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The Fertile Crescent

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

At some point, you might have wondered where agriculture began . . . If you have, then this post might answer some questions.

The history of agriculture begins in the Fertile Crescent. Because it was the birthplace of some of the earliest ancient civilizations (primarily because of its lavish access to water), the Fertile Crescent—so named for its rich soils—is commonly called the "Cradle of Civilization." It is located in the Middle East in a boomerang-shaped region that also curves like a quarter moon. This region of Western Asia spans Mesopotamia and the Levant and is bordered to the south by the Syrian Desert and to the north by the Anatolian Plateau. The University of Chicago archaeologist James Henry Breasted first coined the moniker "Fertile Crescent" in the early 1900s to refer to this region's prominence as the origin of agriculture.

The land extends from the present Persian Gulf through Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Iran, Jordan, Northern Egypt, and the Palestinian territories.

Between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago, during the Neolithic era, also known as the New Stone Age, humans invented agriculture. There were eight Neolithic crops: flax, peas, lentils, bitter vetch, hulled barley, emmer wheat, einkorn wheat, and peas. Historically, the area was home to lush freshwater and brackish wetlands as well as exceptionally fertile soil. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers often flooded the area and ran through the heart of the fertile crescent, and a portion of the Nile River also flowed through it. The rich ground found close to these rivers enabled irrigation and agricultural growth in this region. These resulted in a significant quantity of edible wild plant species. As they advanced from hunter-gatherer tribes to balanced agricultural societies circa 10,000 B.C., this is when people first experimented with the cultivation of grains and cereals.

Farming and trade routes prospered from having access to fresh water. Soon, the Fertile Crescent attracted particular attention owed to its abundant natural resources. Cuneiform language, mathematics, and theology all soon emerged in the area as a result of the exchange of ideas and cultures that developed. The ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and the Levant, which included the Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Phoenicians all of whom were essential for the formation of civilization, have long been acknowledged for their vital contributions to world culture. These scholars of yore contributed to virtually all facets of human thought, including:

  1. Innovation and Sciences

  2. Literature and Language

  3. Philosophy

  4. Agricultural Tools

  5. Astronomy and Arithmetic

  6. Animal Domestication

  7. Foreign Trade

  8. Principles in Medicine

  9. The Wheel

  10. The Concept of Time

One of the earliest Mesopotamian cities still in existence, Nineveh, may have been erected as early as 6,000 B.C. The Sumerian culture first appeared in the lower Tigris-Euphrates valley around 5,000 B.C. The first known human civilization outside of Africa may have originated in Sumer, the earliest civilization in ancient Mesopotamia. The "black-headed ones," as they alluded to themselves, were the Sag-Giga. One of the earliest users of metal was the ancient Sumerians. Levees and canals were implemented for irrigation for the first time by them. In addition to farming and cities, they constructed aqueducts, temples, rudimentary banking and credit systems, property ownership, and the first legal codes (The Code of Hammurabi).

Cuneiform script, one of the first writing systems, was devised by the Sumerians. They also fashioned colossal ziggurats, which are pyramids with tiers. The Sumerians even treasured literature and the arts.

The 3,000-line poem, the Epic of Gilgamesh, chronicles the adventures of a Sumer king as he squares off against a woodland beast and quests for the essence of eternal life. Eridu, the first, according to the Sumerians, in 5400 BCE, then Uruk and others. By c. 4500 BCE harvest action of wheat and grains had been long undertaken in contrast to the further domestication of animals. The Saluki dog breed, along with others like the Dane, Greyhound, and Mastiff, was depicted widely on vases and other ceramics as well as wall paintings by the year 3500 BCE.

Some of the world's oldest beers were brewed at the great cities along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers under the auspices of the goddess Ninkasi. The soil of the area stimulated the increased production of wheat, rye, barley, and legumes. In addition to serving as a source of daily sustenance and euphoria, beer was venerated as a blessing from the gods. The well-known Hymn to Ninkasi praises the liquor for making one's heart feel light and refreshed, but runes also make it abundantly clear that it was brewed for ceremonial purposes in parallel to being used to pay people's wages. By the fourth century B.C., the Sumerians had established around a dozen city-states, including Eridu and Uruk in what is now southern Iraq, according to archaeologists. However, the beginnings of the Sumerian civilization are still to be debated.


But as time has passed on, troubles have surfaced throughout the Fertile Crescent. Without a doubt, the Golden land is no longer as fortunate as it once was. The famed Mesopotamian marshes of the Tigris-Euphrates river system started to dry up in the 1950s as a byproduct of a string of massive irrigation projects that diverted water away from them. Saddam Hussein's regime installed a number of dikes and dams in 1991 to further drain the Iraqi marshes and penalize Marsh Arab dissidents who made a living there by cultivating rice and rearing water buffalo. By 1992, almost a thousand square kilometers of wetlands had vanished, according to NASA satellite images, replacing with deserts.

Homes were lost by more than 200,000 Marsh Arabs. The wetlands are still only roughly half of what they were before the Hussein era's dam withdrawals, despite the dismantling of many of those dams. The waters flowing from the area are essential to Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. The once-fertile soil has been depleted as a result of the population boom and strains on rivers spurred on by urbanization. Additionally, the area has been under extra pressure as a consequence of various dams being erected, which has decreased water supply and quality. As a result, a significant portion of the volume has decreased to the point where countries utilizing the Euphrates River must now discuss methods to verify that each has access to critical water.

Conflicts in Syria and other parts of the region have been linked to ecological tension in the formerly luscious and lucrative area. Geographical challenges and political issues intertwined, leading to a struggle for control of the area that started in the early 2000s. The Fertile Crescent is still regarded to be the origin of civilization even though its current situation is fraught with uncertainty.


That's all for today. Please make sure to follow the podcast (Evolution Unraveled) for more compelling tales of evolution, and tune in for the next episode! Please be sure to subscribe to our e-mail list for more updates. Thank you for reading!

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