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The Political Approach to the Classical World, 23
kings, the number of years in their reigns, and any outstanding
events of a given year could be recorded. So we enter the his-
torical period. In Sumer the beginnings of history are not
so clearly defined. No contemporary records of the earliest
dynasties have yet been found; we are forced to rely on the
compilations of later annalists who no doubt had access to early
documents but whose king-lists are a mixture of fact and mytho-
logical fancy. The kings of the first Sumerian dynasties are
credited with fabulous reigns of thousands of years, but later
more reasonable figures appear and the data become acceptable
to an historian.
The Egyptians came early into contact with the world around
them. Even in the age before history, raw materials were ex-
changed between nations and travelling merchants introduced,
with their wares, new techniques and new artistic motifs, new
religious ideas and new gods. The Sumerians had already estab-
lished contact with that great source of metal, Anatolia and the
southern Caucasus region. They had access to the stone of the
Elamite hills, the prized lapis-lazuli of Afghanistan. Egypt very
early developed a sea-going fleet. In the Third Dynasty Egypt
was already engaged in maritime commerce with the Syrian
coast for the coniferous woods which she needed for shipbuild-
ing and other purposes. Sinai was the chief source of her copper,
Nubia of her gold. Contact between Egypt and Sumer in the
pre-dynastic period, whether direct or indirect, is attested by
various artistic motifs and by material evidence.
In the Mediterranean Crete was now entering upon that
brilliant phase of her civilization which we have christened
'Minoan'. Here, too, after a long Neolithic period in which the
inhabitants lived in caves and rude shelters, had come the age
of painted pottery. The early Minoans already showed them-
selves a seafaring race, daring long voyages in the open Mediter-
ranean and visiting the lands around its eastern shores, for stone
vessels and other objects of Egyptian manufacture are found in