A search made of the Sumerian and Akkadian literature for indications of the possible existence of wind vanes in the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations resulted in two discoveries. First, in one Akkadian fable, originally written between about 1800 and 1600 B.C., mention was made of a wind vane. It follows from the context of the fable that the vane was made of wood, while the name of the vane suggests that it was in the shape of a bird. Second, three Sumero-Akkadian vocabularies of this period give three different Sumerian names for the single Akkadian name for vane. The Sumerian names appear to be genuine Sumerian terms and not translations of the Akkadian term. All three Sumerian names suggest that the vanes were made of wood; one of the three may possibly indicate that the vane was made in the form of either a fish (shark?) or a mythological water monster. Since the Sumerian culture flourished before about 2000 B.C. (the Ur III dynasty ruled from about 2100 to 2000 B.C.), it seems that in the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations there were wind vanes about 4000 years ago, i.e., about 2000 years earlier than reported in ancient China and classical Greece.

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Footnotes

1Now at the Department of Meteorology, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.