Before about 4500 B.C., lower Mesopotamia, the region between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers just north of the Persian Gulf, was much less densely populated than other inhabited regions of the Near and Middle East. Its marshy soil, subject to annual inundations (floods) from the rivers, was not suited to the primitive hoe culture of early agriculture, in which land was cultivated without domestic animals or beasts. Moreover, the land was virtually treeless and lacked building stone and mineral resources. During the next thousand years, however, this unpromising area became the seat of Sumer, the first great civilization known to history, with large concentrations of people, bustling cities, monumental architecture, and a wealth of religious, artistic, and literary traditions that influenced other ancient civilizations for thousands of years. The exact sequence of events that led to this culmination is unknown, but it is clear that the economic basis of this first civilization lay in its highly productive agriculture. The natural fertility of the rich black soil was renewed annually by the silt left from the spring floods of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Harnessing its full productive power, however, required an elaborate system of drainage and irrigation, which in turn required a large and well-disciplined workforce as well as skilled management and supervision. The latter were supplied by a class of priests and warriors who ruled a large population of peasants and artisans. Through taxation and other means the rulers extracted wealth from the population and then used it to construct temples and other public buildings and to create works of art. That gave them (or some of them) the leisure to perfect the other refinements of civilization. The rise of civilization brought with it a far more complex division of labor and system of economic organization. Full-time artisans specialized in the manufacture of textiles and pottery, metalworking, and other crafts. The professions of architecture, engineering, and medicine, among others, were born. Weights and measures were systematized, mathematics was invented, and primitive forms of science emerged. Since Sumer was virtually devoid of natural resources other than its rich soil, it traded with other people, thereby contributing to the diffusion of Sumerian civilization. The scarcity of stone, for tools as well as for buildings, probably hastened the adoption of copper and bronze. Copper, at least, was already known before the rise of Sumerian civilization, but lack of demand for it among the Stone Age peasant villages inhibited its widespread use. In Sumerian cities, on the other hand, stone imported by sea through the Persian Gulf from Oman and downriver from the mountains of Anatolia and the Caucasus had to compete with imported copper, and the latter proved more economical and effective for a variety of uses. Thereafter metallurgy, the technology of separating metals from their ores and purifying them, was regarded as one of the hallmarks of civilization. Sumer's greatest contribution to subsequent civilizations, the invention of writing, likewise grew out of economic necessity. The early cities – Eridu, Ur, Uruk, and Lagash – were temple cities: both economic and religious organizations centered on the temple of the local patron deity, represented by a priestly hierarchy. Members of the hierarchy directed the construction and maintenance of irrigation and drainage systems, oversaw agricultural activities, and supervised the collection of produce as taxation or tribute (money or other wealth given as a sign of submission or in return for protection). The need to keep records of the sources and uses of this tribute led to the use of simple pictographs on clay tablets sometime before 3000 B.C. By about 2800 B.C., the pictographs had been stylized into the system of writing known as cuneiform (using wedge-shaped marks on clay), a distinctive characteristic of Mesopotamian civilization. It is one of the few examples in history of a significant innovation issuing from a bureaucratic organization. Although writing originated in response to the need for administrative bookkeeping, it soon found multiple religious, literary, and economic uses. In a later phase of development, after the strict temple-centered organization of the economy had given way to greater freedom of enterprise, clay tablets were used for recording the details of contracts, debts, and other commercial and financial transactions.