The Fertile Crescent is a crescent-shaped region in the Middle East
, spanning modern-day Iraq
, and Egypt
, together with the southeastern region of Turkey
and the western fringes of Iran
. Some authors also include Cyprus
The region is one of the cradles of civilization
because it is where settled farming
first emerged as people started the process of clearance and modification of natural vegetation in order to grow newly domesticated plants as crop
s. Early human civilization
s such as Sumer
in Mesopotamia flourished as a result. Technological advances in the region include the development of agriculture
and the use of irrigation
, of writing
, the wheel
, and glass
, most emerging first in Mesopotamia
The term "Fertile Crescent" was popularized by archaeologist James Henry Breasted
in ''Outlines of European History'' (1914) and ''Ancient Times, A History of the Early World'' (1916).
This fertile crescent is approximately a semicircle, with the open side toward the south, having the west end at the southeast corner of the Mediterranean, the center directly north of Arabia, and the east end at the north end of the Persian Gulf (see map, p. 100). It lies like an army facing south, with one wing stretching along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean and the other reaching out to the Persian Gulf, while the center has its back against the northern mountains. The end of the western wing is Palestine; Assyria makes up a large part of the center; while the end of the eastern wing is Babylonia.
This great semicircle, for lack of a name, may be called the Fertile Crescent.1 It may also be likened to the shores of a desert-bay, upon which the mountains behind look down—a bay not of water but of sandy waste, some across, forming a northern extension of the Arabian desert and sweeping as far north as the latitude of the northeast corner of the Mediterranean. This desert-bay is a limestone plateau of some height—too high indeed to be watered by the Tigris and Euphrates, which have cut cañons obliquely across it. Nevertheless, after the meager winter rains, wide tracts of the northern desert-bay are clothed with scanty grass, and spring thus turns the region for a short time into grasslands. The history of Western Asia may be described as an age-long struggle between the mountain peoples of the north and the desert wanderers of these grasslands—a struggle which is still going on—for the possession of the Fertile Crescent, the shores of the desert-bay.
1 There is no name, either geographical or political, which includes all of this great semicircle (see map, p. 100). Hence we are obliged to coin a term and call it the Fertile Crescent.
In current usage, the Fertile Crescent includes Israel
, and Jordan
, as well as the surrounding portions of Turkey
. In addition to the Tigris and Euphrates, riverwater sources include the Jordan River
. The inner boundary is delimited by the dry climate of the Syrian Desert
to the south. Around the outer boundary are the Anatolia
n and Armenian highlands
to the north, the Sahara Desert
to the west, Sudan
to the south, and the Iranian Plateau
to the east.
Biodiversity and climate
As crucial as rivers and marsh
lands were to the rise of civilization
in the Fertile Crescent, they were not the only factor. The area is geographically important as the "bridge" between North Africa
, which has allowed it to retain a greater amount of biodiversity
than either Europe
or North Africa
, where climate change
s during the Ice Age
led to repeated extinction
events when ecosystems became squeezed against the waters of the Mediterranean Sea
. The Saharan pump theory
posits that this Middle Eastern land bridge
was extremely important to the modern distribution of Old World flora
, including the spread of humanity
The area has borne the brunt of the tectonic divergence
between the African and Arabian plates
and the converging Arabian and Eurasian plates, which has made the region a very diverse zone of high snow-covered mountains.
The Fertile Crescent had many diverse climate
s, and major climatic changes encouraged the evolution of many "r" type annual plant
s, which produce more edible seeds than "K" type perennial plant
s. The region's dramatic variety in elevation gave rise to many species of edible plants for early experiments in cultivation. Most importantly, the Fertile Crescent was home to the eight Neolithic founder crops
important in early agriculture
(i.e., wild progenitors to emmer wheat
, chick pea
, bitter vetch
), and four of the five most important species of domesticated
, and pig
s; the fifth species, the horse
, lived nearby.
The Fertile Crescent flora comprises a high percentage of plants that can self-pollinate
, but may also be cross-pollinated
These plants, called "selfers
", were one of the geographical advantages of the area because they did not depend on other plants for reproduction.
As well as possessing many sites with the skeletal and cultural remains of both pre-modern and early modern humans
(e.g., at Tabun
and Es Skhul
caves in Israel), later Pleistocene hunter-gatherer
s, and Epipalaeolithic
semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers (the Natufian
s); the Fertile Crescent is most famous for its sites related to the origins of agriculture
. The western zone around the Jordan and upper Euphrates rivers gave rise to the first known Neolithic farming
settlements (referred to as Pre-Pottery Neolithic A
(PPNA)), which date to around 9,000 BCE and includes very ancient sites such as Göbekli Tepe
, Chogha Golan
, and Jericho (Tell es-Sultan)
This region, alongside Mesopotamia
(Greek for "between rivers", between the rivers Tigris
, lies in the east of the Fertile Crescent), also saw the emergence of early complex societies
during the succeeding Bronze Age
. There is also early evidence from the region for writing
and the formation of hierarchical state level
societies. This has earned the region the nickname "The cradle of civilization
It is in this region where the first libraries
appeared, about 4,500 years ago. The oldest known libraries are found in Nippur
(in Sumer) and Ebla
(in Syria), both from c. 2500 BCE.
Both the Tigris and Euphrates start in the Taurus Mountains
of what is modern-day Turkey
. Farmers in southern Mesopotamia had to protect their fields from flooding each year; northern Mesopotamia had just enough rain to make some farming possible. To protect against flooding, they made levees.
Since the Bronze Age
, the region's natural fertility
has been greatly extended by irrigation
works, upon which much of its agricultural production continues to depend. The last two millennia have seen repeated cycles of decline and recovery as past works have fallen into disrepair through the replacement of states, to be replaced under their successors. Another ongoing problem has been salination
—gradual concentration of salt and other minerals in soils with a long history of irrigation.
Prehistoric seedless figs
were discovered at Gilgal I
in the Jordan Valley
, suggesting that fig trees were being planted some 11,400 years ago. Cereal
s were already grown in Syria
as long as 9,000 years ago. Small cats (''Felis silvestris'') also were domesticated in this region. In addition to cereals, legume
s including peas
were domesticated in this region.
include the cattle
, domestic pig
, and domestic goose
thumb|Diffusion of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent after 9000 BCE
comparing 24 craniofacial measurements reveal a relatively diverse population within the pre-Neolithic
and Bronze Age
supporting the view that several populations occupied this region during these time periods.
Similar arguments do not hold true, however, for the Basques
and Canary Island
ers of the same time period, as the studies demonstrate those ancient peoples to be "clearly associated with modern Europeans". Additionally, no evidence from the studies demonstrates Cro-Magnon
influence, contrary to former suggestions.
The studies further suggest a diffusion
of this diverse population away from the Fertile Crescent, with the early migrants moving away from the Near East
—westward into Europe
and North Africa
, northward to Crimea
, and northeastward to Mongolia
They took their agricultural practices with them and interbred with the hunter-gatherer
s whom they subsequently came in contact with while perpetuating their farming practices. This supports prior genetic
studies which have all arrived at the same conclusion.
Consequently, contemporary ''in situ
'' peoples absorbed the agricultural way of life of those early migrants who ventured out of the Fertile Crescent. This is contrary to the suggestion that the spread of agriculture disseminated out of the Fertile Crescent by way of sharing of knowledge. Instead the view now supported by a preponderance of the evidence is that it occurred by actual migration out of the region, coupled with subsequent interbreeding with indigenous local populations whom the migrants came in contact with.
The studies show also that not all present day Europe
ans share strong genetic affinities to the Neolithic
and Bronze Age
inhabitants of the Fertile Crescent; the closest ties to the Fertile Crescent rest with Southern Europeans. The same study further demonstrates all present-day Europe
ans to be closely related.
Linguistically, the Fertile Crescent was a region of great diversity. Historically, Semitic languages
generally prevailed in the modern regions of Iraq
and the fringes of southeast Turkey
and northwest Iran
, as well as the Sumerian
(a language isolate
) in Iraq, whilst in the mountainous areas to the east and north a number of generally unrelated language isolates
were found, including; Elamite
, and Hattic
in Turkey. The precise affiliation of these, and their date of arrival, remain topics of scholarly discussion. However, given lack of textual evidence for the earliest era of prehistory, this debate is unlikely to be resolved in the near future.
The evidence that does exist suggests that, by the third millennium BCE and into the second, several language groups already existed in the region. These included:
* Proto-Euphratean language
: a non-Semitic language considered to be the substratum
language of the people that introduced farming into Southern Iraq
in the Early Ubaid period
: a non-Semitic language isolate
that displays a Sprachbund
-type relationship with neighbouring Semitic Akkadian
* Semitic languages
, Canaanite languages
: a language isolate
, spoken originally in central Anatolia
* Indo-European languages
: generally believed to be later intrusive languages arriving after 2000 BCE, such as Hittite
and the Indo-Aryan
material attested in the Mitanni
: a stand-alone branch of the Afroasiatic languages
confined to Egypt
* Hurro-Urartian languages
, a small family. The Kassite language
spoken in the northern part of the region may have belonged to this family.
Links between Hurro-Urartian and Hattic and the indigenous languages of the Caucasus have frequently been suggested, but are not generally accepted.
* Beth Nahrain
* Hilly Flanks
* History of agriculture
* History of Mesopotamia
* Hydraulic empire
Notes and references
, ''Guns, Germs and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years
*Anderson, Clifford Norman. ''The Fertile Crescent: Travels In the Footsteps of Ancient Science''. 2d ed., rev. Fort Lauderdale: Sylvester Press, 1972.
*Deckers, Katleen. ''Holocene Landscapes Through Time In the Fertile Crescent''. Turnhout: Brepols, 2011.
*Ephʻal, Israel. ''The Ancient Arabs: Nomads On the Borders of the Fertile Crescent 9th–5th Centuries B.C.'' Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1982.
*Kajzer, Małgorzata, Łukasz Miszk, and Maciej Wacławik. ''The Land of Fertility I: South-East Mediterranean Since the Bronze Age to the Muslim Conquest''. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016.
*Kozłowski, Stefan Karol. ''The Eastern Wing of the Fertile Crescent: Late Prehistory of Greater Mesopotamian Lithic Industries''. Oxford: Archaeopress, 1999.
*Thomas, Alexander R. ''The Evolution of the Ancient City: Urban Theory and the Archaeology of the Fertile Crescent''. Lanham: Lexington Books/Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2010.
''Ancient Fertile Crescent Almost Gone, Satellite Images Show''
– from National Geographic
News, May 18, 2001.
Category:Ancient Near East
Category:History of the Mediterranean