Recorded history commences at the end of the fourth millennium BC, in a seemingly strange location right at the seaward fringe of the southern alluvium. There, in sight of each other, arise Ur, Eridu, and Uruk, ‘not far above the Persian Gulf’s retreating shoreline, under conditions starkly contrasting with those in the rainfall zone along the Zagros piedmont, where irrigation was much less important or even unnecessary’ (R.McC. Adams 1981:58). It is at first sight paradoxical that at the Gulfs edge, of all the parts of the Ubaidian province, the first civilization arose. The landscape (albeit rather poorer than in its pristine state) around the ruins of Eridu at Abu Shahrain, as seen from its ziggurat (see p. 139) by its first modern excavator, R.Campbell Thompson, was described as follows:

From the ziggurat as far as the eye can see there is naught but awful solitude; you look down on sombre desert which encircles you for miles. Northwards lie the flat lands, yellow in April and unrelieved except for sparse arabesques of salt spreading like mares’-tails in a breezy sky, while afar, just visible as a little pimple in the mornings but blotted out in the afternoon haze, is the temple-tower of Muqaiyar. Towards the north-east, especially when the sun is setting, the sandstone ridge on the skyline is thrown into vivid relief as a white streak six miles away. Eastwards, not far from the mound, the grass has sprung up, marking the dry site of the winter lagoon which lies between you and the sandstone ridge; southwards towards Dafna and Qusair are the distant low sandstone hills circling round and completing a wide arc to-westward. Between you and the sunset is a broad green tract of scrub and coarse grass wherein lie the wells two miles away. Not a tree is in sight, and the only fuel is that provided by the little dry brushes.