The earliest record of a Sumerian creation myth, called The Eridu Genesis by historian Thorkild Jacobsen, is found on a single fragmentary tablet excavated in Nippur by the Expedition of the University of Pennsylvania in 1893, and first recognized by Arno Poebel in 1912. It is written in the Sumerian language and dated to around 1600 BCE. Other Sumerian creation myths from around this date are called the Barton Cylinder, the Debate between sheep and grain and the Debate between Winter and Summer, also found at Nippur.
The beginning of the tablet is lost, but at the point of the story where the surviving portion begins, it describes how the gods An, Enlil, Enki and Ninhursanga created the Sumerians and comfortable conditions for the animals to live and procreate. Kingship then descends from heaven, and the first cities are founded: Eridu, Bad-tibira, Larak, Sippar, and Shuruppak.
After a missing section in the tablet, we learn that the gods have decided not to save mankind from an impending flood. Zi-ud-sura, the king and gudug priest, learns of this. In the later Akkadian version recorded in the Atra-Hasis Epic, Ea, or Enki in Sumerian, the god of the waters, warns the hero (Atrahasis in this case) and gives him instructions for building an ark. This is missing in the Sumerian fragment, but a mention of Enki taking counsel with himself suggests that this is Enki's role in the Sumerian version as well.
After a missing section in the tablet, we learn that the gods have decided to send a flood to destroy mankind. The god Enki (lord of the underworld sea of fresh water and Sumerian equivalent of Babylonian god Ea) warns Ziusudra, the ruler of Shuruppak, to build a large boat (the passage describing the directions for the boat is also lost).
When the tablet resumes, it is describing the flood. A terrible storm raged for seven days and nights. "The huge boat had been tossed about on the great waters." Then Utu (Sun) appears and Ziusudra opens a window, prostrates himself, and sacrifices an ox and a sheep.
After another break, the text resumes with the flood apparently over, and Ziusudra is prostrating himself before An (Sky) and Enlil (Lordbreath), who give him "breath eternal" for "preserving the animals and the seed of mankind". The remainder of the poem is lost.
The Epic of Ziusudra adds an element at lines 258-261 not found in other versions, that after the river flood "king Ziusudra ... they caused to dwell in the land of the country of Dilmun, the place where the sun rises". In this version of the story, Ziusudra's boat floats down the Euphrates river into the Persian Gulf (rather than up onto a mountain, or up-stream to Kish). The Sumerian word KUR in line 140 of the Gilgamesh flood myth was interpreted to mean "mountain" in Akkadian, although in Sumerian, KUR did not mean "mountain" but rather "land", especially a foreign country.
Some modern scholars believe the Sumerian deluge story corresponds to localized river flooding at Shuruppak (modern Tell Fara, Iraq) and various other cities as far north as Kish, as revealed by a layer of riverine sediments, radiocarbon dated to c. 2900 BCE, which interrupt the continuity of settlement. Polychrome pottery from the Jemdet Nasr period (c. 3000-2900 BCE) was discovered immediately below this Shuruppak flood stratum. None of the predynastic antediluvian rulers have been verified as historical by archaeological excavations, epigraphical inscriptions or otherwise. While there is no evidence they ever reigned as such, the Sumerians purported them to have lived in the mythical era before the great deluge.
A Sumerian document known as the Instructions of Shuruppak, dated by Kramer to about 2600 BCE, refers in a later version to Ziusudra. Kramer stated Ziusudra had become a "venerable figure in literary tradition" by the 3rd millennium BCE.
Other flood myths with many similarities to the Sumerian story are the story of the Dravida king Manu in the Matsya Purana, the Utnapishtim episode in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Genesis flood narrative found in the Bible. The ancient Greeks have two similar myths from a later date: The Deucalion and Zeus' flooding of the world in Book I of Ovid's Metamorphoses.
Zi-ud-sura is known to us from the following sources:
In both of the late-dated king lists cited above, the name Zi-ud-sura was inserted immediately before a flood event included in all versions of the Sumerian king list, apparently creating a connection between the ancient Flood myth and a historic flood mentioned in the king list. However, no other king list mentions Zi-ud-sura.