangle. The innovation of the phalanx formation in battle and the names of the constellations were also owed to the Mesopotamians.

One Mesopotamian innovation has an impact on our lives every single day. Mesopotamian mathematics was based on the number 60. For example, their system of weights had 60 shekels in a mina, which weighed about a pound, and 60 minas in a talent. This was convenient because 60 divides up easily into many different fractions. That influence remains today in the form of 360 degrees in a circle, 60 seconds in a minute, and 60 minutes in an hour.

Source credit: Amanda H. Podany, Ph.D., Professor of History at California State Polytechnic University